The Life of Anne of Cleves (Part Two)

At the end of The Life of Anne of Cleves (Part One) we had covered Anne’s lineage, her education and the negotiations for her marriage with Henry VIII. We also covered the wedding, as well as the wedding night, and how Henry VIII was unhappy with their union – he had claimed he could not consummate the marriage but felt he definitely could perform the task with other women. And then there was Anne of Cleves who was still completely unaware of the gravity of the situation but hopeful all would work out in her favor in the end.

The Life of Anne of Cleves – Part Two

In the days following their wedding Henry visited Anne’s dimly lit bedchamber every other night in anticipation of consummating their marriage. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Anne, he still could not. At this point, Anne appears to have been slightly more aware of the trouble in her future if their marriage was not consummated. She understood that she had to do something to entice her husband or she may end up like two of her predecessors. Henry on the other hand understood that the political situation in Europe meant that he had to try his best to make this marriage work.

Anne of Cleves -Richard Burchett (1815?1875) -Parliamentary Art Collection

Feeling desperate to please her husband, Anne decided to write letters to Thomas Cromwell to speak with him about what was going on in her marriage. Cromwell was already in hot water with the king for arranging this marriage and feared speaking with Anne would only make him look worse in the king’s eyes. So, instead of speaking with Anne as she had requested, Cromwell, in all his political astuteness decided to inform the king of Anne’s letters to him instead. The last thing Thomas Cromwell wanted was for the King to see him favoring Anne of Cleves. He was, after all, the one being held at fault for this disastrous union.

When Cromwell eventually told King Henry, he was told that he should communicate with Anne the lack of feelings the King had for her –  so, essentially, Henry wanted to make Cromwell his scapegoat and Cromwell wouldn’t have any part of it. Instead, he spoke to Anne’s Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Rutland and advised him to find a way to change Anne’s behavior with the king. Good grief, if one have them had just had the nerve to give Anne some advice on how to entice the King things may have turned out differently. But no, nobody did.

Not long after the marriage of Henry and his new queen a joust was held in Anne’s honor at Greenwich. This time Anne had the forethought to dress in a manner that was more appealing to her husband – Instead of dressing in the German fashion she had been accustomed to, Anne dressed in the English fashion. She even wore a french hood. Anne was making every effort to win over Henry. Edward Hall commented in his chronicle how everyone had noticed her beauty more in this new attire, everyone except the king that is – this did nothing to change his mind about Anne. He was still unhappy.

At this point it wasn’t only in the bedchamber that the King and Queen did not get along, it was reported that Henry and Anne had some disagreement over the Lady Mary – what was said is uncertain but Anne, feeling frustrated with all the work she was doing to attract the king, began to assert herself more to gain some control in this horrible situation. This type of behavior on Anne’s part did not help her cause. The last thing she should have been doing was upsetting the King who already did not like her.

After their first few weeks of marriage, on the 4th of February 1540, the couple moved by barge from Greenwich to Westminster. This was a grand affair where the King would show off his new bride in all their glory. As the barges passed the Tower of London the canons fired a thousand times to acknowledge the presence of the King and Queen. It is telling at this point that the couple’s marriage would never recover from its rocky start because Anne and Henry traveled in separate barges and not together as had been done with her predecessors. The normal celebration procession of the King and his new Queen through London to Westminster was also missing but this didn’t seem all that strange since Anne had not received a coronation or had one scheduled on her behalf.

The trip to Westminster, I believe, is the point that Anne finally realized (after hearing the whispers of her household) that things were worse than the non-consummation of their marriage. Henry, it appears, made it obvious now that he would not give Anne all that was befitting of a new queen. Now, not having a coronation might not have been such a big deal to Anne since her predecessor, Jane Seymour was not crowned, but that was delayed due to religious uprisings in England, not because the king did not like her.

It was after the events of the 4th of February that Anne decided to put her all into the role as queen consort, since her role as wife was not what she had expected it to be. At Westminster Anne was acquainted with her new household which totaled 126 in all – roughly the same amount as Katherine of Aragon had when she became queen in 1509. There were a fair amount ladies who came with Anne from Cleves and there were also all the English ladies who had jockeyed for positions in the Queen’s household once they heard about the marriage treaty. Being in the Queen’s household was a privilege and was an honor given to the most beautiful ladies of notable families. Sometimes even the king would choose which ladies would attend the Queen.

Unfortunately for Anne there was a young lady in her household that was placed there by the King – Katheryn Howard. Katheryn Howard had been spotted by Henry at a banquet held by the Bishop of Winchester. Most definitely the King was attracted to Katheryn’s beauty and youthfulness – and of course, he believed she was a virgin, unlike his current wife. Anne of Cleves was fully aware of the attraction her husband had for young Katheryn…but we’ll get back to that later.

Henry and Anne continued this charade for the first few months of their marriage with only the King?s closest advisors knowing his true intentions.’ Thomas Cromwell had been Henry VIII’s closest advisor since the downfall and death of his predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell had the King’s ear in all matters and pretty much was running the country for him. When the Cleves marriage backfired Cromwell was rightfully concerned about his position with the King, however, in April 1540 Henry raised Cromwell to the earldom of Essex. He also created him Lord Great Chamberlain. From an outsider’s perspective this looked as though Cromwell was safe from the wrath of the King. On that very day a bill was passed through Parliament confirming Anne’s dower.

As always, with Henry VIII, those two events occurred as a means to throw off what was actually going on – there were more sinister plots happening behind the scenes. A plan was already in motion because Henry wanted out of his marriage with Anne so he could be with Katheryn Howard, and if Cromwell could not do it, then he would find someone who could, but in the meantime he?d make Cromwell believe he was still his closest advisor – this is how Henry VIII worked.

Now, when it comes to Anne’s dower, Henry knew that he had to keep up pretenses because her brother, the Duke of Cleves was paying attention to what was going on in England. One wrong move and England could lose Cleves as an ally, which would mean that they would no longer have support against France and the Empire.

Katheryn Howard

Katheryn Howard by Richard Burchett –
Parliamentary Art Collection

At the beginning of the summer of 1540, Katheryn Howard’s star was beginning to shine while things began to look a bit bleaker for Anne. Anne was very observant and she was aware of the way Henry behaved around the young lady in her household. Anne may have had concerns that she would end up just like Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn if she did not go along with what the king wanted. It was also around this time that rumors had started to float around about Henry and Katheryn that “citizens of London saw the king very frequently in the day-time, and sometimes at midnight, pass over to her on the river Thames in a little boat”. The citizens saw this as the king having one of his frequent affairs he was known for and not as the king discarding Anne for a new bride.

During the May Day celebrations there were several days of spectacular jousting events and Anne appeared in her queenly duty alongside the King. Growing up in Cleves Anne’s lived a very sheltered life – her time as Queen offered her many amazing opportunities and she relished in her royal position. Unknowingly, this event would be Anne’s last public appearance as Queen.

Anne’s popularity only continued grew the longer she was in her role as Queen. She continued to learn English and the King’s subjects enjoyed her modesty – There were many English subjects who were fond of Anne because they believed she was a Reformist. But in all actuality, Anne was Catholic…and remained Catholic until her final breath.

Thomas Cromwell

Cromwell’s favor may have already began to turn but it was definitely for the worst when Henry VIII started questioning him about all the religious disputes going on in London. This was nothing new, but suddenly Henry was acutely aware of them and was looking for someone to blame. Since Cromwell was instrumental in the dissolution of the monasteries, the king knew exactly who to blame. Cromwell’s continued favor was tied up in whether or not he could get Henry the divorce he wanted.

On the 6th or 7th of June, one of the King’s secretaries, a man by the name of Thomas Wriothesley, showed up at Cromwell’s house in London. When Cromwell saw him he asked him, ‘Have we any news’? Wriothesley said he did not and then asked Cromwell if he had any business for him to carry out, at which Cromwell then replied, “No, I have no business now, but one thing is stuck in my head, which troubles me and I thought to tell you. The king said he does not like the Queen, he has not liked her from the beginning. I believe she is still as much of a maid as she was when she came to England.” Wriothesley was surprised by Cromwell’s statement but had no words of advice for him and reportedly left.

Cromwell, by Hans Holbein the Younger circa 1537

It was only a few days after that conversation that the end of favor came for Cromwell – he was arrested, on the 10th of June 1540. The scene played out as Cromwell was leaving the parliament building to head to dinner – a sudden gust of wind blew his hat from his head and it fell to the ground. Normally, when a gentleman lost his it was customary for everyone to remove their hats as a sign of respect. When Cromwell bent down to pick up his hat, no man showed him the respect that was warranted. At which Cromwell replied dryly: ‘A high wind indeed must it have been to blow my bonnet off and keep all yours on’. The men around him pretended not to hear what he had said and carried on to dinner.

During dinner no man spoke to Thomas Cromwell. Once dinner was over all the lords proceeded to the council chamber where they would carry out their daily business. When Cromwell finally reached the chamber all the men were already seated, at which he said, ‘you were in a great hurry, gentlemen, to get seated’. Once again his words were ignored – and as he went to sit in his chair Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk yelled out – ‘Cromwell, do not sit there; that is no place for thee. Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen’. At this point Cromwell was furious with his treatment said, ‘I am not a traitor’. And as he spoke those words the captain of the guard entered the chamber and arrested him. The arrest of Thomas Cromwell was a shock to many – he had been the King’s closest advisor for many years; Even Thomas Cranmer was surprised saying, ‘I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be’. But Cranmer understood that his dear friend had been branded a traitor and so he must not cover his own tail and then he followed by saying, ‘now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him’.

How hard it must have been for the people of Tudor court – to one day have a great friend whom you trusted and the next you must behave as though he were the scum of the earth.

Unfortunately for Cromwell his downfall was greeted with much happiness all over England, for there were those who believed the absence of Rome in their life and the dissolution of the monasteries were solely his fault. They felt he finally got what was coming to him.

The End of a Marriage

A couple of weeks after the arrest of Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, another close advisor to the King, wrote a memorandum detailing how Henry VIII wished to proceed with the matter regarding his marriage to Anne. The King wished to secretly investigate the marriage further, as well as look further into Anne’s betrothal to Francis of Lorraine. Then on the 24th day of June 1540, Henry VIII requested Anne of Cleves move to Richmond Palace to avoid the plague. He suggested that the location would be beneficial for her health – with the fresh air and sunshine.

On the following day, at Richmond Palace, King Henry’s commissioners, Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor and Bishop Stephen Gardiner visited Anne to get her to confess that her marriage with the King had not been consummated. Anne was visibly upset by this request and would not consent. Unfortunately for Anne, Audley and Gardiner were able to get statements from three of her ladies on the matter. These statements may or may not be true but would go down in history as making Anne look completely naive as to what constitutes consummation. The ladies claimed that Anne believed a kiss good night was enough to constitute consummation.

In the early hours of the 6th of July 1540, the King sent a messenger to inform Anne of his concerns about their marriage. Anne must have been terrified of what was about to happen. Luckily enough, Henry wished to acquire Anne’s consent to investigate their marriage. Shocked and speechless by the news Anne summoned her brother’s ambassador and the two sat for a while digesting the news that she had just been given. When it all sank in she eventually agreed. Anne was still hopeful that her marriage would be found valid.

Bruyn the elder, Bartholomaeus; Anne of Cleves (1515-1557), Queen Consort to Henry VIII ; Trinity College, University of Cambridge; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/anne-of-cleves-15151557-queen-consort-to-henry-viii-134673

The following day, after they were summoned to Westminster, the convocations of York and Canterbury among other leading clergy, declared the marriage null and void after hearing Gardiner speak against the validity of the king’s marriage.

That very day a group of men appointed by the King went to Anne to inform her that her marriage was no more and that henceforth she would be called, the ‘king’s sister’. Anne held her composure the best she could while the men were there and agreed to accept the king’s wishes. It was reported later that when the men first arrived at Richmond to speak with her that Anne fainted briefly – obviously concerned over her own fate. Her brother’s ambassador (Karl Harst) had arrived ahead of the men and told Anne to have patience. Harst also reported that after she was informed that she could no longer claim the title of Queen that she cried and screamed about the news…her heart was broken that the King would discard her so quickly. Anne had most definitely not expected the investigation to conclude so quickly and was most likely saddened by the fact that her marriage was over. She would have been relieved to not have the same fate as Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn but also saddened by the fact that her marriage fell apart – the marriage she had tried so hard to keep.

Before they left, the king’s commissioners requested Anne write the king a letter agreeing to his terms. She agreed, accepting the outcome of their marriage. She signed it – ‘Anne, the daughter of Cleves’. As sister of the king, Anne received many gifts.

The day after Henry received her letter of submission he wrote her back and had Suffolk, Southampton and Wriothesley deliver a letter to her. When the men handed her the letter, along with a token of money, Anne asked them to read it to her. They declined and asked her to have her interpreter read it to her. This was a diplomatic reaction of course, for fear that Anne could claim they misled her. In the letter, Henry offered to:

  • Officially adopt Anne as his sister.
  • Give her precedence over all other ladies at court, except for any of his subsequent wives and his daughters.
  • Offered her a generous annual income
  • Gave her palaces: Richmond, Bletchingley and Hever.
  • She would also receive: Hangings, Plate and Furniture.
  • Jewels
  • And a Household made up of a good number of officers.

While Anne appeared to play along with Henry’s rules to their new agreement she drew the line at informing her brother of her new situation – that was just too humiliating for her. Henry wished for Anne to inform her brother of the divorce agreement and report how well she was being treated by the King and his Council. Anne said she would rather respond to a letter that her brother would send her instead of writing an unsolicited letter. The humiliation was, in her mind, too great to do so. Unfortunately, Anne would not have a say in this matter either – Henry insisted that she write the Duke of Cleves. He worried that if she did not that it would appear that Henry was breaking his former agreement with the duke.

Anne wrote her brother the letter which explained that she was no longer the queen. She ended her letter saying, ‘I propose to lead my life in the Realm’. Anne was fully aware at this point that Henry would hold her as a hostage in England to keep friendly terms with her brother and John Frederick. Remember John Frederick from Part One . He was Anne’s brother-in-law and heir to Cleves if her brother died without an heir.

Later that day Anne sent her wedding ring back to Henry and requested that it be broken into pieces because it no longer had value to her.

So there we have it, Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was now declared null and void and she would henceforth be called, the ‘king’s sister‘ and would lead her life in England.

In Part Three of this series we’ll cover Anne’s time after the end of her marriage to Henry VIII and carry through until her death in 1557. If you’d like to listen to the podcast version of this article you can find it here: Further Reading:

Norton, Elizabeth; Anne of Cleves – Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride (2010)
Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)
Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII (1992)

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