King Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves on January 6, 1540. Anne, who was Henry’s fourth wife, was Queen of England until 12 July 1540, when her marriage to the king was annulled.
The marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was a result of Henry’s wish to form a political alliance with her family. Anne was the daughter of Duke John III of the House of La Marck, who supported the Schmalkadic League – a military alliance of Lutheran princes – and opposed Emperor Charles V. When her father passed away, her brother William became the leader of the Protestants of western Germany. Moreover, her sister Sibylle was married to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony and head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany. Taking into account the family’s position, Henry was urged by his chief minister Thomas Cromwell to marry Anne or her younger sister Amalia in order to establish an alliance and strengthen his position against Catholic attacks from France and the Holy Roman Empire. To decide who was a better candidate for him, Henry dispatched the artist Hans Holbein the Younger to paint portraits of both sisters. In the meanwhile, the arrangements of the marriage were negotiated and a marriage treaty was signed on October 4 1539.
Even though Anne had no valuable education or cultural sophistication, she was recommended as the best candidate to Henry due to her gentle, virtuous and docile personality. Both of them met privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester Abbey, when he went in disguise into the room she was staying in. According to the king’s companions, Henry was quite disappointed with her, as he felt Anne was not as described and regarded him little. The official meeting between the couple took place on January 3. However, the king felt so disappointed and misled by Anne’s real appearance, that he urged Cromwell to find a way to avoid the marriage. Still, this was impossible, as breaking the engagement would have endangered his alliance with the Germans.
Marriage and Annulment
Despite Henry’s wish to not go ahead with the engagement, the two married on 6 January 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London. Even though Anne was willing to adopt the English culture and customs and believed to be in the king’s favour, the reality was much different. Henry’s disappointment with Anne’s appearance and naivety made him dislike her right from the beginning to the point that they were never able to consummate their union. As a result, he quickly focused on someone else, Catherine Howard. After six months of marriage, he decided to begin negotiations for an annulment.
On 24 June, Anne was asked to leave the court and on 6 July she was informed of Henry’s decision to reconsider their marriage. The Queen was heavily distressed about the situation but had no choice but to accept the annulment. In the meanwhile, Cromwell, who had arranged the union, was accused of treason. The marriage was annulled on 12 July 1540, by reason of non-consummation and Anne’s pre-contract to marry Francis of Lorraine, an engagement which had been annulled when she was still a child.
Even though the union failed to produce heirs or a prosperous political alliance, Henry was willing to give his wife a comfortable settlement as a sign of gratitude for consenting to the annulment. After this, Anne and Henry became good friends and she was invited to court often. Moreover, she was named an honorary member of the Royal Family, as the “King’s Right Dear and Right Entirely Beloved Sister”.
After the Annulment
Anne lived comfortably during the rest of Henry’s reign and was formally introduced to his new wife, Catherine Howard, with whom she had a good relationship. After Catherine was beheaded, Henry was pressed to remarry Anne, but he quickly refused to do so and married Catherine Parr. When the king died in 1547, Anne’s living conditions changed drastically and she was forced to plead her brother for financial security. Still, she remained on good terms with Queen Mary, Henry’s daughter, and even attended her coronation in 1553. This was her final public appearance before she retired to her Kentish states.
Anne of Cleves passed away on July 16 1557 at Chelsea old Manor, at 41 years old. She was the last of Henry’s six wives to die and the only one who had the honour of a burial fit for a woman of her position, in Westminster Abbey.
- henry viii
- anne of cleves
- house of tudor
- thomas cromwell
- catherine howard
- catherine parr
- mary i