I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been on a bit of a historical kick lately right? I’ve been spending some time in the court of Henry VIII getting to know something about his wives thanks to the novels of Margaret Campbell Barnes.
“Anne’s gaudiest hours began in France. Louis’ Court was a dazzling parterre of pleasures for her delectation. Like the bright butterflies at Hever, she had emerged from her chrysalis of adolescence to sip heady essence from them all, and to flutter her wings awhile in the warm sunshine of success.”
In this novel of Anne Boleyn the reader gets to know the young woman who had her own dreams but was swept up into the world of court life and political intrigue. At the beginning of the novel Anne is shown to be a girl from the country who loves the quiet gardens of Hever but has to learn to adjust to court life in France. She is portrayed as a real woman who had her insecurities but as she learns more about court and sees how people, mainly men, are charmed by her she gains confidence and learns to wield her charms.
We follow Anne as she falls in love with Lord Harry Percy and suffers as she is forbidden to marry him. King Henry VIII has set his sights on her and is determined to have her but Anne vows that she will not be just another mistress like her sister, Mary who consorted with the King. No, Anne Boleyn will be wife and thus a chain of events which will have ramifications for the whole of England is set in motion. King Henry will divorce Katherine of Aragon and not just separate himself from his wife of 18 years but also separate England from the Catholic church.
What author Margaret Campbell Barnes does is create a sympathetic and complex character in Anne. The Queen who only ruled for three years wasn’t without faults by any means but she was also very much a pawn and paid for her actions dearly.
“It isn’t what I see. It’s what I find myself looking for,’ said Holbein. ‘That younger one is pretty enough – if you like all your goods in the shop window. But there’s something elusive about the Princess Anne, something to call a man back when he’s tired of the obvious in other women.”
At the start of My Lady of Cleves, King Henry VIII is being advised to take a fourth wife. He sends the painter Hans Holbein the Younger to the Cleves Court to paint portraits of the sisters and he would choose one. What Henry VIII didn’t know was that the painter had formed a friendship and admired Anne, the daughter everyone assumed would be the least likely pick for the monarch.
Henry chooses Anne but once he meets her he has serious misgivings and would have gone back on his word but it was already too late. Anne never wanted to go to England either but she was practical and vowed to do her duty. Her duty won’t last too long though because as soon as she’s in England, Anne realizes that Henry already has his head turned by the young Catherine Howard. Within months, Henry annuls his marriage to Anne and gives her the title of his sister. Anne will go on to forge good relationships with Henry’s children, eventually becoming friends with Henry as well and she’ll remain in England until her death.
It’s interesting that of all of Henry’s wife, I knew the least about Anne of Cleves. She seems to have been a woman who was intelligent and who really cared about the country. If only Henry had given her a chance what would things have been like?
Both of these novels were published in the 40s but have just been re-released by Sourcebooks. They are wonderful works of historical fiction and I recommend that you add them to your library. I only hope that the other novels Margaret Campbell Barnes wrote will also be re-released.
Now, the exciting part is that Sourcebooks has offered up a copy of Brief Gaudy Hour and My Lady of Cleves for a giveaway. So, I hope you like what you’ve heard about these books and will add them to your wish list. In the meantime, leave me a comment and I’ll pick two lucky winners to be announced next Tuesday. Good luck!
* Giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only. Sorry to my international readers but I’ll make it up to you another time!