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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Today in History


January 6th, 1540 was the day that Henry VIII married his fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Their marriage was not a happy one and ended with an annulment on July 9, 1540. Anne was born at D├╝sseldorf, the daughter of John III, ruler of the Duchy of Cleves, who died in 1538. After John's death, her brother William became Duke of J├╝lich-Cleves-Berg. The family's politics made them suitable allies for England's King Henry VIII in the aftermath of the Reformation, and a match with Anne was urged on the king by his chancellor, Thomas Cromwell after the death of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour.

The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to paint portraits of Anne and her sister Amelia, whom Henry was considering for the role of his fourth wife. Henry hired the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter these sisters. Holbein was a superb portrait painter, and there is reason to believe his attractive portrayal of Anne was true.


Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these in her upbringing. She received no formal education as a child; and instead of being taught to sing or play an instrument, she was skilled in needlework. She had learned to read and write, but in German only. Nevertheless, Anne was considered gentle, virtuous, and docile, qualities that made her a realistic candidate for Henry.


The king reportedly took an immediate dislike to her and announced: "I like her not." Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, such an outcome was impossible without offending the Germans.


Henry was frustrated, and he took out his feelings on Anne. He was described as trying repeatedly to upset her by sending away her personal ladies-in-waiting from Cleves and replacing them with Englishwomen instead. However, Anne made friends quickly and soon enjoyed the lively company of the English maids of honor who attended her. Henry also ordered that she put aside her traditional and cumbersome Germanic clothing and adopt more streamlined English styles. She liked this idea and immediately ordered a large, lavish wardrobe, straining Henry's finances. He commanded that she speak only English and arranged for her to be tutored intensively. She learned English with amazing speed, so much so that the king was reportedly shocked.

Anne adamantly desired to stay in England after her annulment. She thus fully cooperated with Henry, supporting his claims, and probably testified that her marriage had never been consummated, as well as that her previous betrothal to the son of the Duke of Lorraine had never been legally broken. She gratefully accepted Henry's offer of several houses, a princely income, and the honorary title of "the King's Beloved Sister." The former queen received a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace, and Hever Castle (see right), home of Henry's former in-laws, the Boleyns. Anne of Cleves House, in Lewes, Sussex, is just one of many properties she owned but she never lived there. Henry and Anne became good friends—she was an honorary member of the King's family and was referred to as "the King's Beloved Sister". She was invited to court often and, out of gratitude for her not contesting the annulment, Henry decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England save his own wife and daughters.

The was one matter, however, on which she insisted. Anne consented to the annulment only after the king allowed her to have access to the royal children. She had formed strong attachments to all three of them, particularly Elizabeth. As she could never remarry and was thus denied the chance to have children of her own, Henry agreed. As a tribute to her prudence and good sense, even allowed Prince Edward, the royal heir, to visit her on occasion.


In 1553, when Henry's daughters Mary and Elizabeth rode into London with Mary as the new monarch, Anne was there to greet them. She was also present at Mary I's coronation at Westminster. That was her last public appearance. As the new Queen was a strict Catholic, Anne yet again converted her religion, now to becoming a Roman Catholic.

Of all of Henry's wives, Anne of Cleaves was probably the most fortunate. Though a failure as a wife, she earned the king's respect and affection, and was able to live out her life in relative happiness. Anne died at age 41 on July 16th, 1557 and is the only wife of Henry's to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

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