QAB Interview with Heather R. Darsie,
Author of “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister”
Editor’s Note: Amberley Publishing is releasing Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sisterin the United Kingdom on 15 April 2019 and on 1 July 2019 in the United States. A fantastic premier biography of King Henry VIII’s fourth wife and queen, Heather R. Darsie maximizes her outstanding research skills and German fluency to uncover Anna of Cleves early life in Germany, as well as the lives of her powerful family. In doing so, we are introduced to extensive previously unexplored territory, learning far more about Anna of Cleves than previously available to those studying history from English language sources. A frequent contributor to Queenanneboleyn.com, Heather blessed us with the initial introductory visit on her fun blog tour. Enjoy a small sampling of Heather’s research in our interview below, and check out QAB’s review of the book HERE.
I thought she had a longer story to tell than that she was ugly and dumped by a king. I thought about Anna’s similarities to Katharine of Aragon in that they were both foreign brides, and considered Anna’s age when she moved to England and the differences in culture between England and the German-speaking portions of the Holy Roman Empire. I also knew from my under graduate education that the borders of the various German duchies almost constantly fluctuated. I wondered what impact that may have had on Anna’s life.
What do you hope people take away from your book?
I hope they reconsider Anna’s life and why her marriage failed, and I hope it starts fresh conversations about her. I hope that the book gives the reader insight into the politics affecting Anna’s homeland and the importance of her family within the context of the Holy Roman Empire.
Heather, you completed extensive research in Europe. Can you share with readers how your European research will enhance our knowledge as who Anna was as a woman of the 16th century?
My goal with this biography was to write about Anna from the German perspective.To successfully do that, I had to look at multiple primary and secondary sources to get a feel for what court life in the German portions of the Holy Roman Empire and in the United Duchies was like. Another part of that involved looking at Anna’s family history to learn how women were treated, and to see what foreign influences were brought into Cleves due to various marriages during the 15th century. A distinct difference between Anna’s life and that of a noblewoman in England was the Frauenzimmer, which is discussed in my book. While we will never know the exact details of Anna’s childhood, I hope that I have achieved my goal of giving general insight into what the values were which Anna would have learned and what day-to-day life was like. An article giving more specifics about the Frauenzimmer will be posted 11 April on TudorsDynasty.com.
I was surprised to learn that previous accountings from esteemed historians were mistaken about Anna’s date of birth. How did that misconception happen? .
I do not have a solid answer for you, unfortunately. I thoroughly explain in my book how I went back to Agatha Strickland’s books from the 19th century and worked back to her sources. I could not find any source for a 21 or 22 September 1515 or 1516 date. Additionally, the only German primary source I could find gives Anna’s date of birth as 28 June 1515, and a 19th-century German secondary source gives an early July 1515 date. A late June to early July 1515 date makes more sense when considering the birth of Anna’s brother Wilhelm in July 1516, too. An anecdote and excerpt from my book about Anna’s date of birth will be featured on 9 April at HistoryOfRoyalWomen.com.
Your book title surprisingly refers to Anna as a Duchess. Much ado has been made of this on Facebook and social media. Tell us how you came to this conclusion. .
It comes down to a difference in women’s inheritance rights between England and the Holy Roman Empire. In England, a woman could be regnant, regent, or consort. I will use the example of English queens to illustrate my point. Elizabeth I and Mary I were both queens regnant, meaning they ruled by their own right. Katherine of Aragon and Catherine Parr were both queens regent when Henry was off at war, meaning that they governed the England for Henry while he was away, but they did not rule England by their own right. Jane Seymour and Katheryn Howard were both queens consort, meaning that they were wives of the king with no legal authority to govern or rule the kingdom. In the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, there were different distinctions. Women had no right to rule a territory, period.
I will use duchesses as an example. Anna’s elder sister Sybylla of Cleves became a Duchess Consort of Saxony by marrying Johann Friedrich of Saxony. Sybylla had no right to rule or govern Saxony on her own. Anna’s maternal grandmother Sibylle of Brandenburg was appointed Duchess Regent of Juelich-Berg by Anna’s father Johann III of Cleves-Mark after Anna’s maternal grandfather passed away. Sibylle of Brandenburg derived her power as regent through the appointment by Johann III; Sibylle had no right of her own to rule. This brings us to the important distinction of being a born duchess in the Holy Roman Empire. A woman who was born into a ducal family could and did not have any male siblings to act as heirs still had no right to rule her territory. However, anyone who married a born duchess had the right jure uxoris to rule the duchy, and that right would be passed to the couple’s children. Anna’s parents are an example of this. Maria of Juelich-Berg was an only child and born duchess of Juelich-Berg. When she married Johann of Cleves-Mark, he was granted the right to rule Juelich-Berg jure uxoris after the death of Maria’s father. Turning back to Anna being a Born Duchess of Juelich-Cleves-Berg, her spouse would have the right jure-uxoris to rule the United Duchies of Juelich-Cleves-Berg if Anna’s elder sister Sybylla and brother Wilhelm both died without issue. Similarly, if Sybylla, Anna, and Wilhelm all died without issue, then anyone who married Anna’s younger sister Amalia would have the right jure-uxoris to rule the United Duchies. Anna also signed her legal documents, including those pertinent to her marriage with Henry, as “Anna, Born Duchess of Juelich-Cleves-Berg.” For more about Anna’s maternal grandparents, including new portraits of them, please stop by Sarah-Bryson.com on 10 April.
I thought I learned all there was to know about the fall of Thomas Cromwell. Brilliant as he was, what miscalculations did he make relative to the proposal of Anna of Cleves as a potential wife for Henry VIII?.
I fear I must give the refrain that you will have to read the book. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the issue. I will say that Charles V made a comment to Sir Thomas Wyatt that Cromwell had very bad spies.
After her marriage annulment to Henry VIII, Anna of Cleves remained in England throughout the remainder of her lifetime, never remarrying. Was she a willing immigrant, prisoner or refugee?
I think she was all of these things at different points within the first seven or eight years after the annulment. I think she felt ashamed about her sudden reduction in station, especially after rubbing it in Wilhelm’s face before she left Cleves that she was now a queen of a kingdom, and he but a mere duke. Due to tensions on the Continent, it was not safe for Anna to travel home. By the time Henry passed away, she had been in England for several years and established a life there.
Heather R. Darsie lives in the United States with her family and three parrots. Heather’s new biography Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ will be released by Amberley Publishing on 15 April 2019 in the United Kingdom and on 1 July 2019 in the United States. Heather is an apprentice bowyer, who also enjoys knitting. She holds a BA in German languages and literature, as well as Juris Doctorate. For more information about Heather, do visit her website at Maidens and Manuscripts. A valued contributor to Queenanneboleyn.com, also enjoy her content here at the website.
is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.
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