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 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.
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.
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
On the third of January 1540, the date set for Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII’s first encounter was spoiled by their earlier and much unexpected encounter (at least for Anne) on New Year’s day at the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester. Anne had no idea that the King would be coming, and much less that he would be accompanied by a handful of courtiers playing the part of Robin Hood and his band of merry men. The meeting as we can all recall, went disastrously wrong when Anne rejected his advances. With no knowledge of the king’s love of games, or the art of courtly love, Henry grew disenchanted with his foreign bride and despite her best attempts to make it up by engaging in idle chatter, the King lost all enthusiasm for her.
It was only by some miracle –thanks in part to Cromwell, reminding him of his promise to marry her- that he agreed to go ahead with the betrothal. Two days after that disastrous meeting, Anne traveled to London, arriving at Shooter’s Hill, two miles outside of Greenwich. At midday she made her entrance to the Palace where she was welcomed by the King’s court. Doctor Day who had been appointed as her almoner gave her a welcome speech in Latin. He was followed by the King’s nieces and former daughter-in-law, Ladies Margaret Douglas, Frances Brandon, Mary Howard as well as other “ladies and gentlewomen to the number of sixty five” who “welcomed her and led her into a gorgeous tent or pavilion of rich cloth of gold that had been set up for at the foot of the hill, in which fires burned and perfumes scented the air.” They dressed her in a new gown which was also in the Dutch fashion, and added a new headdress and jewelry then helped her into her horse which was “richly trapped”. As the people caught sight of Anne, they would have largely commented on her fashions which would have seemed to strange to them as Henry’s first Queen’s Spanish ones would have seemed strange to their fathers and grandfathers two generations before when she made her grand entrance to London in November of 1501.
The French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac says that Anne “was clothed in the fashion of the country from which she came” as well as her ladies which made her look “strange to many.” He also adds that he doesn’t find any of them (including the future Queen) beautiful and “not so young as was expected, nor so beautiful as everyone affirmed.”
Some can take this as proof that the myths surrounding Anne’s appearance but we have to remember that Marillac had an agenda and although the second portrait of Anne had Holbein paint over her elongated nose, by no means it adds credibility to those absurd rumors. At the time of Henry’s betrothal, Spain and France had formed an alliance and to avoid complete isolation, Cromwell devised an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League that could help them offset the balance.
Naturally, Marillac was not going to look well on this union.
Fast forward to a year later, the same date (January 3rd), Anne and Henry met once again. This time as brother and sister (having received the title of the King’s sister along with various states after their marriage was annulled) at Hampton Court Palace, exchanging gifts with his new queen, her former lady in waiting, Katherine Howard.
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Anne of Cleves had set sail for England on the winter of 1539, arriving on Calais on December 11th and staying at the Exchequer Palace. She was the third of Henry’s Queens to have stayed there (the other two were Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn). Sixteen days later, she arrived at Deal in Kent. From there she would set off to Rochester and then to London where she would meet the King on the third of January but the King was anxious to meet his new bride so he rode with a handful of gentlemen to see her.
While Anne was at Dover, she received a generous reception at Deal Castle and Dover Castle. At Dover Castle she met with Charles Brandon and his wife, Catherine Willoughby, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. She then headed to Canterbury and St. Augustine’s Abbey (which had been converted into a royal palace after the dissolution of the monasteries) where she stayed before moving to the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester.
Anne showed a lot of excite and “was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper.”
It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about her meeting with Henry on New Year. He and his fellow courtiers disguised as bandits. He had done this with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. His first three wives were used to do this. Katherine had grown in Spain where she was used to tales of chivalry, to plays, and such playful behavior, and was as well-educate as both her spouses. Anne Boleyn had traveled abroad and served illustrious mistresses and as such, was also used to this kind of behavior. Jane might not have been bookish as her predecessors, but being in their services she had learned many things and grew accustomed to court life. The same can’t be said for Anne. She had lived a very sheltered life where her education consisted mostly of domestic arts. She understood royal protocol and courtly etiquette but that was about it.
“Fired by desire, he decided to waylay her, as he had done to Catherine in the Robin Hood impersonations of his youth. It was a silly idea for a man of his age and dignity, and it went disastrously wrong.” (Loades)
When Henry surprised her by barging in her rooms, Anne didn’t know who he was or what his intentions where and when he tried to kiss her, she was naturally frightened and pushed the stranger away and spoke strong words against him. This clearly stung. After he came back, Anne realized her mistake and tried to make things better by engaging in idle chapter but the damage was already done.
Henry nonetheless went ahead with the betrothal marrying her that January and true to his nature when he didn’t like something and found something new and more appealing, annulled his marriage six months later. Unlike her foreign predecessor, Anne did not die alone in an abandoned castle for refusing Henry’s generous settlement but his minister did and on the day he was executed, he married his fifth wife who had been Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Howard.
Anne of Cleves is one of two wives to survive him and the only one to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
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.”
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 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.
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”.
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.
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 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