Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait – by Alison Weir – book review

This is the fourth novel in Historian Alison Weir’s historical novel series on the wives of King Henry VIII and, for me, the dullest of the lot, so far. The previous three I’ve liked much better. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.

I’m not sure it’s entirely Weir’s fault, though. I think the story of Anna of Kleve (aka Anne of Cleves) just inherently contains less drama. (After all, her marriage to Henry only lasted six months.) And FYI, the annulment of that marriage happens about half way through this 500 page book; yet there’s still 250 pages to wade through.

The book begins when Anna is a child, a Catholic (though her marriage to Henry VIII is often incorrectly seen as a Protestant alliance), brought up by strict parents in a formal court atmosphere. And the novel ends with her death in 1557. Weir makes good use of her considerable knowledge as a historian to enrich the narrative with lots of facts and detail– perhaps TOO much so for my taste. During those last 250 pages I mentioned, for example, there is so much detail about her continual financial troubles (Poor Anna – it’s just SO expensive to keep multiple castles going at once), about her interpersonal relationships with LOTS of minor characters, and about the on-again, off-again court suspicions and gossip surrounding her– that it all seemed to me “much ado about nothing.” I kept waiting to learn the point of all the detail. But it never happened.

Portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger (1539) Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I suspect the biggest controversy of the novel is a storyline that Weir creates about a long-term and secret romance between Anna and an illegitimate cousin, Otto Von Wylich. Weir explains in the book’s Afterword why she created this story thread and what she based it on. But I simply didn’t buy it. While I won’t include any spoilers, I simply did not believe it would have been possible for a public figure like Anna — surrounded all her life by dozens of servants — to keep this particular plot development secret.

Author Alison Weir (courtesy of her website)

I believe the book would have been better if it was 100 pages shorter. I can still recommend it to die-hard Tudor fans, especially since you folks will probably read it anyway. You’ll certainly learn as much about Anna as you could possibly want.

Otherwise, you might want to skip this one. And wait for the next book in Weir’s series, about wife #5 —Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen. Scheduled to be published in May 2020.

More about author Alison Weir.

You may be interested in my reviews of first three books in this series:

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen