What’s Ashley Reading?: Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

The only surviving piece of Dusseldorf’s City Palace, the birthplace of Anna of Kleve.

On my most recent trip to Germany I had the privilege to visit Dusseldorf and Schloss Burg, the home of Anna of Kleve. Before I visited my brother in law told me about this castle. I knew I had to see it for myself. It was a long hike through the woods and up the hill to this fortress but it was worth every step. It overlooks the town of Solingen, a picturesque town in Western Germany. Even though very little is mentioned about Anna at the castle it is where she spent much of her childhood leading up to her marriage to King Henry VIII.

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait by Alison Weir

First line: Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations of her.

Summary: Anna of Kleve is the daughter of a German duke. She is raised to be the wife of a powerful man. When Henry VIII is unexpectedly widowed, he is in search of a fourth wife. His ministers look to Anna for this honor. As Anna embarks on the journey to England she worries about what her life will be like as the Queen of England. After her initial encounter with her future husband her worries mount. Does he like her? He does not appear to. However, as the first months of her marriage progress her worries begin to vanish. Then she receives news that the king has grave doubts about their union. What does this mean for Anna? Will he send her to her death like one of her predecessors?

Anna’s father and brother’s portraits from the entrance hall at Schloss Burg.
The entrance to Schloss Burg, the home of the Dukes of Kleve.

My Thoughts: Anna is probably one of the least talked about of Henry’s wives. I have read numerous books about the other five but she seems to be largely forgotten. This is rather sad because she was probably the luckiest of the six wives.

I really enjoyed learning more about her life before, during and after her marriage. She led such a sheltered life before coming to England. I cannot imagine the shock of life in Henry’s court compared to Kleve. And the fact that her husband is an obese man who had killed a previous wife. How terrifying! Her reign as queen was a very short lived one. However, she seemed to have made quite an impression on the people of England. I was very frustrated reading about the struggles she had to deal with after the death of the king. She was an important lady and was treated very badly by the men who ran the government of the new king, Edward VI.

A stunning view from the tower of Schloss Burg.

Weir took a lot of liberties with the history by adding in a romance that has no basis in fact. Even though it deviates from the record it was fun to read and imagine that Anna had some love in her life.

This is not a book that can be read quickly. There is tons of information, characters and time to cover. I spent several weeks slowly working my way through the narrative but I found it fascinating. Weir does a great job bringing life to the wives. I am highly anticipating her books on Katheryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

FYI: This is book four in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir.

Book Review: The Haunted Queen

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

First line: “A health to the bride!”

Summary: Jane Seymour is the daughter of knight. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she did not consider that life at court was in her future. However, when her plans to join a nunnery change she joins the household of Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII. Jane is devoted to the queen so when a maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, starts to attract the king, Jane must decide where her loyalties lie. When Anne becomes queen, Jane is forced to serve her. As Anne’s power wanes the king’s eye begins to stray. Jane becomes the focus of his attention and his future queen.

Highlights: Weir’s portrayal of Jane Seymour is the best one I have read. Jane is a very boring queen. She has very little time to establish herself in history but what we know of her is that she was meek and obedient. At least this is what we assume but in The Haunted Queen we get a little bit of fire injected in to her character. She has opinions, thoughts and questions. Even though she is afraid to voice them, we as the reader get a look into her mind and see more than the quiet mouse she is remembered as.

Lowlights: I felt that more of the book was centered around Anne Boleyn (who is my favorite of Henry’s wives). We see the events unfold through Jane’s eyes but not much about Jane herself. Which leaves a small portion at the end of story to center around her time as queen.

FYI: Weir does a great job so far on each of the queens. Check out Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession to read the first two books in the series.

Book Review: The Last Tudor

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

First line: I love my father because I know that he will never die.

Summary: The story of the three Grey sisters, heirs to the throne of England. The story is broken into three parts following each of the sisters as they struggle to survive during the reign of their Tudor cousins. Jane is named Queen of England on the death of her cousin, King Edward VI. However, her reign lasts only nine days. Katherine is a young beauty who can only think of love and becoming the heir to the throne. Mary, an invisible member of the court is constantly watching and learning from the mistakes of her sisters.

Highlights: I loved the flow of the narrative. This story felt more like Gregory’s earlier novels. It was more novel than facts and occurrences. I had recently become more interested in the Grey sisters. It was great to have my favorite author cover their lives and loves.

Lowlights: Elizabeth was portrayed as a very vindictive woman. I am sure that she had many faults but part of me wants to continue to think of her as the great queen.

FYI: Long book but very good.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

I have loved history since my 8th grade year when I had a teacher that made it fun and interesting.  She was always excited about what she was teaching and it made me want to know more.  I started reading about 90% historical fiction after this point.  I had to learn about places and people while I was enjoying the story.

During my freshman year of college, as a history major, I finally bought a copy of a book I had had my eye on for several years.  The book was The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.  I was enthralled!  Gregory’s writing was stunning and the characters were brought to life before my eyes.  It centers around the younger sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary, who becomes the mistress of Henry VIII.  Even though the story is centered around Mary it was Anne who fascinated me.

Anne Boleyn was the infamous second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.  She has been described in many ways from temptress, witch, whore, martyr and pawn.  Her beliefs and stubbornness to stand up for them made her the target for many.  Changes came to England during the years of her courtship and marriage to Henry that reshaped the world.  She was executed in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536 on the charges of treason, witchcraft and adultery.

There are differing opinions about this woman who is still very unknown to historians even today.  Little is known but many books have been written about her.  One of the latest is by Alison Weir as part of her Six Tudor Queens series.  As soon as I could get my hands on this book I was ready to read it!

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

First Line: Her skin was rather sallow, Anne thought as she studied herself in the silver mirror, and she had too many moles, but at least her face was a fashionable oval.

Summary: Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, spent her early years in the courts of Burgundy and France.  She learned from duchesses and queens on how to be a lady but it is a king that truly changes her life.  When the King Henry VIII notices her and wants her to be his mistress Anne decides that she is not going to be used like other women of her time.  She tries to discourage the king but to no avail.  But when Henry proposes marriage to her, even though he is already married, she sets her sights on the ultimate power.  After years of legal and religious battles she finally is crowned queen but it turns out to not be all that was promised.

Highlights: The descriptions are very detailed.  I could feel the frustration with the Great Matter as much as Anne and Henry.  Anne is a smart and passionate woman who knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever she can to achieve it.  There is so much in this novel about a woman that very little is known.  The author takes you all the way back to Anne’s childhood which most books do not do.

Lowlights: I have read many books about Anne Boleyn.  And a book that is written by a historian like Alison Weir, I was expecting more.  There were things that I did not agree with in her descriptions of Anne such as the sixth finger.  Plus she makes Anne seem more like a child at times when she was a powerful woman with strong beliefs.

FYI: Some of this is written for a more dramatic and fictional account than most historians have been able to back up.  Great for a fun and interesting book about the life of Anne Boleyn, the unfortunate second wife of Henry VIII.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Tower of London, visit her grave in the chapel and the memorial to Anne Boleyn (and many others who lost their lives inside this fortress).  It has been 481 years since that fateful day on Tower Green and people still remember this fascinating woman.