Several years ago, Alison Weir began a series of historical novels, each one focusing on one of Henry VIII’s six wives. Recently the fourth of the six volumes, Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait, was published.

Henry has now been married three times: first to Katharine of Aragon, whom he divoced; second to Anne Boleyn, whom he ordered beheaded; and third to Jane Seymour, who died after giving birth to his only living son. Contempory reports indicate that Henry was truly grief-stricken after Jane’s unexpected death, but he realizes he must marry again and continue to father children, preferably boys, to ensure the Tudor succession.

He’s now 46 years old, overweight, and suffering from gout. While one of the most powerful men in the world, he’s not exactly a young girl’s dream. Anna, who was from the small German duchy of Kleve, is 24, quite old to still be on the royal marriage market. Weir’s research indicates that Anna also had a secret she was desperate to keep hidden.

In the mid-16th century, photography, email, and Facebook were hundreds of years in the future. While Anna’s pedigree was agreeable to Henry and her family’s politics and religious leanings passed muster, he didn’t want to “buy a pig in a poke.”

He commissioned his court painter to travel to Anna’s home and paint a miniature portrait. The artist did so, choosing to paint Anna in her most flattering perspective—straight on. The resulting work shows a lovely, pleasant young woman. Henry was entranced and agreed to the marriage.

However, when Anna and her retinue arrive in England, Henry, reportedly, was horrified. One report, widely told but unsubstantiated, claims he referred to her as “the Flanders mare.”

What followed was half a year of political intrigue and negotiations, as Henry sought to free himself from such an awkward royal union. In spite of Henry’s repugnance, however, he gradually warms to Anna and the two develop a deep friendship, one that will last until his death seven years later.

However, as the months pass, Henry’s attention is caught by one of Anna’s maids-of-honor, and he becomes increasingly determined to rid himself of Anna and wed the younger girl.

Stokely Memorial Library now as Anna of Kleves, along with Weir’s earlier works. For lovers of Tudor history, it’s a must. Even though it is written as an historical novel, Weir’s careful and meticulous research provides readers with a fascinating peek into the political machinations of the day.

Located at 383 East Broadway, Stokely Memorial Library is open Mondays—Saturdays from 10-5 and may be reached by telephone at 423-623-3832.

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