Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII, was possibly the luckiest wife of the notorious monarch.

Born September 22, 1515 in Dusseldorf, Germany, she was the second daughter of reformist John III of the House of La Marck, Duke of Cleves and Catholic Maria, Duchess of Julich-Berg. She grew up in Schloss Burg under the stern eye of her father.

Her education was limited. She could read and write, but only in German. Not interested in books, she had been taught the usual household skills and was adept at needlework. Card playing was one of her favorite entertainments.

At 12, she was betrothed to 10 year old Francis, heir of the Duke of Lorraine. It was not meant to be and the contract was canceled in 1535. Thomas Cromwell, seeing an alliance between Germany and England as beneficial, pressed Henry to make a betrothal.

Henry dispatched Hans Holbein to paint Anne and her sister, Amalia, who was also in the running. He instructed him to paint them as they were, flaws and all, but for whatever reason; Holbein painted Anne more attractive than she was. When Henry received the miniature of Anne, he was pleased and by October 4, 1539, the marriage treaty was complete.

Anne traveled to England to meet Henry at Greenwich Palace. Becoming impatient he decided to intercept her in Dover. When he met her he was disappointed and so angry that he fired Holbein. Convinced that everyone had lied to him, he demanded that Cromwell find a way to get out of the contract. Cromwell let him know there was no way to end the contract without endangering the alliance with the Germans.

Anne joined the Church of England and they were married January 6, 1540. That night the marriage was not consummated. Lack of sexual attraction, anger about his “manipulation” and his age were probably factors in this. He was 49 and developing physical problems. The next morning he told Cromwell, ” I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.”

Matters did not improve and July 6, she was asked to leave court and told that Henry wanted an annulment.

I speculate that Anne, coming from a somber household, liked the fun loving English court. If she could continue living in England and avoid going home, she would agree to the annulment. I believe she negotiated to give him his freedom and at the same time, keep hers.

Henry gave her several properties including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. They became good friends and she was referred to as ” the King’s beloved sister.” She was often at court.

Henry passed in 1547. Anne was present at the coronation of Mary, daughter of Henry and Catherine in 1553. Mary was a devout Catholic so Anne changed her religion from Anglican to Catholic. She didn’t visit court as much after Mary’s coronation, but congratulated her on her marriage to Phillip of Spain.

Her health failing, Mary moved her to Old Chelsea Manor. In July she dictated her will which included bequeaths to her brother, sister and Elizabeth Tudor. She left money to her servants and asked Mary and Elizabeth to employ them in their households.

Anne died July 16, 1557 just before her 42nd birthday probably from cancer. Buried in Westminster Abbey, the only wife of Henry to be interred there, she was the last one of his wives to die.

Anne of Cleves’ marriage to Henry was short, but she benefited the most of any of his wives, and lived a happy life in her adopted country of England.