My Lady of Cleves

Henry VIII's often overlooked and underrepresented fourth wife brought to life in a fabulous recreation.

Henry VIII’s often overlooked and underrepresented fourth wife brought to life in a fabulous recreation.

Steady, unpretentious Anne never thought that she would be chosen. Surely he’d quite prefer her younger and much more vivacious sister, Amelia. But with a flick of Holbein’s brush, history and Anne’s fate are sealed…

Born in 1891, Margaret Campell Barnes grew up in the Victorian Sussex Countryside. Barnes wrote throughout her life publishing countless short stories, novels and poems.

Between 1944 and 1962, she turned her hand to historical fiction and wrote ten novels – many of them bestsellers, with over two million copies sold worldwide.

Alongside Tudor fiction, Barnes’ novels cover the length and breadth of Plantagenet history, as well the turbulent reigns of the Stewarts.

Anne of Cleves is my favourite of Henry VIII’s wives, and I was, therefore, particularly ecstatic when I finally found a strong, convincing novel where she is the heroine.

So did the novel live up to my initial high expectations?

On the whole, yes. It was certainly an enjoyable and gripping read – and whilst on occasion Barnes used some creative artist licence – it certainly didn’t detract from the end product.

Indeed, her interpretations of events, though at times controversial, do make for a fascinating depiction of Anne’s turbulent time in England and her relationship with the infamous king himself.

The characters were believable and engaging, and I particularly liked what I felt was probably quite an accurate depiction of Henry.

It’s easy to see why Anne makes the perfect choice for a historical heroine – she’s intelligent, pragmatic and has bags of likability. Above all else, she sees everything – including herself – with brutal clarity and it’s evident this insight helped her face the many hurdles she had to fight over.

I loved how human the writer made her seem and Anne’s relationships with Henry’s family was quite touching.

Whilst the language is obviously that of the 40s style, it makes it by no means inaccessible and doesn’t interrupt the flow.

As far as historical fiction goes, it’s undoubtedly a classic. There is the court intrigue, the forbidden romance, the underdog heroine, betrayal and injustice.

Not that traditional is a bad thing. The novel simply doesn’t try to be clever or pretend to be something it’s not – it just tells a good story in a strong and confident narrative which everyone can enjoy.

I think most of all this is a story of transformations and transitions. It’ll shake up your perspectives and preconceptions to reveal to you characters in a light and voice you hadn’t considered them in before.

And once it’s finished with you? Well, it leaves you with that sense of satisfaction and warmth you’d expect from any classic fiction. All in all, it’s a huge thumbs up from me and a definite recommendation. It’s time for the world to realise the true Anne of Cleves.

Originally published in 1946, the latest edition was published by Sourcebooks, Inc in September 2008 and retails at $14.99 or £7.99.

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