Before I fell in love with those crazy Plantagenets, I loved the Tudors. I have been incredibly lucky to not only get my hands on such fantastic texts about the rather short dynasty, but to also become friends with several authors who share the love for this family as I do - or who love them far more. Unfortunately some of the books, like with all subjects, are really hit or miss. The Tudors have been done to death practically, and sometimes it seems as though there is nothing new to discover. I hope this is not true, but sometimes it really does feel that way.
I was really excited to read this one because I am absolutely in love with the clothing from the period - while at the same time incredibly thankful I don't have to dress that way daily. Still, the clothing was lovely and I was interested to see what delights the book would show off. I should have paid much closer attention to the blurb I suppose, because the book was not solely about Anne's clothes, but what she wore at various periods in her life. In that regards then, there is nothing new here, which was disappointing. I was hoping this would be the primary focus, but in the end it was only a regurgitation of Anne's story with the sections each titled by an article of clothing she wore at that time. We do get information regarding all of the layers of clothing Anne wore, as well as documentary proof in the forms of purchase orders and other such records. These provide a glimpse of the types of accessories and clothing Anne was most fond of, as well as the materials used to make up her wardrobe. What could have been most valuable though were sketches of what the articles looked like. Even though none of Anne's clothing survives today, there are enough descriptions of certain articles that belonged to her, which coupled with what we know of general fashion of the time could have provided enough of an idea for an illustrator to fill the pages from section to section. It seems like such an obvious and missed opportunity.
The biggest issue for me was the retelling of her story in the barest bones kind of way. The book is not long at all, just a little over 100 pages. So, it did not do what it set out to do - give clear portrait of her clothing - and because of the short length it could not do what other books about Anne do, which is give a detailed history of those fateful years when Henry went after Anne. It is also quite the pro-Anne piece, and while I have little regard for this particular Boleyn girl, I certainly appreciate good biographies of ALL Tudor figures. Many of the descriptions of the clothing and accessories are taken from contemporary sources, which is great, but again, sketches would have been a huge boost to this little text.
I do like that the author kept the focus directly on Anne. Sometimes histories like this give an overview of the generalities before going into the specifics when they run out of things to say. I can appreciate that the author did not compromise her work in that way, as some might be tempted to do. As such, however, this would not necessarily then be a work for an everyday reader who knows little about the clothing of the time.
Ending on a positive note, there were other aspects of the book I enjoyed that were related to Anne's clothing while not being about the clothing directly. You will find interesting information regarding how the clothing was cleaned and cared for, where it was stored, and other little bits that you might not have considered when Anne was executed.
This book will best serve those who already have a pretty good idea of Who's Who in regards to the Tudor dynasty. All the Marys and Margarets get confusing if you don't have a decent grasp on which one is which, along with all the others of the same names. Even so, this is not a terrible book, but is certainly not the best I have read on the subject of lesser-known Tudor women. It is misleading to call them 'forgotten' though. All three women played somewhat-to-fairly significant roles at one point or another. Margaret was Henry's niece (and mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots), Mary Howard his daughter-in-law and a Boleyn cousin, and Mary Shelton one of his mistresses and another Boleyn cousin. It is necessary to also note that while they were important, they also managed to stay out of Henry's way, and all managed to die of natural causes instead of on the block for contributing to some perceived plot against the throne. So perhaps in that regard they are forgotten only in terms of being overshadowed by the larger than life personalities of the women most closely associated with Henry.
It's tricky though, to decide who would be best suited for this book. Anyone who is well-versed in Tudor history will already know plenty of information about these three women and would not consider them forgotten. But as I mentioned above, if you don't have some kind of basis to build on, it would be easy to get confused. The author also discusses those in a wider net of relations to the women on the cover - especially in the case of Margaret Douglas. There is quite a bit included on her son, Lord Darnley, and his ill-fated marriage to my girl Mary, Queen of Scots - thus making Margaret the grandmother of James VI/I. It's not terribly in-depth, but there is enough background that at least fleshes each woman out to make them visible.
Mary Shelton is the one I knew least about, which is probably the view of most. I was interested to learn that she was quite intelligent, and a poet. That part is not surprising, but it was interesting to learn her great-grandson is one of the men who signed Charles I's death warrant. I always enjoy learning new little bits of information, especially when it is a topic I think might nearly be exhausted (though I really, really hope it isn't).