I want to consider my favourite of King Henry VII wives today. Everyone’s heard of Anne of Cleves, King Henry VIII 4th wife, but probably you don’t know much about her.
Anne was born in Dusseldorf in the Duchy of Cleves in September 1515. She was the 2nd of 4 children born to Duke John III of Cleves, Julich and Berg and his wife Maria Duchess of Julich-Berg. When she was just 11 she was betrothed to 10 year old Francis of Lorraine the son of the Duke of Lorraine. This betrothal was later declared void due to Francis being so young.
After the death of Queen Jane in 1537 the king’s adviser Oliver Cromwell began to look for a new queen and looked to Cleves as the new Duke (Anne’s brother) was a protestant, although Anne was a Catholic like her devote mother. Hans Holbein the younger was despatched to paint portraits of Anne and her sister. It was from these pictures Henry decided on Anne. In October 1539 a treaty was drawn up between King Henry and Duke William for Henry to marry Anne.
Anne was described by contemporary sources as being tall, slim, fair haired and having a lovely face and being of a gentle and docile. She was not well educated although she could read and write in German. She was very skilled at needlework.
Anne arrived in England in December 1539 and she first met the King on 1st January 1540. Henry entered her chambers in disguise and embraced her. Anne was alarmed and thanked the man and then turned away. It is alleged that it was Katherine Howard who pointed out to Anne that it was the King. Henry was enraged and immediately demanded that a way be found to stop the wedding. Oliver Cromwell was all for the wedding taking place and persuaded the king to go through with the wedding as the alliance with another protestant nation was vital to the defence of the country against Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire. In the end this decision cost Cromwell his life.
Anne and Henry were married by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cramner at the Palace of Placentia on the 6th January 1540. After the marriage Henry made many complaints about Anne from her being ugly and smelly to her being so undesirable that he could not consummate the marriage. Anne is believed to have believed the marriage was consummated as Henry slept beside her every night. The King decided he wanted out of the marriage and used the fact that she had been betrothed to Francis of Lorraine and the non consummation of the marriage as the main reasons. We all know he was besotted with Anne’s lady in waiting Katherine Howard and she was the main reason.
Anne was ordered to leave court in June 1540 and on the 6th July she was told the King wished to annul the marriage. Anne sensibly agreed to the annulment and thus probably saved her life. She inherited many houses as part of the annulment including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. She was also given the title of Beloved Sister and she thus ranked higher than all ladies of the court except the Queen and the Kings daughters. She was a regular at court and had a strong friendship with Princess Mary and Elizabeth.
After the execution of Katherine Howard it is believed Anne’s brother Duke William of Cleves was pushing for Henry to remarry Anne. Whether Anne was for this or not is not really known as no evidence survives.
After Henry’s death Anne lived mainly away from court and was not seen much but she was by Queen Mary’s side along with Princess Elizabeth when Mary entered London to take the crown. Anne was also at Mary’s coronation in 1553. Anne converted back to Catholicism when Mary took the throne.
Anne came under scrutiny during the Wyatt rebellion against Queen Mary as Anne was very close to Princess Elizabeth who was protestant and was removed form court in 1554.
Anne lived at her estate for the rest of her life where she was a described as a good and kind mistress. Many say she suffered from periods of homesickness but she never left England after her arrival in 1539.
In June 1557 Anne became so unwell she wrote her will in which she asked Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth to look after her servants who she also left some money to. On the 16th July 1557 Anne of Cleves died at her home in Chelsea from cancer and was buried by the high alter in Westminster Abbey. She was the last of King Henry VIII wives to die.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!