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Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride by Elizabeth Norton: A Book Review

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride
Author: Elizabeth Norton
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Release Date: 2011
Pages: 224
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: I like her not! was the verdict of Henry VIII on meeting his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, for the first time, complaining that he had been sent a Flanders mare. 

     Anne, having been promised the most handsome prince in Europe, was also destined to be disappointed in the elderly and corpulent king. Forced to proceed with their wedding for diplomatic reasons, Henry and Anne tried to make the best of the situation, but attempts to consummate the match were farcical. 

     After only seven months of marriage Henry was so desperate to rid himself of Anne that he declared himself impotent in order to secure a divorce. Anne was also eager to end her marriage and, with her clever handling of Henry, obtained one of the biggest divorce settlements in English history. Following her divorce, Anne made good use of her many properties, including Richmond Palace, Hever Castle and the house at Lewes now known as Anne of Cleves House. Anne of Cleves is often portrayed as a stupid and comical figure. 

     The real Anne was both intelligent and practical, ensuring that, whilst she was queen for the shortest period, she was the last of all Henry VIII's wives to survive. Henry's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, lost his head for his role in the Cleves marriage, but Anne's shrewdness ensured she kept hers. Anne of Cleves led a dramatic and often dangerous life but, for all this, of Henry VIII's six wives, she is truly the wife that survived. 

      My Review: Anne of Cleves has always been the joke of Henry VIII’s wives. She has been known to be Henry VIII’s ugliest wife. Her position as Queen of England only lasted for a few months. However, her divorce with Henry VIII landed Anne as one of the wealthiest women in England. She was the second highest lady after the queen. This biography stresses that even though her marriage to Henry VIII was very unlucky, her fate was the best out of all of his wives. Anne of Cleves was indeed the wife that survived.

   Anne of Cleves was not destined to be Queen of England. She was betrothed to Francis of Lorraine. When the betrothal fell through, she eventually became a candidate for a suitable marriage to Henry. At first, Anne was at the bottom of the list as a possible wife for Henry. Henry wanted Marie of Guise and Christina of Denmark. When those fell through, Henry began to take an interest in Anne. The duchy of Cleves was very wealthy and powerful. Anne was descended from the kings of England and France. Henry requested a portrait of Anne and liked it so much he wanted to marry her.

  Being courted by Henry VIII was an honor. The family happily accepted and immediately began making preparations for her marriage. When Anne arrived in England, he decided to surprise his future bride. However, the meeting did not go so well. Mrs. Norton suggests that Anne had ignored Henry and did not recognize him as her betrothed until he formally introduced himself. However, Henry held grudges. He never forgave Anne for her mistake and that is why he disliked her intently. The author emphasizes that Anne was not the ugly bride that has been depicted in popular culture. Rather, Anne was very pretty, and she was discarded because she wounded Henry’s vanity.

  Mrs. Norton also tells us that Anne did not want to submit to divorce easily. She was terrified of the divorce and was afraid to suffer the same fate as Catherine of Aragon. She was so embarrassed about her divorce that she dreaded telling her family of the news. Even after the annulment, she always saw herself as the true wife of Henry VIII and the real queen of England. The author even speculates that Anne was happy about Catherine Howard’s beheading because she believed that Henry would take her back. She was very disappointed when Henry chose Katherine Parr to be his next wife. Even after Henry’s death, she saw herself as Henry’s widow. She wanted to be recognized as the dowager queen of England and wanted the same rights as Katherine Parr.

   Overall, Anne fought for the recognition as Queen of England throughout her life. While she had a better fate than Henry’s other wives, she was always regarded as the cast aside wife. She always came in second in prestige and rank. Anne went through many obstacles and challenges. It makes us wonder if Anne was ever happy. Still, the biography shows Anne not as a discarded queen, but as a woman of intellect. Even though this was a short read, Anne of Cleves is very detailed and well-researched. There were many times that it became difficult to read because of the numerous primary sources. Still, Anne of Cleves is a must-read for any Tudor fan! It gives us a very different Anne than the silly and stupid Anne of Cleves that is often portrayed in popular media!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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