Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves” by Heather R. Darsie
As of the last few years, Anne of Cleves is arguably the most popular of Henry VIII’s wives. I know, I know…Anne Boleyn fans hate me for writing that. Even though Anne Boleyn will most likely forever be the most tragic and loved wife of Henry VIII, Anne of Cleves is giving her a run for her money in the 21st century.
Anne of Cleves was the fourth bride of Henry VIII, and his second foreign bride after Katherine of Aragon. Anne was the wife who followed Jane Seymour. But the story that has been told about why Henry wanted to end their marriage was all a lie – and we know this thanks to the tremendous research by historian and author, Heather R. Darsie.
‘The King’s Beloved Sister’ looks at Anne of Cleves from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anne’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anne’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anne’s native land of Cleves – notably the court of Anne’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism – and Anne’s marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anne influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.
Was Anne – the Duchess Anna – in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.
Whether you are obsessed with Anne of Cleves, or a novice to her history, you must read this book. I originally believed everything that I read about her. Everything the English wanted us to believe about her, that is. When I heard that my dear friend Heather was publishing a book on Anne of Cleves I was surprised that she had chosen Anne as her subject. I hate to say this, to even put it in writing, but I did not believe she could find anything that we did not already know. But she easily proved me wrong.
In this book you will be astonished by the truth. You will discover that Anne’s true birthdate is the same day as Henry VIII, not in September like we have been told for centuries. You will also be shocked to learn the truth about Anne’s first meeting with her future husband, and king.
A book written by Gilbert Burnet called, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England, which was written in the mid to late 17th century stated, “He swore they had brought over a Flanders mare to him…” when supposedly referencing something Henry VIII had said. There is no contemporary evidence which suggests Henry said those words. That along with many other falsities are clarified in Anna, Duchess of Cleves – The King’s Beloved Sister.
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