In early 1539, King Henry VIII was ready for a fourth queen after being urged for months, if not years, by his advisers to marry again. The loss of Jane Seymour was significant to Henry but even he knew to carry on the dynasty he’d need another male heir – the “spare”. When he began looking for a suitable queen there was much hesitation from European royals. The outcome of his previous queens had frightened many of them away. The beautiful Christina of Milan was known to have said that if she had two heads she would risk it, but she alas had only one.
Thomas Cromwell was desperate to please the king and find him a new bride. He did so in finding the Anne and Amelia Cleves in present day Germany. In March 1539, the king sent Nicholas Wotton and Robert Barnes to Cleves to arrange a marriage with either Anne or her sister Amelia.
When Anne and Amelia were presented to Wotton and Barnes they were completely covered and the men were unable to report back on their attractiveness and figures. Hans Holbein was dispatched to Cleves to paint the sisters. In the meantime, Wotton and Barnes reported to Cromwell that Anne was the more favored of the two sisters. They didn’t know this for certain, it’s only what they had been told. What were they thinking!?
Cromwell reported to the king, “Every man praiseth the beauty of the said Lady Anne, as well for her face as for her person, above all other ladies excellent. She as far excelleth the Duchess of Saxony as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon. Every man praiseth the good virtues and honesty with shamefacedness which plainly appeareth in the gravity of her countenance.” Undoubtedly, Cromwell was exaggerating what he had heard. Few had seen much of Anne, because she was always well covered in cumbersome clothing when she very rarely appeared in public.
With this being said it was decided that Anne was the sister that Henry wanted for his a new queen.
The Duke of Cleves (Anne’s brother) had the final say on an agreement of marriage. It seems the Duke was reluctant to let his sister go…raising many objections. He said he was too poor to afford a dowry; that any woman marrying Henry would not know happiness.
Henry decided he would take Anne without a dowry if her portrait pleased him. A very generous offer – a dowry was always offered in this situation. The Duke of Cleves could not refuse the offer and finally gave permission to Holbein to paint his sister, Anne.
Holbein completed his portrait of Anne. It was one of the most exquisite portraits ever painted. The above image is a miniature that is featured at Victoria and Albert Museum – the actual miniature that Holbein painted of Anne. Henry must have liked what he saw and heard about Anne’s appearance (or fear of another wanting to marry her) because on 4 September 1539, without a dowry, she was betrothed to the King of England.
Reference: The Six Wives of Henry Vlll by Alison Weir