Everything you know about Anna, Duchess of Cleves, fourth wife of King Henry VIII, is incorrect. Even her name. She was called Anna, not Anne and was a Duchess in her own right. The author has found definitive, primary source, historical evidence that Anna’s birthday is June 28 (or no later than July 1), not September 22, 1515 as previously believed. Even the eventful first meeting between Anna and Henry didn’t go as previously advertised, according to the primary sources.
Darsie places Anna in the context of the Holy Roman Empire, German, and Low Countries history which explains why her marriage came about. She gives the background for the Von der Mark family and the various duchies that made up the patrimony of Cleves and tells how her brother Wilhelm inherited the Duchy of Guelders, thereby angering HRE Charles V and starting a series of wars. Thomas Cromwell’s fall from favor wasn’t based upon the failed marriage but had everything to do with his brokered alliance with the Low Countries and German princes and his failed foreign policy. He didn’t have the skill of his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, to his own detriment.
Darsie uses her training as a lawyer to make convincing and cogent arguments that Anna’s reputation was besmirched, all in the name of obtaining an annulment of her marriage. Once it was determined the alliance with Cleves was no longer necessary, a secret commission was constituted to dissolve the union. Anna had no formal representation on this commission and it was in this covert context that Anna was declared ugly and sexually unattractive, all without her knowing.
Anna was fortunate in that Henry and his advisors wanted to keep the anger and tension with Anna’s brother Wilhelm to a minimum. Consequently, they made a generous offer to Anna of an ample income and the possession of several properties in England. She had no intention of going back to Cleves and enjoyed her life as a free woman, even if she was a little lonely. I can highly recommend this book. It should be the new definitive biography of Anna, Duchess of Cleves and required reading for lovers of Tudor history.
This book is subtitled: “The story of Juana of Castile, mother of Charles V., born 1479, died 1555” and is a reprint of a 1905 edition that was in the library of the University of Michigan. I’ve mentioned before I enjoy reading older history books and we are lucky some publishers are reprinting some of them or publishing them digitally so we can read them. In doing research on Juana, I found this book completely by accident as it came up as a recommendation on Barnes and Noble.
I’m just going to disclose up front I found this book to be a very weird. I can’t seem to find much information about the author but from what I did find, he was a playwright and a novelist. He may have written other historical books but it’s hard to determine the subjects of some of his titles as there is no information listed about them. This volume is a curious mixture of historical biography and descriptions of historical events mixed with elements of fiction. His list of sources is not very detailed and includes the “Encyclopedia Britannica” and ‘A Spanish book entitled “Juana of Castile”’ with no author given. This is not very promising.
From the early chapters, he says Juana was sickly, unattractive and not very bright. And he fervently insists that she was insane! From what I’ve read so far, Juana was at the very least attractive if not beautiful. I can’t see Philip the Handsome being instantly sexually drawn to a woman who was considered ugly. I also find it hard to believe a sickly woman gave birth to five healthy children. She was highly educated and spoke and read Latin so she must have had at the very least a modest intellect. As for her being insane, the jury is still out on that one.
Tighe gives a nice description of Juana’s childhood in Castile. He doesn’t waste much time on her life in Burgundy. There is some good information on her tours of Spain to be recognized by the Cortes as her mother and father’s successor. He spends a lot of time on Philip. There is a large chapter with a complete description of Philip’s visit with King Henry VII at Windsor which is a reprint of a chronicler’s record of the event. While this is of great interest, it doesn’t really have much to do with Juana. He only gives a passing reference to the fact that Juana was imprisoned for most of her life.
There is no explanation for the origin of the title of the book. It is unclear if he means that Juana was full of unrest or her kingdom was in disarray or a combination of both. The book is very short at 228 pages so I’m afraid there is not a lot of detailed and useful information on Juana. She is a woman about whom volumes could be written. That being said, I did get one huge insight from reading this book. Some of the descriptions of Juana’s behavior reminded me of a family member who suffered from depression. This has given me a great deal of food for thought and I’m going to do some further research on this illness.
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