Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII: The Short Life of a Marriage

Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII- The Short Life of a Marriage


This guest article is the sequel to – Anne of Cleves: Betrothal to Henry VIII

Guest Article Written By: Samia Chebbah


Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves was a German princess. She arrived from Dusseldorf to England, two months after being betrothed to Henry VIII, on December 11th,1539.[1] She would become his fourth wife.

What was different with this marriage was that the king waited two years before marrying again. Actually, his last queen, Jane Seymour died on October 24th, 1537.[2] One can say that it took a very long time to Henry VIII to marry again when we know that his three previous marriages happened one right after the other (Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour). The other difference was that it was the first time that he agreed to marry without having met the woman in the flesh. (see Tudors Weekly article). Holbein the Younger, the king’s official painter, executed a portrait of Anne of Cleves, in July 1539, which pleased the king of England. [3]

Anne of Cleves - 1540s
Anne of Cleves – 1540s

Anne of Cleves arrived near Greenwich on the eve of her marriage to Henry VIII. She looked about 30 years of age, tall and thin, of medium beauty”.[4] Poor Anne was only 24 and she was compared to a 30-year-old lady.

Those accounts were contradicting the reports that said that Anne of Cleves was ”as well for the face, as for the whole body, above all other ladies excellent”.[5] Knowing Henry VIII’s taste for good-looking women, one can imagine how shocked he must have been when he first saw her!

However, Henry did not wait for their wedding day to see Anne. When Henry knew Anne had reached Dover, he decided to go to visit her in Rochester, in Kent, on New Year’s Eve for he wanted to nourish love.[6] Henry VIII was so impatient that he could not wait to meet his new bride. Little did he know that he would be surprised with her looks.

Holbein foll Henry VIII em lAfter seeing her, he started complaining about her appearance, even saying ”I like her not”.[7] And when his minister, Thomas Cromwell asked about her, after he first saw her, the king responded that she was” nothing so well as she was spoken of”.[8] The king was disappointed to get married to Anne of Cleves. After that first encounter, Henry VIII even asked his minister ” what remedy?”[9] One can understand that Henry VIII was already trying to find a marriage annulment.

Nevertheless, Anne of Cleves, 24 and Henry VIII, 48, married on January 6th, 1540 at Greenwich Palace.[10] That would be the start of a sad and short marriage.

Inevitably, the king continued to complain after his first night with his new bride, saying that he ”left her as good a maid as [he] found her.”[11]

It did not seem to bother the new queen who seem to be unaware of what to do with a man for she declared that she was contented with that for she knew no more.[12] Knowing that Henry VIII was always pleased with love and sex, one can imagine how bored and miserable he must have been in that marriage.

King Henry VIII, afraid of reports of impotency declared to his doctors, John Chambre and William Butts, that he knew he would be able to have a sexual relationship with other women but not with his wife.[13] The king’s accounts about his wife’s appearance must have been shameful to Anne of Cleves. In fact, she was not what the king wanted and he seemed to show it very obviously. It must have been tough for Anne of Cleves, who was a new comer in England and to feel that she was not very welcome.

Following the wedding, the queen had to endure more offenses. The first one was that she was supposed to be crowned Queen of England on February 2nd, 1540, but the king annulled the ceremony.[14] Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had both been crowned queen of England. Jane Seymour would surely have been crowned as well if she did not died after giving birth to Henry VIII’s first son and heir.

Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard

Then, in March 1540[15], he met Katherine Howard, aged 18, which would become his new mistress and later on, bride. Katherine was the queen’s opposite for she was beautiful and vivid. She was also the late Anne Boleyn’s cousin.

On June 30th ,1540, Henry VIII declared that he ”never for love to the woman consented to marry.”[16] On July 7th,1540, the depositions for an annulment of marriage started, either to declare that the marriage had never been consummated or to say that Anne of Cleves was betrothed before marrying the king. On July 9th 1540, the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves would finally be declared void, only six month after the ceremony.[17]

On July 11th of the same year, Anne of Cleves accepted the nullity of the marriage. In a letter to the king, she asked the king ”to take her as his most humble servants” and also as his ”sister”.[18] In a letter dated from July 29th, the king accepted her request, granted her two houses, one in Richmond and the other one near London, he even welcome her to Court and called her ”his dearest sister by adoption”. He signed the letter ”Your loving brother and friend, H.R”[19]

Being free from that marriage, Henry VIII was able to show generosity and to offer his friendship to Anne. Or was it because she was from noble descent and that Henry VIII had to keep Germany as an ally?

Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell

Nevertheless, that divorce case showed one more time that Henry VIII made sure to always obtain what he wanted. Of course, the annulment of marriage was not enough for the king. Someone had to pay for having him entered such a loveless marriage. On July 28th, 1540, Thomas Cromwell, one the king’s most famous advisers, was beheaded on Tower Hill. As if to celebrate his definite emancipation from Cromwell and his divorce from Anne of Cleves, he married Katherine Howard, that same day.[20]

To show that the former queen was part of the Court and considered as a close member to the royal family, she attended the coronation of Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary I. Anne of Cleves died in July 1557 and buried in Westminster Abbey.[21] She did not have the chance to be crowned in that location but she would now rest in peace there. That last gesture showed that she was appreciated and well-integrated in the royal inner circle.


[1]Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell, The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. Phoenix. London, 2007. Page 209
[5]Warnicke, Retha M. The Marrying of Anne of Cleves., Royal Protocol in the Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Page 77
[7]Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell, The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. Phoenix. London, 2007. Page 214
[11]Graves, Michael A R. Henry VIII: A study in Kingship. Pearson Education Limited, 2003. Page 133
[12]Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell, The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. Phoenix. London, 2007. Page 219
[13]Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell, The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. Phoenix. London, 2007. Page 219
[14]Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell, The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. Phoenix. London, 2007. Page 220
[15]Hutchinson, Robert. House of Treason, The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty.Phoenix. London, 2009. Page 136
[20]Hutchinson, Robert. House of Treason, The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty.Phoenix. London, 2009. Page 143

About the Author: Samia Chebbah

SnHLuCicI live in France and french is my mother tongue. I am in love with the History of England ! Whenever I go there, visiting castles is my top priority ! My favourite period is the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. So it came as no surprise that when I had to decide the dissertation topic for my Master’s Degree, the English monarchy was my first choice. And so I talked about the ennoblement of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s race for supremacy. I am very curious and always have to make some researches when I learn about a new historical event! I have found it to be very enriching to do so because it always leads to another fact. This is the magic of history I guess!

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