A Most Disastrous Meeting

Anne of Cleves from Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)
Anne of Cleves from Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)
On the first of January, 1540, Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves met at the Bishop’s Palace in Rochester. Anne expected to meet Henry on the third of January when she reached Greenwich but the King had a change of plans. As it can be expected from a man who loved engaging in courtly love, he and his men disguised themselves in hooded cloaks, intending to surprise his bride-to-be. Anne however did not have the kind of background that Anne had in the French, Austrian and English courts. Or the one her first predecessor, Katherine of Aragon had in the Spanish court where her mother made sure their daughters learn everything from music, plays, art and of course languages and historic and fantastic literature.
As Amy Licence notes in her latest book -Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII:
“The Court of Cleves, with its heavily moral tone and Catholicism tempered by Erasmian theories, did not encourage the sort of merrymaking, masques and lavish celebrations which had set the tone of Henry’s court since his succession. More unforgivably, no one had instructed her about the marital duties of a wife and she arrived in England quite ignorant about sex.”

Furthermore, she did not realize that the King was going to surprise her using the same tropes he used for his first two wives. So when he and his men came to her chambers and he attempted to woo her and got closer to her, she rebuked him strongly and turned away. Henry made himself visible, donning his cloak and Anne feeling embarrassed, apologized but by then it was too later.

This meeting set the tone for her impending marriage and it can be said, also sealed it for disaster.


  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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