I have been thinking quite a lot about Anne of Cleves, and the third novel in my series about Tudor England, The King’s Sisters, is set in her household. Why? Well, after her annulment from Henry VIII, Anne was titled “The King’s Beloved Sister,” and in many ways the former nuns of England also became “the king’s sisters,” because they, like Anne, were forbidden from marrying.
I imagine Anne, like so many others, as the lucky one of Henry’s wives. She survived and she was given lovely houses to live in and lots of clothes and jewelry. And yet, how difficult must it have been for this young woman to be trapped in England, a culture she didn’t fully understand where she barely spoke the language. How difficult–and how lonely. To have been replaced so quickly by the teenaged Catherine Howard must have been another blow.
And yet, by many accounts Anne and Catherine became, if not friends, at least friendly. The Christmas festivities that preceded Catherine’s fall from favor and subsequent beheading were apparently a time of companionship between the two women. They may have even danced together, while the aging Henry went off to bed alone.
Olivia Longueville has written beautifully about the relationship between Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard (read this wonderful essay here!), and reading her post about these two wives of Henry VIII, the one lucky and the other extremely unlucky, only fires my imagination about Anne’s thoughts and feelings during her years in England. Did she dance at Christmas because she was happy? Or did she dance out of a need to dispel her loneliness? Catherine, of course, did not last long as Anne’s friend, because she didn’t last long as Henry’s wife, and her sad, terrified death marks the beginning of my novel.
Anne of Cleves made the best of her situation, to be sure. But how much she resented Catherine–and Henry–and how much she longed either to be crowned queen and have children or to be allowed to return home is a mystery, one that I explore in The King’s Sisters.