1540: Anne of Cleves marries King Henry VIII. Anne was born on September 22, 1515 in Dusseldorf, the second daughter of a Duke. The Duke was a moderate man influenced by Erasmus and followed a middle path during the Protestant Reformation. When the Duke died in 1538, Anne’s brother became the next Duke. Her elder sister married the head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany, the man known as the “Champion of the Reformation”. When Anne was 11, she was betrothed to the son of the Duke of Lorraine who was 10 – making it unofficial due to ages. The betrothal was cancelled in 1535. As the rage of religious confrontation swept the continent, the Cleves family was divided with the new Duke backing the Lutherans while his mother was a “strict Catholic”. The Duke was thus in conflict with Emperor Charles V and thought to thus be allied with King Henry VIII of England.
Thomas Cromwell urged the King of England, looking again for a wife, to accept Anne of Cleves as his next spouse. Artist Hans Holbein the Younger was sent overseas to paint a portrait of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia. Either of these women were suitable for the King and Henry had entreated the portraitist to paint the women as they actually looked without flattering them in any way. The pictures were painted and arrived for the King’s approval. Negotiations continued via Cromwell. Henry enjoyed educated, cultured women who could converse easily. Anne was uneducated, culturally inept, and although an adept needleworker and game player, could only read and write German. But she was seen as gentle, virtuous, and docile – which was a good match for the volatile King.
Anne was described by contemporaries as tall and slim, of middling beauty, assured, and with long blonde hair. She was on her way to meet her fiancé and dressed accordingly in the English fashion, but with a French hood to accentuate her beauty. It was noted that she looked old for her age. The couple first met privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester as she journeyed to Dover. Henry was disguised as he entered her presence and boldly kissed her. She did not think highly of this brash man, not recognizing her future husband. He was disappointed in his future wife. He then told her who he was, but never really felt good about this marriage after this point. The two met officially on January 3 and married on this day.
The marriage was doomed from the start. Although as soon as Anne landed in England, she conformed to Anglican ways, it wasn’t enough. Their first night as a married couple was not successful and the next day Henry told Cromwell the marriage had not been consummated. Henry claimed she stunk and had an unsightly body and he was even more put off by her than before. The marriage went from bad to worse and on June 24, Anne was banished from the Court and on July 6 she was told of her husband’s decision to reconsider the marriage. It was annulled on July 9 without Anne ever having been made Queen Consort. Later that same month, he married his next wife. Anne received a generous settlement and was allowed to live out the rest of her life, unlike most of Henry’s wives. In fact, she outlived all the others, dying in peace on July 16, 1557, just weeks before turning 42.
Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife. – Franz Schubert
By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. – Socrates
A good husband makes a good wife. – John Florio
The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret. – Henny Youngman