Saturday, 3 February 2018

"Anna" Lovell, horrible person and unwanted wife?

As I have pointed out before, a lot about Anne FitzHugh Lovell`s life is not known. She did not excite much comment in her own lifetime, mentions of her only being found in private letters or in accounts, and has been all but ignored by historians since. As a consequence, information about her is not plentiful and hard to come by.

Perhaps for that reason, historical fiction is not kind to Anne. To a certain extent, it is naturally understandable that in a novel not focusing on her or her husband, not too much attention is on her and in such a case, a few mistakes and misrepresentations are to be expected and do not detract from the actual narrative too much. However, as I have stated before, if a character is not to be simply an invented character with the name of a historical person, but in some way a representation of that person, there needs to be a kernel of truth in their portrayal. Anne Lovell, sadly, often does not even get that.

In fact, in many works of fiction, not even her name is correct, and instead of Anne, her actual name, she is called Anna. There is no historical basis for this at all, and the only source which calls her this is written in Latin and therefore naturally used the Latin version of her name. It does not in any way suggest that she was called this by anyone, any more than it suggests that her husband was called Franciscus because of being named thus in the source. All other sources in which she is named, even official ones such as an indenture her husband made for her, the grant of an annuity made to her by Henry VII`s government, call her Anne - which was, of course, her real name.

Naturally, the reason for her being named this in novels is the plethora of Annes to be found in her closer proximity. Her aunt, her first cousin, her great-aunt and her first cousin once removed are just four women of the same name with whom Anne FitzHugh Lovell may have had closer contact. However, this does not explain why she is the one called this even in the rare novels focusing on Francis, in which she should be the most important woman named Anne. It also does not explain why she does not ever get another nickname, or why "Anna" is not even in passing said to be a nickname in novels which call her that. The use of "Anna" has become so persistent that it has even bled over into non-fiction.

Another very often made and yet easily avoidable mistake made about Anne in fiction is to do with her age. It is even easily found by an internet search that she was born in 1460 and was therefore four years younger than her husband, who was born in 1456. This also made her four years younger than Anne Neville, something that novels almost never portray. In one very famous and otherwise well-researched novel focusing on Richard III, Anne Lovell is explicitly said to be Anne Neville`s age, for no particular reason. Since the same novel also has Francis be ten years old in January 1463, when his father died - despite the fact that John Lovell died in January 1465 and Francis had only just turned six in early 1463 - at least their age gap is portrayed correctly.

Anne`s wrong age often leads to other problems with her in the narrative, which usually have to do with her and Francis`s supposedly unsuccessful marriage. One novel had Francis complain with the frequency of the human birth rate that Anne is so much younger than him, yet portrayed Richard and Anne Neville, whose age gap was the same, as perfectly fine with one another.

Their marriage being used as a foil to Richard and Anne Neville`s supposedly unusually happy and blissful union is another source of Anne Lovell being misrepresented, often in connection with the mistake about the age. The above-mentioned famous novel has a character muse in December 1472 that clearly the Lovells` marriage is unsuccessful:

But his wife Anna was not [at Richard and Anne`s Christmas celebration]. Francis had told Alison that Anna felt she should spent this Christmas with her mother, it being less than six months since Anna`s father had died. Alison had diplomatically agreed with him. Now she shook her head. A pity. But that was too often the way of it. Child marriages either worked out very well or they worked out not at all.“

This is a particularly jarring instance because it also includes Francis`s sisters, the younger of whom was only around eight years old at that point, as being present at the celebration, explicitly to make a point about how Francis and Anne do not want to be in each other`s presence. Since Anne was only twelve at that point in real life and would not live with Francis for several years, it is pretty clear that this presentation is only made possible by the mistake about her age. Seeing as this scene that directly before a scene in which there is a long discussion about Anne Neville`s bliss in her marriage and Richard´s treatment of her as if she was "made of Venetian crystal fine enough to shatter at the merest touch" (rather baffling in itself since glass from Murano doesn`t typically do that, and would be utterly pointless if it did), it is quite obvious that these marriages are meant to be juxtaposed, and Anne Lovell portrayed as an unhappy and unwanted wife mostly for this point to be made.

This novel, however, does not blame her for the supposed failure of their marriage, the way many others do. One novel claims that she was "one of those miserable creatures who are happiest when pulling a soul to pieces", and then has the characters downright gloat that she is not happy, serving her right for her horrible personality. This does not serve any narrative reason at all, except give Francis leave to be a womaniser, unlike Richard, and still be sympathetic. Again, like so many of Anne`s depictions, it is also wrong. Anne appeared to be well-liked and courageous, and there is no evidence anyone disliked her, let alone that it was the commonly held attitude towards her. 

This book also has "Anna" being frigid and always "resisting Francis`s attentions", another strange trend in fiction. Rather alarmingly, this never gets any sympathy whatsoever. Despite Anne Lovell often being portrayed as disliking Francis, against all evidence, the narrative never affords these feelings any validity and portrays her as horrible for not wanting sex with a man she hates. 

In fact, in connection with the misconceptions and mistakes made about her mentioned above, this sometimes turns from an uncomfortable implication into something downright sickening. One book, which calls Anne "unlovely" and having "skin the colour and consistency of porridge" as if it was a judgement on her character - and, to to it off, has her ladies literally described as "axe-faced crones" - has her be present at Richard and Anne Neville`s wedding, described to be taking place in summer 1472. Then this happens, as narrated by Richard:

"She dropped a curtsey and mumbled a curt greeting that was barely polite. I got the feeling she was one of those women who, although committed to her duty, hated men - all men. Then she placed her hands on her hips, raised her weak chin and said boldly: "I have brought my own ladies to attend on Cousin Anne and prepare her for what is to come tonight."

"For what is to come?" I could not help but utter an indignant response. "Lady Lovell, you make it sound as if I am going to torture her! I assure you, it is not pain that will make her cry out tonight!"

Anna Lovell flushed fiery red, which worsened her complexion. Frank [Francis] reddened too. "Anna!", he hissed at her. "You have insulted the duke. Apologize at once."

What is already pretty heavy-handed character development rather unfair to the actual woman, establishing her as someone with no redeeming features, becomes sickening when it becomes clear that in real life Anne Lovell was twelve in summer 1472. The narrative clearly suggests she is older, but no age of her is given except that she was six when she married Francis - which, if the traditional (if most likely wrong) year of 1466 for their marriage is assumed, would indeed make her twelve, meaning the above scene features two men mocking a twelve-year-old, who has clearly been made to have sex already by her husband, for disliking sex. It also depicts Francis as having forced his prepubescent wife to have sex and scorning her for having disliked it. Even at the time, a consummation at the age of twelve years old was considered way too early, as was remarked upon in the case of Margaret Beaufort, and naturally incredibly dangerous and damaging to her physical and mental health.

The implications of this scene and similar ones featuring Anne in the book, though most likely unintentional, are horrifying, but the picture of Anne being frigid, disliking sex and forcing Francis to satisfy his needs elsewhere is quite widespread, and seems to be based on nothing else but their childlessness.

Of course, from a distance of over 500 years, it is impossible to say for certain why they were childless. However, an indenture Francis made in  June 1485, arranging for her to receive several of his manors to own in her own right after his death, showed he had no doubt she could have children and instead seemed to think himself unable to do so. This hardly suggests she did not allow him in her bed or was so horrible he had to look elsewhere. If anything, it suggests that he was not willing or able to have sex, rather than her, though naturally there are other explanations of why he could have believed such a thing. There is, however, no basis in the strangely wide-spread portrayal of Anne as horrible and frigid.

Finally, one last baffling portrayal of Anne is of her and Francis having problems because she comes from a Lancastrian family. One novel even states that her mother, Alice FitzHugh, "an unregenerate Lancastrian, detested the House of York and therefore loathed Richard –and Francis by association." - completely ignoring Francis lived with her and her family during the Lancastrian readaption, that she raised his sisters and that they in his later life showed signs of being close. Another one has Anne fear - thankfully, in a scene rather more sympathetic to her than usual - that she is despised by Richard and Anne Neville`s circle of friends because of her Lancastrian family.

Naturally, this ignores that Anne herself had no choice in which side her parents chose, since she was so young, and that Anne Neville was far more involved, also because of her parents, in the Lancastrian cause than she was. It also ignores that Francis`s family was also Lancastrian, his uncle William in fact still involved, together with the equally Lancastrian Earl of Oxford, in acts of piracy as late as 1473. 

However, this last, while a somewhat unlikely worry for her to have, at least provides a sensible narrative reason for awkwardness and distance between her and her husband, while still having both as sympathetic characters. Though there is no evidence of Anne and her husband having been distant in an unusual way, it makes for a sensible choice in fiction if a distance is to be portrayed - and an emotional distance is possible, if perhaps not likely, to have been present between the historical couple. 

Naturally, as stated above, there is not much known about Anne Lovell, which gives fiction a lot of freedom with her character. It is strange and somewhat disheartening that despite this, she is often portrayed in a way that contradicts what little we have about her, is incredibly hostile to her and includes sexist assumptions and descriptions (such as a couple`s childlessness being because the woman is frigid and ugly) and pits her against others.


  1. Oh wow. Anyone who has skin "the consistency of oatmeal" should be getting to a doctor posthaste. Why are you dragging her to social functions in that state, Francis? :)

    Poor Anne sounds like she's gotten the same treatment as Mary Talbot gets in Anne Boleyn novels -- at least in that case, it's well-documented that her marriage to Henry Percy did in fact collapse, but novelists do have a tendency to lay most if not all of the blame at her feet for being ugly, stupid, shrewish, or in book, having "stubby fingers" (who could love a woman with short fingers? I ask you!) The fact that Percy didn't want to marry her -- and who knows how she felt about that whole affair herself -- somehow seldom translates into his being a lackluster husband; it's almost always her fault, and her fault alone -- and not just because she isn't Anne Boleyn.

    I recognized the passages from "The Sunne In Splendour" but not the others -- just out of curiosity, were they all written afterwards? Because I will say that I don't see anything inherently wrong with making their marriage not the greatest just because it sets up the dramatic contrast between an arranged marriage that works out and the one that doesn't, just as Anne Boleyn novels like to portray her sister Mary as an unambitious homebody because it makes for more tension between the sisters. Of course, Mary have actually have been that, but it's become the canon interpretation when she may well have been a very different sort of person. I think poor Anne Lovell may have fallen victim to the fact that her portrayal in a trendsetting novel became accepted as canon and the writers who followed treated the "failed Lovell marriage" as an accepted fact rather than a possible, by no means certain, interpretation.

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    2. Thank you for this great comment! This is an interesting parallel to Mary Talbot - I did not know about that. Poor woman!

      One of the books I spoke about here was written a couple of years before The Sunne in Splendour, but all the others afterwards. It is probably true that due to this novel`s popularity, its portrayal of the marriage has become accepted.

      In itself, it is one of the fairer portrayals because, as you say, it features a possible, if perhaps not likely, interpretation of the marriages and does not blame Anne for it not working. Even so, while using one marriage as a foil to another is not a bad narrative choice (although it does get boring if all novels on the subject always pit the same two marriage against each other, with the same results), I feel it shouldn`t have to change facts, such as Anne`s age, to do so. That feels a bit like cheating. ;)