Once upon a time, I won a contest with a short scene between a shrunken artist and one of the future wives of Henry VIII. That was either two years ago or 482 years ago, depending on your perspective.
I love history and historical fiction, and was so excited when the theme of SizeRiot’s 2020 July Contest was announced to be history. I had studied Tudor history in college, but I wasn’t sure which topic to choose for my story until my metamour began listening to SIX: The Musical, about the six wives of Henry VIII. I loved the confident, empowered spin they put on Anne of Cleves living her best divorced life in “Get Down,” but it was the (admittedly ridiculous) “Haus of Holbein” that really got me thinking.
The key to the story came when I did more research and learned that the man who painted the fateful, controversial portrait of Anne was also famous for his miniatures. What if Hans Holbein was able to “raise the art of the portrait miniature to its first peak of brilliance,” according to one historian, because he had the ability to shrink? What if he kept that skill secret but was discovered? What would that moment be like? By the time I decided Hans had never before felt human contact while small, I was hooked on this idea.
Jump to the story, or scroll on for historical context and nerdery. (You won’t need it to enjoy the story, I promise.)
Inspired by true events
As the story goes, the king sent his favorite portrait artist Hans Holbein around Europe to paint pictures of the candidates for his fourth bride. When Holbein returned with the paintings, he was most impressed with Anne of Cleves and agreed to let his minister Cromwell arrange the marriage in winter of 1540. The legend would have us believe that Anne proved to be “ugly as a Flanders Mare,” as one historian insulted her centuries later. Henry was allegedly repulsed by her and annulled the marriage within six months so he could move on to one of Anne of Cleves’ more attractive ladies in waiting, Anne Howard.
The more I researched her story, the more I wanted to know about Anne of Cleves and what her life was like. The pieces fell into place when I learned a more likely chain of events from Dr. Katrina Marchant, shared in the 20-minute video below. In a nutshell: King Henry’s unrealistic expectations, his chivalric (and naïve) belief that true love will recognize itself even in disguise, and above all, his wounded masculine pride were the real problems in the situation. (CW for the video: descriptions of sexual assault, fat shaming, the king’s illness from a wound, and Henry being an unmitigated asshole.)
There was also the fact that Henry’s first three wives were all “small women” and Anne of Cleves was likely a taller German woman. If you happen to find that interesting at all.
Where was Anne in all of this? I agree with Dr. Marchant’s arguments that she was probably “not unpleasant to look upon.” But who was she? Was Anne shy? Bold? She was certainly sheltered, because of her culture’s traditions that had women largely sequestered in a Frauenzimmer, where men were forbidden. There’s some debate about whether Anne learned any kind of sex education in this setting. It was a point of contention during the annulment: did she know what was needed to produce an heir? Her ladies in waiting claimed that she believed a kiss was sufficient. I chose to write a story about an Anne who was, at the age of 25, still curious about men and their bodies.
I nearly titled my story “The King’s Miniaturist” because it reads easier. But to me the story was just as much about Anne of Cleves as it was about the artist who painted her. I may have written from Hans’ point of view—I couldn’t resist the poetic perspective of an artist, especially a tiny one—but it is not just his story. That felt important to me.
As for Hans Holbein the Younger, a German-Swiss painter considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century, even if you haven’t heard of him you have probably still seen his work. He painted the most iconic images of Henry VIII, as well as Erasmus, Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell, who arranged the marriage between Anne and Henry, and who Henry actually put to death after the annulment. (Hans remained alive, employed, and unpunished, more evidence to suggest that the painting was faithful and Henry was merely nursing his wounded pride.)
You may have noticed that I have not linked to the Wikipedia article about Hans. That’s because the only remaining portrait of him (giving his best bearded Bruce Willis impression) includes what is a truly unfortunate haircut by modern standards. And I honestly don’t want my readers to be distracted. Speaking of which, check out his artistic skill! What a lovely painting he created of Anne, am I right?
I dare you to click on the image to open up the full file, lean close, and soak in those details. (If that doesn’t work, you can see more detail on the website of the Louvre, where it lives today.)
Try to see the work through the eyes of an artist, someone who had to build this masterpiece one brushstroke at a time. Try to imagine how much easier it would be to paint such intricate work if you had the ability to close up your studio, lock the door, and shrink yourself in secret.
Reviews & Contest Feedback
One thing I miss the most about the SizeRiot contests was the feedback. If I had the energy, I would love to create some kind of writers’ circle within the size kink community that could help us trade feedback and grow as writers. I would not be the writer I am today without those contests, particularly the supportive feedback.
It took me several tries over two years to solve the issues that readers had with the original 2000-word story. I hope, if you gave me helpful feedback in 2020, that you feel this is a clearer, less rushed, and more polished rendition. I am grateful for your insight and kindness.
(Mild spoilers in the reviews)
“Took hold of me right away; loved the story of this teasing, lustful adventure.”
“A superbly written and penned piece; subtle, steeped in the history and significance of the time, and ultimately a very sultry extract from the lives of two people who may only have ever interacted with significance that one time… An enjoyable story with a saucy little ending. ”
“Delicious, like a piece of fruit. The writing lingers in the mind, mixes with reality, and gives me the sense of scale, of the juxtaposition of the real Anne and the Miniaturist’s painting.”
“The details and language of this story were impressively rich and vivid. Not only did you know your era well… but you also built palpable sexual tension between them and allowed them to explore it… One of the sexiest stories in the contest.”
“A very poetic and delicate story. Tiny Hans is racked with political fear, Anne is confident in her authority and is moved by her desires. Together they make an interesting dance, as he has to overcome himself to receive the gift he has fantasized over for so long.”
“I loved how scandalous it was for them to be together in the way they were. It was cute how he was so worried about the wet paint, rightfully so! I thought you did a lovely interpretation of a historical period and size erotica. Definitely one of my favorite in this contest.”
“I’ve always loved the concept of a shrunken artist being able to apply levels of detail impossible for normal sized hands to achieve. This story plays with that trope in a wonderful, and ultimately sexy way… We need more stories like this.”
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Tags for this story include: F/m, shrunken man, dubious consent, oral sex, some antiquated language, and English history from the Tudor period
Read the story
TEXT VERSION: Read the text version of the story behind the cut.
AUDIO VERSION: Listen to a 26-minute author-read version of the story here. While I am proud of this reading, I want to let you know I tried out a German accent for the dialogue portions. I watched several videos from native speakers, practiced, and did my best. However, I am still a Texan. I hope it’s more cause for amusement than for offense, because I meant none. Please enjoy!