The Letter that Saved Anne of Cleves’ Life

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves is likely the most fortunate of all of Henry VIII’s wives; She was only married to him for six months before their marriage was annulled and declared void and she never consummated their marriage with him – that alone would have been worth avoiding. Just imagine what Henry smelled like with that festering ulcer on his leg. Like rotting flesh. Eww.

After reading this letter I believe it’s what saved her from a worse fate. The more I think about it, I’m not so sure that Henry would have beheaded a wife who came from another kingdom. That would’ve been political suicide on his part. The only other wife he had that wasn’t from England was Katherine of Aragon, and he didn’t dare execute her either.

Anne of Cleves was a smart woman, much smarter than she’s given credit for – she understood that living in England as the king’s sister was better than the life she would have had had she returned to Cleves.

Anne of Cleves to King Henry VIII: 11 July 1540

Pleaseth your most excellent majesty to understand that, whereas, at sundry times heretofore, I have been informed and perceived, by certain lords and others of your grace’s council, of the doubts and questions which have been moved and found in our marriage; and how hath petition thereupon been made to your highness by our nobles and commons, that the same might be examined and determined by the holy clergy of this realm; to testify to your highness by my writing, that which I have before promised by word and will, that is to say, that the matter should be examined and determined by the said clergy; it may please your majesty to know that, thought this case must needs be most hard and sorrowful unto me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person, yet, having more regard to God and his truth than to any worldly affection, as it beseemed me, at the beginning, to submit me to such examination and determination of the said clergy, whom I have and do accept for judges competent in that behalf. So now being ascertained how the same clergy hath therein given their judgment and sentence, I knowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same, wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your highness’ goodness and pleasure; most humbly beseeching your majesty that, though it be determined that the pretended matrimony between us is void and of none effect, whereby I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace’s wife, considering this sentence (whereunto I stand) and your majesty’s clean and pure living with me, yet it will please you to take me for one of your most humble servants, and so to determine of me, as I may sometimes have the fruition of your most noble presence; which as I shall esteem for a great benefit, so, my lords and others of your majesty’s council, now being with me, have put me in comfort thereof; and that your highness will take me for your sister; for the which I most humbly thank you accordingly.

Thus, most gracious prince, I beseech our Lord God to send your majesty long life and good health, to God’s glory, your own honour, and the wealth of this noble realm.

From Richmond, the 11th day of July, the 32nd year of your majesty’s most noble reign.

Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant,

Anne, the daughter of Cleves

To give you a little insight on the impact that Anne had, I’ll quote from On the Tudor Trail:

Half a century after her death, the chronicler Raphael Holinshed remembered her as ‘a lady of right commendable regard, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper, and very bountiful to her servants’. He wrote that there had never been, ‘any quarrels, tale bearings or mischievous intrigues in her court, and she was tenderly loved by her domestics.’


Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, from the commencement of the twelfth century to the close of the reign of Queen Mary; by Green, Mary Anne Everett; Published 1846; pages 160-162