The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

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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.

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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.

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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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Anne of Cleves from Greenwich to Hampton (1540-1541)

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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.

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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.

Anne of Cleves Henry VIII and his Six Wives 1972

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.

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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.

Sources:

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

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.

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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.

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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