cover image Anna of Kleve, The Princess in the Portrait

Anna of Kleve, The Princess in the Portrait

Alison Weir. Ballantine, $28 (512p) ISBN 978-1-101-96657-0

Weir’s fourth installment to the Six Tudor Queens series (after Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen) is a solid rendering of the often grim 16th-century travails of King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anna, who survived divorce and a backstabbing court. Anna, 24, was a princess from the German duchy of Kleve, chosen to ensure royal offspring and good will with her country. Anna receives an extravagant welcome, but the marriage is never consummated; Henry assures Anna he likes her, “but it seems that God does not intend that I should love you.” Obese and suffering from severe leg ulcers, it is suggested that Henry, 46, was impotent; however, Anna’s much earlier annulled betrothal was contrived to legitimize Henry’s rejection and divorce of Anna. All the while, Anna harbors a secret from before her marriage that would doom her—like her successor, Katheryn Howard, who was executed. Humiliated, yet relieved to live independently with her divorce settlement, Anna is a much-loved figure, though forced to contend with court intrigue: manipulative Thomas Cawarden, her tenant who is knee-deep in conspiracies; spies among her staff; and court officials who accuse her of treason for supposedly favoring Elizabeth over the king’s rightful heir to the throne, Mary. Weir’s clever plot reimagines Anna’s deliciously scandalous maidenhood, sacrifices, and yearning for love. This riveting historical resonates long after the last page is devoured. (May)