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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE GREAT FLANDER'S MARE..., 14 Mar. 2005
This review is from: My Lady of Cleves (Hardcover)
After I read this author's terrific book on Anne Boleyn, "Brief Gaudy Hour", I knew that I would read more by this excellent author. I was delighted to discover that she had also written a book about another woman who had married King Henry VIII, Anne of Cleves, wife number four. I was fortunate enough to have been able to find a copy of this long out of print book, and I was not disappointed.
This is a wonderful work of historical fiction of one of the lesser known wives of King Henry VIII, Anne of Cleves, who was a young Flemish princess of the Duchy of Cleves. When Jane Seymour, wife number three, died shortly after giving birth to the future King Edward VI of England, counselors to King Henry VIII urged him to marry again for reasons of state. As this vain monarch was by this time a bit of a hard sell, given the fact that his first three wives had died unhappy deaths and he was no longer young, fit and handsome, pickings were slim. His Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, urged upon him an alliance of political expediency between Cleves and England, in hopes of buttressing England's new found Protestantism, as Cleves was a Lutheran stronghold.
King Henry VIII provisionally agreed, provided that one of the two princesses of Cleves, Anne or Amelia, was to his liking. So, he commissioned renowned court painter, Hans Holbein, to go to Cleves and paint miniatures of these two princesses of Cleves. When Han Holbein arrived in Cleves, he painted miniature portraits of both Anne and Amelia. While Amelia was the more superficially attractive one, Hans Holbein saw something in Anne that transcended physical beauty, and, being the artist that he was, his vision transposed itself onto the miniature portrait that he painted of Anne, creating a portrait of exquisite sweetness. When King Henry VIII saw it, there was no question but that Anne of Cleves would be his fourth wife.
Unfortunately, when they met, Anne did not live up to his expectations, referring to her in pejorative terms as a great "Flanders mare". Anne was on the tall side, a large-boned and buxom woman, while King Henry VIII had a penchant for petite, slender women. Moreover, coming from a strict Lutheran duchy, Anne had none of the expected accomplishments that were de rigueur for the Tudor Court. Anne could not sing, dance, or play a musical instrument, nor was she particularly well educated in scholarly pursuits. Her education had been of a more pedestrian nature and geared to more housewifely pursuits such as the running of a household.
Consequently, Henry and Anne were like oil and vinegar, never really able to come together as one. From then on, Anne's life as Queen of England was to be one of humiliation. Henry made no secret of his dissatisfaction and worked to disengage himself from this marriage, as he liked her not. Although Henry looked to cast Anne aside and had already set his sights on wife number five, the beautiful teenager, Catherine Howard, who was one of Anne's own ladies-in-waiting, Anne continued about her business with dignity. Henry's children loved her, as did many who would come in contact with her, as she had none of the affectations or grasping and jaded behavior associated with those who populated the Tudor Court. She was a straightforward, intelligent, and kindly woman who was not given to being anything other than what she was.
When the issue of divorce reared its ugly head, Anne, ever practical, reluctantly agreed and in return received several estates and palaces, a handsome pension, and the dubious distinction of ever more being known as the King's sister, taking precedence over all except for the King and the King's children, and any future Queen. She would go on to live her own life. Of course, the author gives this story a fresh spin, weaving in a secret attachment that Anne of Cleves and Han Holbein shared for each other. It is this deep and abiding platonic love that would sustain Anne through her deepest and darkest hours in England. The author also gives an eye-opening twist on the post-divorce relationship of Anne and Henry.
This is simply yet another terrific work of historical fiction by this author. She expertly weaves a colorful tapestry of fact and fiction against the backdrop of the splendor of the magnificent Tudor Court, creating a three dimensional story around some of the most interesting personages in history. This book takes the reader on a spellbinding journey through the life of Anne of Cleves. It continues her story through two more wives, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr, and the death of King Henry VIII, whom Anne herself would outlive by about ten years. This is a book that will thoroughly engage and entertain the reader. It is of particular interest since there is a paucity of books on the story of Anne of Cleves. Bravo!
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