Anna Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister
By Heather R. Darsie
I have been eagerly awaiting Darsie’s book on Anna of Cleves for several months now. Advertised as a new way at examining Anna’s life I was interested in what Darsie had to say and now that I have finished, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Darsie did not disappoint. In fact, if you only ever read one book on Anna of Cleves then this is your book!
Through studying Tudor history, I have read quite a lot about Anna of Cleves however the majority of what has been written about her life focuses only on the English perspective and Anna’s time in England. Darsie takes a completely different approach, embedding Anna in the German heritage in which she was born and raised.
Darsie explores the political landscape that Anna was born into. The history of Anna’s family is detailed and how her younger brother became Duke. This is vital to understanding Anna’s story as her formative years were deeply influenced by the politics throughout Germany and wider Europe at the time. In fact, throughout Anna’s life there were constant upheavals both military and religious. Wars raged between France and the Holy Roman Empire and Anna and her family and their Duchies were swept up in these events. In addition to this Luther was making his mark across Europe and religion as it had been known for centuries, was drastically changing. All of these events played a huge role in Anna’s life as well as her marriage to Henry VIII.
In addition to embedding Anna in the wider world in which she lived, Darsie challenges the long-held belief that Henry VIII had his marriage to Anna annulled simply because he found her ugly. In fact, Darsie puts forward a very different theory as to why the marriage was annulled and provides a wealth of information, including ambassadorial reports, letters and the political changes of the time, to support her ideas. In doing so she creates a very different and far more authentic picture of what really happened when Henry VIII had his marriage to Anna annulled.
Darsie also challenges the very inaccurate belief that Anna of Cleves was ugly. In fact, she provides a wide range of first hand accounts as to what people really thought, not just of Anna’s beauty but also of her grace and poise. Darsie also challenges the written accounts that Anna was ugly by providing reasons as to why such information was inaccurately spread throughout Europe.
Darsie’s writing is so enthralling that once I picked her book up, I simply did not want to put it down, I was suddenly captivated with Anna’s life! The sheer amount of research that has gone into this book is just astronomical and it is clear that Darsie has poured both her love and knowledge into this book. Through first hand accounts and a detailed account of what was happening in both Germany and Europe as well as the political shifting of alliances, Darsie has brought Anna’s world to life and in turn shed an often-overlooked light on this extraordinary woman.
If you only ever read one book on Anna of Cleves then I strongly recommend this one. Thoroughly researched, well written and examining Anna’s life from a never before viewed angle, Heather R. Darsie has done Anna of Cleves true justice in this book. A must have for any bookshelf!
Heather R. Darsie at the Louvre, Paris with Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of Anna of Cleves. Taken from Heather R. Darsie’s website.