False Anna (Guest Post)

by Heather R. Darsie

Anna of Cleves died in July 1557, having reached her forty-second birthday weeks before. Curiously, in 1558, a woman who possessed Anna’s signet ring showed up at the court of Anna’s nephew, John Frederick the Middle. She had an interesting story for the young man,

“In December 1558, John Frederick received a letter from a woman styling herself as the Duchess of Aybelen. The woman asked that John Frederick send a discrete, trustworthy person to where she was staying in Eckartsberga, roughly 25 kilometers from Weimar. The woman had news about Anna of Cleves and her real fate, but she dared not put it in a letter where the information could be intercepted. Intrigued, John Frederick sent a couple horsemen on 20 December 1558 to meet with the Duchess of Aybelen…

The Duchess of Aybelen was earlier imprisoned in England for an undisclosed reason at an undisclosed place, but managed to escape in early 1558 by climbing down a rope she dangled out the window. The woman made for the next boat out of England. …It just so happened that Anna of Cleves, who herself had recently escaped a nunnery in England, was on the same ship. Both women were granted passage to Danzig by the King of Poland.…

The woman then relayed that she decided to seek out John Frederick’s court. She told of how she had to pawn some of her belongings in Wittenberg. The Duchess of Aybelen then told of how Anna was in Germany, and that she brought an awesome load of English treasure with her… amounting to roughly thirty-five thousand to forty thousand gold crowns in value.

…John Frederick immediately accepted the woman’s story, and sent fine food and wine to her. His chancellor went to the pawnbroker in Wittenberg to retrieve the Duchess of Aybelen’s things. John Frederick decided to meet the Duchess in person. A short time later, he held an interview with her.

At this interview, the woman declared that she was truly Anna von der Mark, Queen of England. John Frederick was overjoyed. He sent word to his younger brother, John William, who was serving in the French army along with John Frederick the Younger, to tell him about the woman. She did bear a striking resemblance to Anna of Cleves.”

Who was this woman? I half-sister of Anna’s, or a cousin? Perhaps a fraudster?

If this excerpt piqued your interest, consider reading Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings, set for release in the UK on 15 June 2023 and in the US/Internationally on 12 September 2023. Can’t wait until September? The US Kindle version is released on 15 June, too! You might also like to read Heather R. Darsie’s biography on Anna of Cleves, the first researched and written from the German perspective, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister. Links below.

Amazon UK

  1. Children of the House of Cleves, Anna and Her Siblings hardcover (15 June 2023): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-House-Cleves-Anna-Siblings/dp/1445699427/ref=sr_1_1?crid=19OOEUO2EX5PV&keywords=heather+darsie&qid=1686571230&sprefix=heather+darsi%2Caps%2C190&sr=8-1
  2. Children of the House of Cleves, Anna and Her Siblings Kindle (15 June 2023): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-House-Cleves-Anna-Siblings-ebook/dp/B0C74VTCR3/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1686571230&sr=8-1

Amazon US

  1. Children of the House of Cleves, Anna and Her Siblings hardcover (12 September 2023): https://www.amazon.com/Children-House-Cleves-Anna-Siblings/dp/1445699427/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5K793F0IN117&keywords=heather+darsie&qid=1686571143&sprefix=heather+darsie%2Caps%2C87&sr=8-1
  2. Children of the House of Cleves, Anna and Her Siblings Kindle (15 June 2023): https://www.amazon.com/Children-House-Cleves-Anna-Siblings-ebook/dp/B0C74VTCR3/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1686571143&sr=8-1

Heather R. Darsie works as an attorney in the US. Along with her Juris Doctorate she has a BA in German, which was of great value in her research. She completed multiple graduate-level courses in Early Modern History, with her primary focus being the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V. She runs the website MaidensAndManuscripts.com, and is a co-host of Tudors Dynasty podcast.

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Darsie, Heather R. Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings. Stroud: Amberley (2023).
  2. Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister. Stroud: Amberley (2019).


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