Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride
by Elizabeth Norton
Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2010
Is she plain or attractive? Naïve or worldly? Such questions to have lingering about Anne throughout history! But, linger they will on the reputation of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII.
Ann was not the wife Henry envisioned (see the blog entry, The Second Step-Mother to Elizabeth I: Anne of Cleves, at https://elizregina.com/, for a discussion of the reasons for the ill-fated marriage). Being well-versed in the marriage and divorce of Anne and Henry, I did not glean much new information on those topics in this book. Norton does thoroughly cover what material there is from Cleves prior to Anne’s marriage and afterwards. This proved helpful as the political pull of Cleves had been lost on me. Having its wealth, strategic position and alliances explained was interesting. Another fresh topic was the incidents of her household.
My biggest concern about the text is the author’s way of presenting the thoughts and feelings of the principal parties, without documenting them as factual. As a former history teacher, I find it appalling an historian will script such assumptions. Sadly, while taking notes to use for my review, I wrote down 18 occasions (those were not all but the ones most disturbing to me) which alter the factual course of the historical text.
Page 32 we learn of the death of Anne’s father whom Norton tells us “was a distant figure in her life” but was a “shock to her and highlighted the passing of time and the fact that, by early 1539, she was in her early twenties with no concrete marriage plans arranged for her. The death of her dad was “a personal blow for Anne, it did nothing to reduce the sudden interest shown in her by Henry”. Those connections were lost on me.
The letter Anne wrote to inform her brother of her divorce, we are told on page 109, “was the most difficult that she ever had to write.” Yet on page 110 we must stand corrected as “writing the letter was something of a release….” These statements could possibly be true –we deserve to have documentation to prove it.
Several places in the book, starting on page 112, Norton asserts that Anne believes herself to be the legitimate wife of Henry. There is never any proof offered about this and I wonder how Anne could have publically declared such a thing and not have it reported back to Henry. She would certainly have felt some ramifications if it was her official stand—just as if Henry caught wind of the fact that she wanted him to re-marry her as Norton claims multiple times. Norton tells us that Anne was especially angry when Henry married Katherine Parr. Offering no evidence it is contrary to the rather sympathetic remark that Anne supposedly made and was reported by the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys: “A fine burden Madam Katherine has taken upon herself.”
The next concern of the text was the lack of citation. Quotes were not cited and the sources were jumbled together (at least by chapter) in a paragraph at the back of the book. This made it difficult to attribute the source positively to the material. When Norton included passages from primary sources they were in a form as close to the original as possible, which is always a plus. Photographs were great, in color as much as possible and illustrated the text well.
Overall, this is a readable biography, which, if one can get past the author’s conjectures, can satisfy an interest in this more obscure surviving bride of King Henry VIII.