Kleve: House of La Marck
Kleve: House of La Marck
A German princess with a guilty secret.
The King is in love with a portrait, but the real Anna does not enchant him.
She must win him over. Everyone knows that Henry won’t stand for a problem queen.
But rumours of Anna’s past are rife at court – dangerous talk that could mark her downfall. Can this clever, spirited young woman reach out in friendship to the King, and gain his love forever?
The fourth of Henry’s queens. Her story.
History tells us she was never crowned.
But her tale does not end there.
Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the
chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the
new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations
of her. At fourteen, she should have learned all the domestic
graces, and to impress their guests with her virtues.
Every summer, Vater – or Duke Johann III, as his subjects knew
him – brought his wife and children here to the Schwanenburg, the
great palace that towered on a steep rocky hill, dominating the mighty
River Rhine and the fair city of Kleve. Joining them today for a short
visit, were Onkel Otho von Wylich, the genial Lord of Gennep, and
Tante Elisabeth, who never let anyone forget that she was the granddaughter
of Duke Johann I. With them would be Otho, Onkel’s bastard
son. For all the reputation of the court of Kleve for moral probity,
bastards were not unwelcome there. Anna’s paternal grandfather, Duke
Johann II, had had sixty-three of them; not for nothing had he been
nicknamed ‘the Childmaker’. He had died when Anna was six, so her
memories of him were vague, yet the living testimony to his prodigious
fertility was all around her at court and in the great houses of Kleve. It
seemed she was related to nearly everyone in the united duchies and
counties of Kleve, Mark, Jülich, Berg, Ravensberg, Zutphen and
Ravenstein, over which her father ruled.
Duke Johann was lavishly dressed as usual, welcoming his guests
as their chariot drew up at the gatehouse – dark hair sleekly cut, fringe
and beard neatly trimmed, portly figure swathed in scarlet damask.
Anna looked at him affectionately; he did love to make a show of his
magnificence. At his command, his wife and children were attired in
rich silks and adorned with gold chains. Anna stood in a row with her
younger siblings Wilhelm and Amalia, who was fondly known as Emily
in the family. Vater and Mutter had no need to remind their children to
make their obeisances, for courtesy had been drummed into them since
they had been in their cradles. Nor were they allowed to forget that they
were royally descended from the kings of France and England, and were
cousins to the mighty Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Vater’s overlord.
Their awareness of that must be reflected in everything they did.
As young Otho von Wylich stepped down, Anna’s heart almost
stopped. To her, this cousin by marriage, two years older than she,
seemed like a gift from God as he alighted on the cobbles. Oh, he
was fair to look at, with his wavy, unruly chestnut locks and his high
cheekbones, strong jaw, full lips and merry eyes, and he was charming
too as he greeted everyone, displaying the proper deference to his host
and hostess, with little of the gaucheness often seen in boys of his age.
When he rose from his bow to Anna, his smile was devastating.
She was already betrothed, as good as wed, and had been since the
age of eleven. When people addressed her formally, they called her
Madame la Marquise, for her future husband was Francis, Marquis of
Pont-à-Mousson, eldest son of Antoine, Duke of Lorraine. They had
never met – she had not even seen a portrait of him – and although she
was always being reminded of her great destiny, the prospect of marriage
still seemed unreal. Some of her dowry had already been paid, and she
had long expected her wedding to take place as soon as Francis reached
marriageable age at fourteen, this very year.
She had been too young for a betrothal ceremony: her consent had
been implicit in the contract her father had signed. She had accepted
without question the husband chosen for her, having been schooled in
her duty from infancy; but now, having seen Otho von Wylich, she
wished for the first time that she was not spoken for. She could not
drag her eyes away from Otho’s engaging smile.
As she struggled to hide the fact that her world had just shifted
seismically, Vater led the guests through the majestic Knight’s Hall, his
serious, craggy features becoming animated as he pointed out the
decorative sculptures to Otho.
‘This hall is said to have been built by Julius Caesar,’ he said proudly.
‘I well remember the great ceremonies that took place here,’ Tante
Slowly, they processed through the state rooms. Anna was aware
only of Otho, standing just inches away, and of his eyes on her.
‘We had these apartments built on the model of the great French
chateaux on the Loire,’ Vater boasted, waving a beringed hand at the
fine furniture and tapestries. Anna saw her uncle and aunt exchange
envious glances. Mutter seemed serenely unaware. All this splendour
was no more than her due, for she had been a great heiress, and had
brought Vater rich territories and titles. She graced the court of Kleve
in a manner that was regal yet humble, as deferential as a woman should
be. Both she and Vater were strict in maintaining the elaborate code of
etiquette laid down by the dukes in the manner of their Burgundian
ancestors; in matters of courtesy and style, the court of Burgundy had
led fashionable Christendom for nearly a hundred years now. Mutter
and Vater also welcomed new ideas from the magnificent court of
France, not far to the west of Kleve, and from Italy, which permeated
north by means of visitors travelling up the Rhine. Anna sometimes
sensed that Vater’s court was too sophisticated and free-thinking for
Mutter’s taste; it seemed much more liberal than the court of Jülich had
been. But Mutter would never criticise what went on in Kleve.
When they reached the private apartments, wine was served,
the sparkling Elbling that Vater regularly had brought upriver from the
vineyards on the Mosel. Onkel Otho and Tante Elisabeth accepted their
goblets with alacrity. It was as well that it was not evening, for the rules
at court were strict, and all wine, even the Duke’s, was locked away at
nine o’clock by his Hofmeister, who took his duties very seriously.
As they sipped from their goblets of finest Venetian glass, the adults
talked, stiffly at first, then gradually relaxing, while their children sat
silently listening, Anna intensely aware of Otho, who was sitting beside
‘Your father has a wondrous palace,’ he said.
‘I hope you will be able to see more of it,’ she replied. She felt sorry
for him, for he had no hope of inheriting any great houses, even though
it was no fault of his that he was a bastard. ‘But I am sure you live well
‘Not as well as you do here, Anna,’ he told her, with another of
those devastating smiles, and she thrilled to hear her name on his
tongue. ‘But I am fortunate. My father and stepmother treat me like
their lawful son. They have no other children, you see.’
‘But you have friends?’
‘Yes, and I have my studies, and an amiable tutor. One day, I will
have to make my own way in the world, probably in the Church.’
‘Oh, no!’ she exclaimed, before she could stop herself. ‘I mean, you
could surely have a happier life doing something else.’
He grinned. ‘You are thinking of the pleasures I would have to give
up,’ he said, making her blush. ‘Believe me, I think of them too. But I
have no inheritance, Anna. It will all go to a cousin when my father
dies. What else can I do?’
‘Vater will find you a post here, or Dr Olisleger, his chancellor, I am
‘How kind you are, Anna,’ he murmured. Their eyes met, and she
read in his gaze all she could have hoped for. ‘I can think of nothing
I would like more than being at the court of Kleve. It would mean I
could see you more often.’
His words took her breath away. ‘Then I will ask for you,’ she
She noticed her mother watching them, a slight frown on her face.
Vater was warming to his favourite topic. She knew for a certainty that
she would hear the name Erasmus before too long. The great humanist
scholar was Vater’s hero, the man he admired above all others, and
whose advice he sought on religious matters.
‘Erasmus says the Church is not the Pope, the bishops and the
clergy,’ he declared. ‘It is the whole Christian people.’
Tante Elisabeth looked dubious, while Mutter’s expression remained
inscrutable. Anna knew Mutter did not agree with Vater on religious
matters. Devout as a nun, she was probably wincing inwardly to hear
the Holy Father in Rome dismissed as if he were of no importance.
‘Erasmus preaches universal peace and tolerance,’ Vater went on,
oblivious. ‘There can be no higher ideal than that. It inspires the way
I live my life, the way I govern my duchy and my court, and the way I
nurture my children.’
‘It is a high ideal,’ Onkel Otho observed, ‘but a dangerous one. Even
if he does not intend to, Erasmus encourages those who attack the
Church. It’s a short step from that to the heresies of Martin Luther.’
‘Luther speaks sense in many ways,’ Vater countered. ‘There are
abuses in the Church, and they need to be rectified.’
‘My lord has banned Luther’s works,’ Mutter said quickly.
‘I have indeed, twice,’ Vater confirmed. ‘But some of his protests
against the Church are justified. No one should have to pay priests to
forgive their sins and save them from Purgatory, and it’s wrong that the
princes of the Church live in luxury when our Lord was a simple
carpenter. But to deny five of the sacraments is plain heresy.’
‘Your son-in-law would not agree with you,’ Onkel Otho replied.
‘The Elector of Saxony has extreme views,’ Vater said, looking
pained, ‘and I fear Sybilla has become infected with them, for a wife
is bound to follow her husband. The Elector wants me to join his
Schmalkaldic League of German Lutheran princes, but I will never do
‘Yet you allied yourself to him by marriage,’ Onkel Otho persisted.
‘You are linked to the League whether you like it or not.’ Now it was
Mutter’s turn to look pained. It must have gone against all her beliefs to
see her daughter given to a Protestant.
It seemed an argument was stirring, but just then, the bell at the top
of the Johannisturm in the inner courtyard chimed four o’clock, and
Mutter seized her opportunity. Anna guessed she did not want her
offspring hearing any more talk against the Church and the true faith in
which she had nurtured them.
‘Children,’ she said brightly, ‘why don’t you show your cousin Otho
around the rest of the castle?’
The young people all jumped to their feet, Anna secretly rejoicing.
‘It will be our pleasure,’ thirteen-year-old Wilhelm said earnestly.
Anna knew Otho would soon be receiving a lecture on the architecture
of the Schwanenburg and the glorious history of Kleve – and she was
right. As they returned through the state apartments, Wilhelm, who
had all the virtues save a sense of humour, humility and empathy with
others, started waxing forth on how he had been born here in the
Schwanenburg and how rich and prosperous the duchy was.
‘Our father is called Johann the Peaceful, because he rules so wisely,’
he boasted. ‘When he married our mother, she brought him Jülich and
Berg, and lands stretching for four thousand miles. When I am duke of
Kleve, I will inherit all that, and I will be as wise as my father.’
Anna saw Otho smothering a smile.
‘Otho did not come to hear all this, Bruder,’ she said. ‘It’s a beautiful
day, and you’ve been excused lessons for the afternoon.’ She
turned to Otho, and felt herself grow hot. ‘Would you like to go up the
Schwanenturm? The views are wonderful, and I can tell you all about
the legend of Lohengrin.’
‘It’s too warm to climb all those stairs,’ Emily protested, her rosebud
lips pursed in a pout.
‘Emily, you are such a lazybones,’ Anna sighed.
‘But I should love to see the views,’ Otho said, his twinkling eyes
still on Anna, ‘and the exercise will be good for us.’
‘I think Otho would prefer to see the Spiegelturm,’ Wilhelm said, as
if Otho had not spoken. ‘The ducal archives are most interesting.’
‘Oh, Wilhelm, it’s always what you want!’ Emily cried.
‘You can take Otho there afterwards,’ Anna said firmly. ‘But first, he
wants to see the Schwanenturm.’
‘Then you take him,’ Wilhelm ordered. ‘I will go and look out some
things I want to show him.’
‘I’m coming with you,’ Emily said. ‘I can help find them.’
‘You’re just too lazy to climb the stairs,’ Wilhelm scoffed, looking
none too pleased at the prospect of his twelve-year-old sister’s company.
‘Come,’ Anna said to Otho. ‘Let’s leave them to their squabbles.’
She led him away before Wilhelm could stop her. She had never known
such luck. Her life was hemmed around with rules, ritual, sewing and
her mother’s endless vigilance, and the chance of a short time alone
with this most handsome youth was beyond her wildest imaginings; it
was incredible that it had been afforded her so easily, without any effort
on her part. It was an escapade of which Mutter might well have
disapproved, for she had always enjoined that a young lady should never
be alone with a man, lest her reputation be compromised. She had
never explained exactly how that might happen, though it was clearly a
dreadful thing. But Otho did not count, surely? He was family, and he
was not much older than Anna.
The mighty Schwanenturm loomed above them, its square shadow
falling on the cobbled courtyard. Anna was headily aware of Otho
walking just a pace behind her. She was glad she had donned her new
red silk gown with its gold bodice embroidered with loops of pearls.
She felt beautiful wearing such a dress, with her fair hair loose down her
back. Sybilla, whose portrait showed off the slanting eyes and long
golden tresses that had captivated the Elector, was the beauty of the
family, everyone was agreed on that; but Anna revelled in the thought
that she too could look pleasing.
The guards on duty at the door stood to attention as they approached.
‘My ancestor, Duke Adolf, built this tower,’ Anna said, pushing
open the heavy door.
‘Allow me,’ Otho said, taking its weight. Anna went ahead, lifting
up her gorgeous skirt to ascend the stairs.
‘The old tower fell down about a hundred years ago,’ she went on,
trying to conceal her nervousness behind a barrage of facts. ‘Duke Adolf
rebuilt it much bigger than before.’
‘It’s certainly high!’ Otho said. ‘These steps go on for ever. Shall we
rest for a moment?’
Anna turned on the stairs to see him looking up admiringly at her.
‘You are very pretty,’ he said, ‘and that gown becomes you so well.’
His eyes travelled up appreciatively from her slender waist to the swell
of her breasts beneath the velvet bodice.
Thrilled by his praise, she smiled down at him. She could not help
herself. She knew she should not be allowing him to say such familiar
things to her, or herself to acknowledge them. Yet she was bursting
with such joy that she had no will to walk away, or to spoil the moment.
They were slightly breathless by the time they ascended the final
flight of stairs leading to the turret at the top of the tower and entered
a narrow, sparsely furnished room with windows at each end. The
Turkey carpet must have cost a fortune in its day, but it was now
Anna crossed to the window overlooking the river. Below,
the town of Kleve lay spread out before her, a patchwork of red roofs
Otho stood right behind her.
‘It is a fair sight,’ he said, looking over her shoulder. She could feel
his breath on her ear. ‘So tell me about Lohengrin.’ His voice was like a
Anna tried to focus on the legend she had promised to recount, but
her mind was too overwhelmed by this strange, heady feeling. Was this
love? She had seen how deeply her parents loved each other, and had
learned, from listening to the ladies and maids gossiping, that love
could also be a kind of madness that made people act like fools, as
if they were out of their senses. It could make you ecstatically happy
or desperately sad. And now, standing in this dusty little room,
alone with a young man for the first time, she understood what it was
to be powerfully attracted to someone. It was a glorious feeling, and
frightening too, as if she were being impelled towards something
momentous and dangerous, and had not the mastery to stop herself.
But she must! She would soon be a married woman, and had been
schooled in absolute loyalty to her husband-to-be.
‘Do you know why this is called the Swan Tower?’ she asked Otho,
forcing herself to collect her thoughts and speak. ‘I don’t suppose you
hear much about the legends of Kleve in Limburg.’
‘My mother used to tell me stories when I was little,’ he answered,
‘but I have forgotten them mostly.’
‘Above us, on top of the turret, there is a golden weathervane,’ Anna
said, a touch breathlessly. ‘It bears the swan that the old counts of
Kleve blazoned on their coats of arms, in honour of the Knight of the
Swan, the mysterious Lohengrin. See here.’ She turned and drew from
her bodice an enamelled pendant. ‘This is my personal device. The
two white swans stand for innocence and purity.’ Otho cradled her
hand in his as he bent to look in her palm. Suddenly, he kissed her
lightly on the wrist. It gave her the most pleasurable jolt.
She was not quite mad – not yet. She had been taught that no
virtuous woman would let a man kiss her until he made her his affianced
bride. She withdrew her hand, and Otho straightened up.
Her voice shook a little as she continued her story. ‘Lohengrin’s boat
was guided by two white swans when he sailed along the Rhine long
ago to visit a countess of Kleve named Elsa. She was in deep distress
because her husband had died and a tyrant was trying to usurp his place
by forcing her to wed him. Lohengrin came to her aid. He overthrew
the tyrant and married her.’
Otho’s eyes were shining into hers. ‘If she was as beauteous as
another princess of Kleve I could mention – then I take my cap off
to Lohengrin.’ His voice sounded a little hoarse.
Anna’s cheeks suddenly felt very hot. She had no idea how to
respond to such a compliment.
‘He was a renowned hero,’ she said, struggling to act normally. ‘But
on the day after their wedding, he made Elsa promise never to ask his
name or his ancestry. Unknown to her, and to all, he was a knight of
the Holy Grail and was often sent on secret missions. She agreed, and
they lived very happily together, and had three fine sons. They were my
‘You are going to tell me that it all went wrong,’ Otho said.
‘It did. Elsa was desperate to know if her sons would have a great
inheritance from their father. She could not contain herself, and asked
him the question she had sworn never to ask. When she did, Lohengrin
fell into anguish. He tore himself from her arms and left the castle –
this very castle. And there, on the river, waiting for him, were the two
swans with the boat that had brought him to Kleve. He sailed away in
it, and was never seen again.’
Otho was shaking his head, his eyes holding hers. ‘And what
happened to Elsa?’
‘She was so overcome with grief for her loss that she died. She had
loved Lohengrin so much.’
For the first time, it was dawning on Anna how terrible Elsa’s loss
had been. That sad realisation must have been plain on her face, for,
without preamble, Otho stepped forward and folded his arms around
her, drawing her close to him. Before she could stop him, he had pressed
his lips to hers and touched her tongue with his. It was the strangest
thing, at once wonderful and repulsive. She had never dreamed that
kissing could be like that, but she knew it was wrong to be doing it.
What would her parents think of her?
‘No,’ she said, pulling back.
He held her fast in his embrace. ‘Yes!’ he breathed. ‘Please don’t
deny us this pleasure! It can do no harm. You need not fear it.’
‘I might have a baby,’ she protested, and was surprised when he
laughed. ‘I might,’ she warned. ‘Mother Lowe told me kissing leads to
‘And who is Mother Lowe?’ he asked, nuzzling her nose with his as
she struggled half-heartedly to free herself.
‘She is my nurse.’
‘Little she knows! You can’t get a baby from kissing. It’s harmless.
And you were enjoying it, I could tell.’ He was still holding her tight,
grinning at her so engagingly that she felt her knees melt. It was
thrilling, talking about such things with a man.
He kissed her again, gently, tenderly this time, and then he was
drawing her down on to the carpet, kissing her eyes and stroking her
cheeks. His hands strayed elsewhere, and the glorious sensations he was
awakening in her drowned out the alarums ringing in her head. He had
said there was nothing to fear, and she believed him. He was a guest in
her father’s house – a well-brought-up young man who, she could count
on it, knew how to behave. And there was a rising, breathless excitement
in him that she found infectious.
‘Oh, Anna!’ he murmured, his eyes on hers as he twined her hair
around his fingers, his breathing becoming more rapid and tremulous.
‘Let me love you! I will not hurt you.’ His lips closed on hers again,
with greater fervour, and then he reached down, pulled her beautiful
silk skirts and chemise aside and – to her astonishment – began gently
touching her private parts. She did not resist him: she was too far
immersed in feelings and sensations she had never dreamed of.
‘As you have lips here,’ he whispered, caressing her mouth with his
tongue, ‘so you have them here, for the same purpose.’ His fingertips
moved rhythmically, exploring more boldly, and Anna felt the most
exquisite pleasure mounting within her. There was no shock, just
surprise at how little she had understood her own body – and no shame.
Here it was, the madness of which the women had spoken! Had she
lived until now?
What followed was utterly glorious, and she gave herself up to it
without further thought, being incapable of reason. A little pain – and
then she was ascending to Heaven. As the pleasure mounted, she felt
Otho’s body spasm. He cried out, and then, as he slowly relaxed on top
of her, and inside her, holding her tightly and murmuring incoherent
words of love, she was overcome by a wave of unstoppable ecstasy,
building and building until she thought she would pass out.
She lay there stunned as he turned his head to face her, and smiled.
‘Did you enjoy our kissing, Anna?’
She nodded, thinking how beautiful his eyes were.
‘Oh, sweet Anna,’ Otho murmured, his lips on hers, ‘you loved it,
didn’t you? I could tell.’
‘Yes,’ she breathed. ‘I never dreamed there could be pleasure like
that.’ She lay there in his arms, feeling blissful, wanting to prolong the
moment for as long as possible.
‘This is what God intended for men and women!’ he smiled.
‘It wasn’t wrong, was it?’ Her sense of fitness was returning, and
with it the awareness that she had been a party to something forbidden.
‘Of course not.’ He released her and sat up, lacing his hose. ‘But let’s
keep it as our secret. Our parents wouldn’t understand. They think such
pleasures should be kept for marriage, but I see no harm in enjoying
Anna began to feel guilty. Carried away on a tide of madness, she
had betrayed the precepts drummed into her by her mother. But it had
been so beautiful! Why, then, did she feel a creeping sense of dread? It
was the fear of being found out, she realised; that was all. How could
she regret something that had brought her such joy?
‘Can we be married, Anna?’ Otho asked, gazing at her longingly.
‘Oh, I do wish that!’ she cried. ‘But I am promised to the Duke of
Lorraine’s son.’ Her voice caught in her throat.
He stared at her. ‘I did not know.’
She shook her head. ‘It is not what I want, but my father is set on an
alliance with Lorraine.’ Belatedly, she realised that what she had done
with Otho was meant to be saved for marriage; they had stolen what
rightfully belonged to Francis.
‘Betrothals can be broken,’ Otho said.
Anna shook her head. ‘I doubt it.’ She felt tears welling, and knew
her misery must be written plain on her face.
She stood up, tidied herself and moved towards the door.
‘Where are you going, Liebling?’ Otho asked, looking bewildered.
‘We should go back. We have been here too long,’ she said.
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her again, long and yearningly,
leaving her in no doubt as to his feelings. They belonged to each other
now, and nothing could change that: it was what his lips were saying to
her. She was drowning in emotion. She wanted the moment to go on
for ever, but made herself break away. She dared not stay alone with
him here any longer.
‘I love you, Anna,’ she heard him whisper.
Ignoring the soreness between her legs, she hastened down the stairs,
bereft, and desperate to cry out her sorrow in her chamber, where there
would be clean water, soap and towels to remove all trace of her
sinfulness, and she could take off the gown of which she had been so
proud, but which now bore the stains of her fall from grace. Otho was
right. What had passed between them must remain a secret; besides,
Anna did not have the words to describe what had happened. If her
parents found out, she would be blamed. She should not have been
alone with Otho in the first place, let alone allowed him to kiss her and
lie with her. They would say he had dishonoured her, a princess of
Kleve, when he was a guest in her father’s house. Yet it had not been
like that! She had lain with him willingly – and she had been in ecstasy.
Otho had said he loved her and had spoken of marriage – yet they could
never belong to each other. Tears welled again in her eyes as she emerged
from the tower. She prayed the guards would not notice her distress.
‘Anna?’ Otho cried, behind her. ‘Are you all right?’
‘The Spiegelturm is over there,’ she called back, her voice catching.
‘They’ll be waiting for you. Tell them . . . tell them my head is aching
and that I’ve gone to lie down.’
Leaving him standing there, she hastened away to her chamber.
Mercifully, it was deserted. Mother Lowe was enjoying her usual
Crying, Anna unlaced her bodice and sleeves and let her gown fall to
the floor, then poured some water from the ewer into the bowl beside
it. It was while she was scrubbing herself that she noticed blood on her
lawn chemise. Was this the monthly visitation Mutter had warned
her about? When Anna had asked why women had to bleed, Mutter
had simply said that it was God’s will, and that Anna would learn more
about it when she was about to be married. Anna wondered if it had
anything to do with what she had done this day.
She changed her chemise and put the soiled one to soak in the bowl
of water. What to do about the dress? There was blood on the lining of
that too, so she took the damp cloth she had used to wash herself and
rubbed it away. Soon, the stain was nearly gone; if you were not looking
for it, you would not see it. She laid the damp dress away in the chest,
and put on another, of creamy silk banded with crimson. Then she
stared at herself in the mirror, checking that no one could see she had
been crying. Her eyes looked a bit red, but she could put that down to
the headache. And it was true, her head was aching, from the burden of
love, guilt and desperation she now carried.
When the bell in the tower summoned everyone to supper, she sped
down the stairs and arrived in the dining chamber on time. Vater never
could abide unpunctuality.
Otho was there already, with Onkel Otho and Tante Elisabeth. She
wanted to fly into his arms, but made herself avoid his eyes, aware that
he was avidly seeking hers. No one must guess the secret that lay
‘Is your head better, my dear?’ Tante Elisabeth asked her.
‘I am much better, thank you,’ Anna told her.
‘You’ve changed your dress, child,’ Mutter observed.
‘I was too hot in the other one.’ She was praying Otho would not
give them away, by some chance word or glance. Mutter could be
The meal was an ordeal, and she struggled to behave normally, and
to eat the choice carp and roasted pork served to her. She dared not
think of what had happened earlier, lest her face flame and betray her.
It wasn’t easy, with Otho sitting so dangerously near to her, looking so
handsome, and her stomach churning with love and desire. It took all
her inner resources to behave as usual. She did not think anyone noticed
After supper, the Duke’s consort of musicians arrived with their
trumpets, lutes and harps. Mutter would always have harp music if she
could; it was her favourite, and she bestowed one of her rare smiles on
the players when the last note had been struck.
‘I wish we could dance,’ Emily said wistfully, ‘or sing.’
Mutter frowned. ‘My dear child, you know it is immodest for a
woman to dance or sing in public.’
‘I know,’ muttered Emily gloomily, ‘but I do so love music and
Tante Elisabeth regarded her with disapproval.
‘She inherited her love of music from me,’ Mutter said. Elisabeth
gave a thin smile.
The men were talking of politics.
‘The Emperor has ambitions. He wants the duchy of Guelders for
himself,’ Vater was saying. ‘But it will go to Anna’s betrothed.’ Anna
saw Otho’s expression darken, but Vater continued, unheeding. ‘Duke
Charles is childless, and Francis, as his great-nephew, will inherit. I
myself have a claim to Guelders, but I relinquished it as part of the
terms of the betrothal contract; I am content that my daughter will be
duchess of Guelders.’
Anna struggled to maintain her composure. She most certainly
was not content at the prospect. Her imaginary image of Francis had
metamorphosed from a courteous, smiling boy into a disapproving,
‘The Emperor also has a claim to Guelders, does he not?’ Onkel
‘Yes, through his mother,’ Vater told him. ‘But if he presses it, we
will be ready for him. Kleve may be part of the Holy Roman Empire,
but it is also one of the leading principalities of Germany. We will not
let the Emperor dictate to us. We protect our independence. We have
our own courts and our own army, and I keep control of our foreign
policy.’ Wilhelm was listening avidly.
‘But Charles is very powerful. You would have a fight on your
hands,’ Onkel Otho said.
‘Ah, but he might well be going to war with England, if King Henry
continues in his attempt to divorce his Imperial Majesty’s Aunt
Katherine to marry a courtesan. I count on Charles being too preoccupied
with that, and with the Turks encroaching on his eastern
borders, to concern himself with Guelders. I have the means to raise a
mighty army.’ The Duke paused as a servant refilled his goblet. ‘I met
King Henry of England once, you know. Eight years ago, I visited his
kingdom in the train of the Emperor.’
‘What was he like, Vater?’ Wilhelm asked.
‘Handsome. Bombastic. Full of his new title. The Pope had just
named him Defender of the Faith for writing a book against Martin
The conversation dragged on interminably. There had been no
chance of any conversation with Otho, as Wilhelm and Emily were
sitting between him and Anna, and now, at precisely nine o’clock, the
Hofmeister was arriving to remove the wine, signalling that it was time
to retire. It was forbidden to the courtiers to sit up any later, playing
cards, drinking or even just chatting, and Vater liked to set a good
Everyone bade each other a good night. As Anna was leaving the
room, she felt a hand close on hers from behind, pressing something
into her palm. She swung round, to see Otho giving her a longing look.
Fortunately, no one seemed to have noticed, and she walked on, out of
the dining chamber, to receive her parents’ blessings and hasten up to
Only then did she open her hand. She was holding a tiny package
wrapped in a scrap of damask; inside was a ring enamelled in red. There
was a note, too. ‘Sweet Anna, please accept this token of my esteem.
My family’s coat of arms has a red ring, so it is special to me. I hope
you will wear it and think kindly of your servant.’
He had given her his special ring! If only it could have been her
betrothal ring! And yet, even though it was not, it still symbolised
She dared not keep the note; though it broke her heart to do it,
she tore it into tiny pieces and threw them out of the window. But
the ring she hid under the loose floorboard in the corner of her bedchamber.
The Princess of Scotland is an e-short and companion piece to Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen, the compelling fifth novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by bestselling author and historian Alison Weir.
‘The King would not approve of my falling in love … My marriage was in his gift’
Brought up in the magnificent castles of Scotland under the storm of her parent’s turbulent marriage, Margaret Douglas is well-acquainted with the changing whims of those who hold power. And when her father is exiled by King James V, Margaret is sent to England to seek refuge with her uncle, King Henry VIII.
Margaret is an asset to Henry, who plans to use her eligible marriage status for his own advantage. But, surrounded by the excitement and indulgences of the English court, will Margaret be able to resist the temptations of a young admirer? As she well knows, keeping secrets from the King can be a dangerous game…
The King’s Painter by bestselling historian Alison Weir is an e-short and companion piece to the captivating fourth novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets.
‘There are certain matters that are better handled by ladies than by ministers or ambassadors’
King Henry VIII is set to marry a woman he’s never met. Wary of rumours whispered by foreign envoys, he sends Susanna Gilman, royal painter and trusted friend, to Kleve to find out more about his chosen bride.
Before long, Susanna is returning to England with the Princess Anna, assuring the King she is a suitable match. But the King is disappointed – Anna is not as beautiful as her portrait.
Susanna is called upon once again to use her position as confidante to the new Queen to find out more about her past, and free the King from his marriage. But will she be able to put her blossoming friendship with Anna to one side to fulfil her duty to the King?
Each sunset, as I go to the chapel, I find myself looking for her. I look for details. What she is wearing, some clue to her identity. But she fades away if I look at her directly. I can just glimpse the blur of a hood, or a widow’s wimple, and those sad eyes, staring at something – or someone – I cannot see.
Anne Basset served four of Henry VIII’s queens, yet the King himself once pledged to serve her. Had fate not decreed otherwise, she might have been his wife – and Queen of England.
But now, far from court and heavy with her husband’s child, Anne prays in the Hungerford chapel, and awaits the ghostly figure she knows will come. This is her story, one that entwines with the fate of another Lady Hungerford from not so many years before. They say there’s a curse on this family…
Featuring the first chapter of Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets.
I was to be chief mourner – I, for whom Queen Jane had done more than anyone. She could never have filled the shoes of my dear, sainted mother – no one could – but she had done her very best to restore me to my rightful place in my father’s affections, and for that I shall always be grateful.
Henry VIII’s third queen is dead, leaving the King’s only son without a mother and the country without a queen. And as preparations are being made for Queen Jane’s funeral, her stepdaughter, the Lady Mary, laments the country’s loss.
But, only a month later, the King has begun his search for a new wife. Will Mary accept this new queen, or will she be forced to live in the shadows of Queen Katherine, Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Jane for ever?
A spellbinding companion piece to Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, featuring the first chapter of the novel.
The Grandmother’s Tale by historian Alison Weir is an e-short and companion piece to the spellbinding third novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen
SIX TUDOR QUEENS. SIX NOVELS. SIX YEARS.
The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love by historian Alison Weir is an e-short and companion piece to the Sunday Times bestseller Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, the second novel in the spellbinding series about Henry VIII’s queens.
‘May I have the pleasure of your hand in the dance, mademoiselle?’
1515 – Dressed in wine-coloured satin, with her dark hair worn loose, a young Anne Boleyn attends a great ball at the French court. The palace is exquisitely decorated for the occasion, and the hall is full with lords and ladies – the dancing has begun. Anne adores watching the game of courtly love play out before her eyes, though she is not expecting to be thrown into it herself. But moments later, a charming young man named Philippe du Moulin approaches to ask for her hand in the dance. And before she can resist, so begins Anne’s first lesson in love.
The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today is an e-short and companion piece to the Sunday Times bestseller Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, the second novel in the spellbinding series about Henry VIII’s queens.
Jo, historian and long-term admirer of Anne Boleyn, takes a group on a guided tour of the Tower of London, to walk in the shoes of her Tudor heroine. But as she becomes enthralled by the historical accuracy of her tour guide and the dramatic setting that she has come to love, something spectral is lurking in the shadows . . .
The Blackened Heart by foremost and beloved historian Alison Weir is an e-short and companion piece that bridges the first two novels in the Six Tudor Queens series, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick will delight in this mysterious tale, drawn together from fragments of history – and a good dose of speculation. Or is it…?
Margery Otwell, a self-made gentleman’s young daughter, gets her first taste of courtly life when she takes up a position as chamberer to Lady Peche of Lullingstone Castle. Dances, music, feasting – and a seduction – follow, and Margery learns the rules of courtly love the hard way.
Saved from disgrace by the kindly Sir John Peche, Margery finds herself at court waiting on Queen Katherine. Little does Margery know that she is already a pawn in a game of power, irrevocably bound to the fall of the lady she will come to love as her mistress, Queen and friend.
Six Tudor Queens: Writing a New Story is an introduction to the Six Tudor Queens series by eminent historian Alison Weir. The lives of Henry VIII’s queens make for dramatic stories that will offer insights into the real lives of the six wives based on extensive research and new theories that will captivate fans of Philippa Gregory and readers who lost their hearts (but not their heads) to the majestic world of Wolf Hall.
In all the romancing, has anyone regarded the evidence that Anne Boleyn did not love Henry VIII? Or that Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, who is said to have loved her in fact cared so little for her that he willed his personal effects to his sister? Or that Henry VIII, an over-protected child and teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? That Jane Seymour, usually portrayed as Henry’s one true love, had the makings of a matriarch? There is much to reveal …Read extract
The idea of writing a series of six novels about the wives of Henry VIII came suddenly to me as I was discussing another proposal with my agent. It was an obvious choice, for I have studied Henry’s queens over several decades, and published books on them, notably a collective biography in 1991, which I am now re-researching and rewriting.
The lives of the six wives make for dramatic stories. The extensive research I have done has afforded new insights into their lives. In all the romancing, for example, has anyone noticed the evidence that tells us what Anne Boleyn felt about being pursued by Henry VIII? Or that Henry VIII, an overprotected teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? I could go on…
I want to seek out the truths that lie behind the historical evidence and, for this, fiction is a versatile medium because it offers scope to develop ideas that have no place in a history book, but which can help to illuminate the lives of these queens. A historian uses such inventiveness at her peril – but a novelist has the power to get inside her heroine’s head, which can afford insights that would not be permissible to a historian, yet can have a legitimate value of their own – although I believe that the fictionalised version must be compatible with what is known about the subject.
Arthur: Prince of the Roses by bestselling historian Alison Weir is an e-short and companion piece to her stunning novel, Katherine of Aragon, the first in a spellbinding six-novel series about Henry VIII’s Queens. Fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick will love this insight into the story of this illfated Tudor prince.
‘You are the first prince of my line, the Tudor line.’
Arthur, the first Tudor prince, is raised to believe that he will inherit a kingdom destined to be his through an ancient royal bloodline. He is the second Arthur, named for the legendary hero-king of Camelot.
To be a worthy ruler, he must excel at everything – and show no weakness. But Arthur is not strong, and the hopes of England weigh heavy on his slight shoulders. And, all the while, his little brother Harry, the favoured, golden son, is waiting in the wings.
Alison Weir is the top-selling female historian (and the fifth best-selling historian overall) in the United Kingdom, and has sold over 2.7 million books worldwide. She has published seventeen history books, including The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Princes in the Tower, Elizabeth the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Katherine Swynford, The Lady in the Tower and Elizabeth of York. Alison has also published five historical novels, including Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth. Her latest biography is The Lost Tudor Princess, about Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. She is soon to publish Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, the first in a series of novels about the wives of Henry VIII. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences and an Honorary Life Patron of Historic Royal Palaces, and is married with two adult children.
Alison Weir is the top-selling female historian in the United Kingdom, and has sold over 2.7 million books worldwide. She has published seventeen history books, including Elizabeth the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lady in the Tower and Elizabeth of York, and five historical novels. Her latest biography is The Lost Tudor Princess. She is soon to publish Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, the first in a series of novels about the wives of Henry VIII.