The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

anne_of_cleves___silver_wedding_gown_ver__2_by_ladyaquanine73551-d4x6h6a

On the 6th of January 1540, Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves at the Queen’s Closet in Greenwich in a ceremony officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The date also fell on the feast of the Epiphany which marked the end of the twelve days of Christmas celebrations. In spite of Henry’s earlier protests that he would not marry the Princess of Cleves because “I like her not”; Cromwell convinced him of otherwise, reminding him of his agreement with her brother, the Duke of Cleves and given the current alliance between the Emperor and the King of France, his union with Anne would prove beneficial.

Henry VIII 1

Henry VIII is a man who has been judged harshly by history, most fiction writers who portray him as a petulant child trapped in a man’s body. Henry VIII did become somewhat of a tyrant later in life, but this image is a huge contrast to the one presented to us by Lord Mountjoy, the Venetian Ambassador and finally his mentor and (once) friend, the late Sir Thomas More in his early years. On his ascension in June of 1509, these three commented that this new King was marvelous to behold because he didn’t care for jewels or any other material gain, but instead wanted to achieve immortality through his feats. Thomas Moore also commented on his scholarship, adding that his wife’s beauty and intellect also highlighted his appeal. As Henry got older he became paranoid and harder to please.

This was the Henry that Anne married, coincidentally on the same room he had married her predecessor who died days after giving birth to his only legitimate heir, Prince Edward, Jane Seymour.

Tudor Rose AOC

Anne chose for her motto “God send me well to keep” and was richly dressed as the day of her official reception at the palace three days prior.

“On her head she wore a coronet of gold set with jewels and decorated with sprigs of rosemary, a common medieval wedding custom that signified love and loyalty. With the most “demure countenance” she passed through the king’s chamber into the gallery, and closet, where she greeted her future spouse with three curtseys. His heart might not have been in it, but Henry had at least dressed the part.” (Licence)

Indeed he was. Wearing a gown of cloth of gold with silver flowers, black fur and a coat of crimson, Henry reluctantly agreed to take Anne as his wife, placing the ring on her finger which had her motto engraved on it.

Sources:

  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
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A Not So Happy New Year

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On New Year’s Day 1540, Henry VIII decided to surprise Anne of Cleves, dressed as Robin Hood with his band of merry men. Henry had always been a lover of chivalry and had pulled similar stunts throughout his entire life, especially in his young life with his foreign queen, Katherine of Aragon. This was no different, but Anne who had a strict upbringing was totally unaware of these kinds of antics and when Henry approached her and asked to give her a kiss, she was (unsurprisingly) alarmed and insulted and rebuffed him.

AOC Six Wives

Prior to moving to the Bishop’s Palace on Rochester, Anne had arrived at Deal on Kent, from there she went on a small tour, greeting many officials including the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Charles and Catherine Brandon. Anne had asked some of the English courtiers to explain to her various English customs, such as how to sit during a meal, and the different kinds of card games. But this was another thing entirely, and most importantly it was unexpected.

Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church
Henry VIII of England.

Anne knew she was supposed to meet her husband, and given what had happened to his previous wives, she was probably aware of his reputation. But she was taken by surprise by his sudden arrival. Officials had told her that she and the King would meet when she reached Greenwich on the third of January, in two days time. She was standing near a window, watching a bullfight when the King and his men burst in.

When he revealed who he was, Anne was deeply embarrassed and tried to apologize and engage in idle chatter but the damage was already done. After this, it was pretty much decided that things would not go as planned, or as Cromwell planned them.

Much has been said about Anne’s appearance from this meeting. Some historians still buy into the myth that she was ugly, and much of this stems from the apocryphal story that Henry swore he was being forced to marry a “Flanders’ mare” but this tale doesn’t come until much later and is much a secondary source as anything else that says something similar.

As soon as Henry was given her portrait and began to have doubts about this alliance, Cromwell would try to regain his interest by continuously praising the appearance of a woman neither of them had met yet, and saying how she was the epitome of beauty. Cromwell knew that he was playing with fire, but he was so sure of his position and the influence he had over the King (as his previous master once had) that he didn’t think about the dangerous possibility of the King’s possible dislike of her once he met her, or her ignorance regarding the king’s antics.

Anne of Cleves 3
X-Rays from one of her portraits have revealed a longer nose which Holbein covered up in an effort to make her more attractive for the king. And notice what I say here, more attractive for the King. Henry VIII was an extremely vain man who was attracted to anything that was good to look at because as King, he had to have the best of the best. But he was also deeply obsessed with his manliness, and as such, the thought of somebody refusing him, wounded his male pride. And not surprisingly, this became more important to him than the Cleves alliance or his other need, to give the kingdom a much needed Duke of York to secure the Tudor Dynasty.

Sources:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman

Thomas Cromwell’s Execution

NPG 6311; Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex studio of Hans Holbein the Younger

On July the 28th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill. He was one of Henry’s most devoted servants and yet he, like so many others, met the same end. One day before his death, he was visited by the archbishop of Canterbury [Thomas Cranmer] and Seymour to inform him of his death-sentence. Seymour added that “it was God’s will that you should live no longer. It seems you have learned well from the Cardinal.”

Hans Holbein's Portrait of Anne of Cleves

The reason for his imprisonment had been the King’s fourth marriage, a disastrous union which he did his best to make it better, but failed. And not only that, Cromwell had exaggerated on Anne’s grace and beauty, not to mention that he was doing a lot of things outside the King’s knowledge, and his Reformist tendencies outraged many Catholics, as well as his imposition over every noble family (regardless of their faith). When Cromwell was arrested on June the Tenth of that year, he tried to free himself from his captors, by imploring the council to remember all that he had done, and the power he had wielded, but his eloquence wasn’t enough to cause fear or doubt on any of them. His time had passed, and he knew it. Two weeks later, the marriage he had helped create, was annulled. Anne consented with the decree and wrote a letter of submission to the king, telling him that “though this case be most hard and sorrowful for me, for the great love which I bear your most noble person, yet having more regard to God and his truth, than to any worldly affection, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept the proof of the same.” She went on to repeat herself when she wrote to her brother later that month. She was later referred to as the King’s Sister and given expensive properties, making her one of the richest women in England.

Cromwell beseeched the King, writing to him, that he had been his most loyal servant, and everything he had done, had done it to serve the crown at the best of his knowledge. Yet Henry did with him as he did with all the other people he had put to death whenever they wrote or pleaded with him to save them; he ignored him. Stripped of all his titles and privileges he was condemned to die at Tower Hill instead of Tower Green which was usually reserved for the high-born. The message could not be clearer: As he had born to nothing, he would die being nothing.

On the way to the block, he met with the deranged Lord Hungerford, a former protégé of his, whose crime had been harboring a member from the pilgrimage of Grace, his wife had appealed to Cromwell but Cromwell, being loyal to the king, did nothing to help his old friend. Now in an ironic twist of fate, the two were to die on the same day. Cromwell, feeling sorry for him, tried to comfort him by saying “there is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you.” But his words did little to comfort him. As Thomas Cromwell walked to the platform, he addressed the crowds:

James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in the Tudors.
James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in the Tudors.

“Good people, I have come here to die and not to purge myself, as some may think that I will. For if I should do so, I would be a wretch and a miser, a miserable man.
I am by the law condemned to die and thank my Lord God that has appointed me this death for my offence. For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived as a sinner and have offended my Lord God, for which I ask Him heartily for forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great traveler in the world but being of a base degree, was called to high state … Since the time I came there unto, I have offended my prince, for which I also ask him for hearty amnesty. I beseech you all to pray to God with me that he will forgive me. Oh father, forgive me; Oh Son, forgive me; Oh Holy Ghost, forgive me; Oh three Persons and one God, forgive me.”

Then to dispel the rumors that he was a Lutheran, he added:

“And now I pray you that be here, to bear record that I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting any article of my faith nor doubting any sacrament of the church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of those who have maintained evil opinions, which is untrue.
But I confess that as God, by His Holy Spirit, instructs us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us- and I have been seduced. Bear witness that I die in the Catholic faith of the Holy Church.
I heartily desire you to pray for the King’s grace and that he may long live with you in health and prosperity and after him, that his son, Prince Edward, that goodly imp, may long reign over you.
And once again, I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remains in this flesh, I waver nothing in my faith.”

This last confession was probably done to save his reputation, which he knew would be stained by the nobles. And reputation, even for dead men, was everything. If not for himself, then for his descendants, namely Gregory. He did not wish his bad name to stain the reputation of his son and family. Though some might judge him as a hypocrite and an opportunist, let us remember that everyone was a pragmatist (one way or another) back then. Cromwell played the game very well, more than any other player, but like his predecessor, he had flaws, and his belief that he was so secure that he could do whatever he wanted (including exaggerating on Anne of Cleves’ beauty and grace, to get the King into an alliance that would benefit his faith and increase his power) as well as the nobles’ envy of seeing a nobody rise to such a position of power, caused his demise.

Thomas Cromwell exeuction Tudors style

Finally, kneeling down to meet his ultimate fate, he prayed: “Oh Lord, grant me that when these eyes lose their use, that the eyes of my soul may see Thee. Oh Lord and father, when this mouth shall lose his use that my heart may say ‘O Pater, in mamus tuas commendo spiritum meum’” the asked the people to pray for the king, his son “and for all the lords of the council and for the clergy and for the commonalty. Now I beg you again that you will pray for me.” Spotting Thomas Wyatt the Elder, he called out to him, asking him to pray for him as well and told him not to weep “for if I were not more guilty than you were when they took you, I should not be in this pass.” He lastly turned to the executioner begging him “to cut off the head with one blow, so that I may not suffer.” Sadly, this was not to be.

His executioner, described as a “ragged and butcherly wretch”, delivered various blows to his skull and neck before he finally severed his head. While some despaired, others rejoiced. Henry Howard, the son and heir of the Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the Queen-to-be, said of Cromwell that “the false churl is dead … Now he is stricken with his own staff.” Cromwell’s headless body was buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula, the same place where Anne Boleyn was buried. His head was stuck on a pole on top of London’s bridge. On that same day, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard.

Sources:

  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Boarman
  • Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Thomas Cromwell’s Fall from Grace

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.

On June the Tenth 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested on flimsy charges of treason and heresy. “Thomas Cromwell’s arrest” writes Hutchinson, “was as ruthless as it was sudden.”

Thomas Cromwell had traveled to Westminster Palace to take his place on the Privy Council. After the council, when everyone went to dinner, his mortal enemy, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, stood up and raised his voice and shouted “Cromwell! Do not sit there! That is no place for you! Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.”

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

When Thomas demanded to know what the hell was going on, the captain of the Guards, Anthony Wingfield and six more men came forward. Thomas Cromwell, as they predicted, did not go easily. He asked them what was the reason for his arrest, but the Captain of the Guards calmly told him that wasn’t his concern. He either went with them willingly and they wouldn’t hurt him, or else he resisted and they would use full force against him. Cromwell probably knew this day was coming. According to his latest biographer, Tracy Boarman; Thomas Cromwell was plotting against the Duke of Norfolk just as he was plotting against Cromwell. It was only a matter of who got there first.

Henry VIII of England.
Henry VIII of England.

Henry VIII could have easily stopped this from happening but Henry was the main force here. Norfolk loaded the gun, and Henry pulled the trigger. He was very dissatisfied with his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. And although he had known of her pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine, he agreed to marry her anyway because he needed the Cleves alliance so badly. Once he saw her, he tried to get out of this arrangement saying that she was ugly and that she wasn’t a virgin. But the truth is that Henry didn’t like her because of their first meeting. That first meeting on January of that year really determined their short marriage. Whereas Henry’s previous wives (including his first foreign wife, Katherine of Aragon) were very conscious of their roles as Queens and familiar with the pageantry and the culture of courtly love; Anne was educated in a very strict household. She had no idea what she was getting herself into. Or rather, her brother had no idea what she was going to getting his sister into. Anne was a fish out of water in the English court. Her garb was strange, she could barely speak English and she had no idea how to dance or engage in the types of conversation that other women of her adoptive country engaged on.
She was completely unprepared for this. And then came Henry VIII. He was no longer the handsome youth who had bedazzled so many women. He had grown morbidly obese and his ulcerous leg smelled bad. But being who he was, he still had a penchant for court drama so he thought of surprising his wife by arranging a playful visit to her. He and a few other courtiers dressed as bandits and arrived to Anne’s bedroom and started flirting with her ladies, including those she brought from Cleves.

You can imagine Anne’s horror as this happened. The leader of the bandits approached Anne and tried to speak with her and when he went too far –from Anne’s point of view- Anne pushed him away and told him to go away. For a man like Henry VIII with an ego the size of his realm, being told that he was disgusting and refused by in front of everyone, including his best friends, it was a huge humiliation. When he revealed who he was, Anne immediately apologized but it was too late. Her reaction made Henry make up his mind about her.

Cromwell tried many times to convince Anne to seduce Henry, to get on his good side but it wasn’t Anne who was at fault here, it was Henry. And it was Anne’s education. She hadn’t been told what she would be getting into, she hadn’t been prepared for this role the way her predecessors had been. Even her common predecessors. Anne Boleyn had served under three Queens, Jane under two. They knew state protocol, they knew all about courtly love. And Katherine of Aragon like Anne of Cleves, had been a foreigner but one who had grown in a court that treasured courtly love and were dressing good was everything. She was skilled in dance, music, art, everything. Anne had practical skills which were seen as very useful, but ultimately they paled in comparison to her other predecessors.

Henry VIII directed his anger at Cromwell. Cromwell tried to tell him that he couldn’t get out of this arrangement so easily. He had agreed to marry Anne of Cleves, and there was nothing else he could say that would justify his repudiation of her. So Henry married her. But he was very angry at Cromwell. And Cromwell was taking too many liberties with his privileges position. Though Boarman believes that Anne was as ugly as Henry saw her, she does admit that it may have all been a matter of perception. And that one of the people who added more fuel to the fire of disappointment is Cromwell. Cromwell probably knew Anne was no great beauty, but by no means was she ugly. She could enchant the King. But Cromwell as always wanted to make sure that Henry would fall in love with her before he got to lay eyes on her so he started bragging about her beauty, saying that her hair shined like the sun, that her eyes were like stars, that her skin was so fair, etc. Then there was also the religious factor. Thomas Cromwell was a very methodical and pragmatic man; he did what the King asked him to. But he was also a Reformist sympathizer and his sympathies were becoming more obvious to the King and his enemies.

Thomas Cromwell Tudors
Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) in the “Tudors”.

After Cromwell was apprehended by the royal guards, he lost it. He said very angrily “This then is the reward for all my services?” Then he turned to the members of the Privy Council “On your consciences, I ask you, am I a traitor?”

If Cromwell believed he was going to cause a big impression and leave everyone dumbfounded, he was sorely disappointed because soon after he asked this, everyone began yelling “Yes” and “Traitor”.

Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).
Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).

After Cromwell finally came to grasps with the situation, he eyed all the people who were just so happy to see him lose for once, and said lastly: “I have never thought to offend, but if this is to be my treatment, I renounce all claims to pardon and only ask that the King should not make me languish long.”

Thomas was immediately dragged away after that. He was completely shocked. He had been plotting against Norfolk because he knew Norfolk was plotting against him, and he believed that he would get out of this, but there was no getting out of this this time. This was the end and as he was dragged from the room and heard the council members’ cries of joy, he realized he his days were numbered.

Sources:

  • Thomas Cromwell by Tracy Boarman
  • Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson
  • The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell by John Schofield
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On This Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway.