The Life of Anne of Cleves (Part One)

Listen to the Tudors Dynasty Podcast about Anne of Cleves here:

Born on the 22nd of September 1515 in Dusseldorf, Anne of Cleves was the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves and Maria of Julich Berg.

Like Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves had the grandest lineage of any of his other wives. She was descended from Edward I of England and on her father’s idea was closely related to Louis XII of France as well as the dukes of Burgundy.

Anne’s education was not that of a future queen, it was as a lady who would one day marry a duke or prince. She was educated by her mother and could read and write but only knew German. Anne had not been taught any music as part of her education – this was something that was actually disapproved of in her native Cleves.

Anne was the only one of King Henry’s wives who was not musical but her education level was similar to Jane Seymour’s. Throughout all of his marriages you will find wives with interest in music…save Anne of Cleves. Maybe interest is the wrong word – knowledge.

The English ambassador did not seem too concerned that Anne could not speak English, he said, ‘her wit is so good that no doubt she will in a short space learn the English tongue, when so ever she put her mind to it’.

Anne sister Sibylla was married to John Frederick, the eldest son of the Duke of Saxony at the age of fourteen. Author Elizabeth Norton says that the marriage was an excellent match and the Duke of Cleves was very generous in the terms of the marriage treaty. He provided Sibylla with 25,000 florins and agreed that if his son William died without sons, that John Frederick would become heir to Cleves – with the understanding that he would pay 160,000 florins towards the marriages of Anne and Amelia. So John Frederick had a vested interest in who the daughters married since could one day be Duke of Cleves himself.

Betrothal to Francis of Lorraine

Even before he had finalized the marriage treaty of his eldest daughter, the Duke of Cleves was already working on one for his eleven-year-old daughter Anne.

The Duke of Cleves and the Duke of Lorraine had been discussing a possible marriage between their children. The marriage contract was signed on the 5th of June 1527, but neither Anne nor Francis were called upon to give their consent to the union – something that was required to make it binding.

The betrothal between Anne of Cleves and Francis of Lorraine had been brokered by the Duke of Guelders. In 1527 the Duke of Guelders was childless and Guelders was claimed by the Duke of Lorraine – in return the Duke of Cleves would pass his claim to Guelders to his daughter Anne and she would then marry Francis of Lorraine, who would then be recognized as heir to Guelders. Confused yet? In a nutshell, there was land and money being passed around to make this marriage work.

Anne and Francis never met. The couple’s marriage treaty had been completely tied up in the fate of Guelders… and nothing was happening on that front.

The Duke of Guelders maintained the duchy for many years but had no real claim to it himself – so essentially he had no right to name an heir.

Luckily for Anne’s brother William of Cleves, the Duke of Guelders named him as his heir. Upon the death of the Duke of Guelders in 1538, William claimed the duchy for himself. When that happened, the ambassador from Lorraine came to Cleves to awaken the marriage treaty between Anne and Francis. William of Cleves had no interest in the match and that was the end of it. As far as they were all concerned there never was a valid betrothal.

England’s Queen

In October 1537, Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour had died and his advisors almost immediately began looking for a fourth bride. This was the first time King Henry did not have a new bride lined up to replace the previous one. The thought now was to acquire Henry a foreign bride to build an alliance – the King was at odds with Rome and needed an ally…Cleves was perfect, but was not an immediate thought…until 1539 when all other options were beginning to fade.

In February 1539, John III, Duke of Cleves died. At the time of his death he was not very excited about a marriage that tied them with the English king.

A King for Anne of Cleves

It took until 4 September 1539 for a marriage treaty to be agreed on. This was delayed by Anne’s brother the Duke of Cleves consulting John Frederick, Duke of Lorraine, because if William had no sons than John Frederick would inherit Cleves after William’s death. So he definitely cared who Cleves was allied with.

Leaving Cleves

Once the marriage treaty was agreed upon Anne of Cleves life changed – putting her in the spotlight. She received a letter of congratulations from Thomas Cromwell and a gift from the Lady Lisle.

Henry VIII had a feeling that Anne knew little about English customs and the language, so he sent to her a gentlewoman by the name of Mistress Gylman.

Anne’s final weeks in Cleves were spent with her mother and her sister Amelia, preparing for her trip to her new home – England. Part of this preparation was to have a wardrobe that was fit for a queen…all in the German fashion. This was very different from the English fashion and one must wonder if Mistress Gylman had recommended some English styles.

All of Anne’s preparations took time and this caused a delay in her arrival in England – Henry VIII and his English subjects were anxiously awaiting their new queen – it had been two years since a Tudor queen graced the court.

When her departure day finally arrived one can imagine that Anne’s good-byes to her family must have been difficult, she had never left Cleves before – but this was a new adventure and was going to be Queen of England. She left Cleves with a train of 263 people, quite impressive.

Arrival in Her New Kingdom

On the 11th of December 1539, Anne finally arrived in English territory. No expense was spared on the reception of Anne in her new kingdom. She spent her first night in Exchequer and the whole town is said to have come out to greet her – she was very pleased with the welcome she was receiving.

Finally, sixteen days after entering her future husband’s kingdom, at five o’clock in the afternoon, Anne of Cleves landed in Dover. From there, Sir Thomas Cheyne escorted her to Deal Castle.

Deal Castle construction had only recently been completed and it was the perfect location to house Anne and her retinue to freshen up and change clothes, but was not meant for a long stay.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk (Charles Brandon and Catherine Willoughby) were there to greet Anne and to escort her to the more suitable Dover Castle. The trip from Deal to Dover was about seven and a half miles long. The group arrived around eleven o’clock in the evening.

Meeting the King

Travel to her final destination was delayed by weather. Both Anne and Henry were anxious to meet one another. As King Henry VIII was tracking her progress he knew that she would spend the day resting in London, he saw this as his opportunity to act on a centuries old tradition. Elizabeth Norton said it best in her book about Anne of Cleves: ‘five members of his Privy Chamber disguised in marble-colored cloaks rode down from Greenwich to Rochester to surprise Anne. In chivalric tradition, the king was supposed to visit his bride in disguise and she, due to the love between them, was meant to immediately recognize her husband, in spite of the fact that the couple had never met’.

Henry had always been known to be a romantic – think back to his love letters to Anne Boleyn – he believed himself in love with Anne of Cleves and that she would most definitely return the feeling and recognize him in disguise.

The plan was to send Sir Anthony Browne in to inform Anne of Cleves that he had been charged to deliver a New Year’s gift from King Henry to her.

After his initial meeting with Anne, Sir Anthony Browne recorded what he had witnessed:

When he looked upon Anne he did not see the resemblance to portrait by Holbein. He knew immediately that King Henry would not be pleased. When he returned to the King after his meeting with he did not warn Henry of her appearance. He only informed her that she was ready to receive her gift.

The King went into Anne’s chamber with no idea of what would happen but was excited and hopeful that she would recognize him. Unfortunately, Anne was distracted. She was looking out her window into the courtyard watching dogs harass and attack a tethered bull – called bull-baiting. It must have been quite a site because she did not immediately acknowledge Henry standing there in disguise. Henry, trying to get his future bride’s attention handed her a token from the King. She still seemed uninterested and distracted, so Henry showed her again. When he still did not get a reaction from her he resorted to kissing and hugging Anne.

Anne was thrown-off by this behavior as it was not what she had experienced from other guests thus far and had not put two and two together that the man in disguise was the King of England. Henry left, upset of course, and returned dressed in all his finest. He greeted Anne and appears to acted like nothing awkward had just happened – he then led her into a pivot chamber so they could get better acquainted.

It was that original meeting that most likely formed Henry VIII’s opinion on Anne Cleves. He liked her not and did not want to marry her.

In Henry’s own words: quote – ‘…when I saw her at Rochester, the first time that ever I saw her, it rejoiced my heart that I had kept me free from making any pact or bond before with her till I saw her myself; for then i assure you I liked her so ill, and so far contrary to that she was praised, that I was woo that ever she came to England’.

When Henry VIII was first made aware of the friendship and union that could come from Cleves he had looked forward to it – ever the politician and romantic he was. His excitement followed the new of her beauty and her virtuousness. Once he met Anne in person he immediately doubted the betrothal and wanted to find a way out of it.

Cromwell could not find an easy way out and so the wedding had to go on. England had made an agreement with Cleves and they feared angering Anne’s brother. They needed him as an ally, not a foe.

Anne of Cleves at this time had only been taught a minimal amount of English by Mistress Gylman and generally communicated through interpreters – it is likely that she was unaware of how her future husband felt about her because of this, but Anne was sure that Henry had no idea that she was not attracted to him.

This match was a complete failure as far as physical attraction goes. Not uncommon in royal marriages but not the way that either of them expected it to go. With that being said, Anne kept her chin up and continued to smile and be merry.

Once Henry VIII realized that there was no way out of marrying Anne he signed documents granting her land…which had been agreed upon as part of her dower.

The Wedding

Anne was informed on the evening on the 5th of January that she would marry the king the following day. This is the event that she had traveled so far for and was prepared to fulfill her commitment. Anne still had no idea that the king was not pleased with her. Henry, on the other hand, spent that evening wallowing in self-pity.

On the day of their wedding Anne woke early to prepare for the day that would make her queen. With the help of her ladies she was dressed in the finest gown that she had brought from Cleves. Chronicler Edward Hall noted that the bride was wearing a gown of rich cloth of gold set full of large flowers of great and orient pearl, made after the Dutch fashion. Her long, yellow hair was hanging loose (which was the custom) and on her head she wore crown of gold with great stones. Around her neck and waist were matching jewelry of great value.

Once she was prepared for the wedding Anne was to wait for Henry Bourchier, the 2nd Earl of Essex to escort her, however, he had not showed and was apparently running late. In his place, Henry VIII sent Thomas Cromwell to lead Anne to the church. When Cromwell arrived so did the Earl of Essex and so Cromwell left.

When Cromwell returned to the King’s side (along with a few other lords), Henry said to him, ‘My Lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm I would not do that I must do this day for no earthly thing – and then he walked to the chapel…surely stomping his feet like a child.

When Anne arrived at the chapel it is said that she had ‘most demure countenance and sad behavior. She passed through the king’s chamber, all the lords going before her till they came to the gallery where the king was, to whom she made low curtsies and observances’.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony at eight o’clock in the morning on the Feast of Epiphany, and in place of her brother, Anne was given away by the Count of Overstein.

During the ceremony Anne performed as she must, quietly speaking English until, on her finger, was placed a ring which was engraved with ‘God send me well to keep‘.

Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, the couple walked hand in hand to the King’s Closet where they heard mass together for the first time as husband and wife.

From there the newlyweds went to their wedding banquet.

Later in the afternoon it was said that Anne changed into a gown that was considered to be of a masculine cut. Like things were bad enough with Henry not being attracted to her, not she was also wearing more unattractive clothing.

The couple had supper together and then attended a program of masques and other entertainment, after which the couple were put to bed.

Wedding Night

Some believe that Anne’s mother Maria, had not felt it necessary to acquaint her daughter with, well, information about what would occur in the marriage bed. Other says that it was the custom of the time for a mother to teach her daughter such things and that Anne knew what to expect. We’ll never know for certain.

On the other side of the bed was the obese King Henry who knew all too well what should be done – he had intended to perform his duty and consummate the marriage. After running his hands all over his bride’s body he gave up and went to sleep. Evidently he was not up to the task. The newlyweds did not consummate their union.

The following day Henry VIII was in a terrible mood, he had married the woman he had wished not to. Unable to perform his husbandly duties in the marriage bed would normally be so embarrassing but to Henry it was proof that this marriage was all wrong. The King even told influential courtiers that he was unable to consummate the marriage and that ‘he had found her body disordered and indisposed to excite and provoke any lust in him‘and that she could not be a virgin.

He then clarified his comments to Sir Thomas Hennege that the reason he believe Anne not be a virgin because she had ‘loose breasts and other tokens’. He also claimed that she smelled.

Then the king told his doctor, William Butts that his failure to consummate the marriage was not due to impotence on his part because he had experienced wet dreams during his wedding night – so he could perform, just not with his new bride. Interestingly enough we know of a time when Henry was with Anne Boleyn that he experienced impotence because it was brought up during the trial of her brother George Boleyn.

So there we have it – Anne of Cleves was now Queen of England. Henry VIII was unhappy with the union and claims he could not consummate the marriage but felt he definitely could perform the task with other women and Anne of Cleves is still completely unaware that he time as queen will be short lived.

We’ll stop there for now and continue on with the story in Part Two.


Further Reading:

Norton, Elizabeth; Anne of Cleves – Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride (2010)
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
Burnet, Gilbert; The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679)

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Anne of Cleves Henry VIII History

4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. The way I understood it when Henry first saw Anne he remarked ” I like her not ” Thomas Cromwell as a reward for facilitating this disastrous union, lost his head , literally not figuratively , being decapitated a fate that Henry since regretted , too late of course.An attempt was made to lay culpability on Hans Holbein for executing a too glamorous painting of Anne. Again Hans was only doing his job.


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