The Six Wives of Henry VIII
IV. Anne of Cleves's Story
Anne of Cleves was Henry's fourth wife. She came from the German state of Cleves, and married Henry for political reasons. She was Queen of England for only a few months, during the year 1540.
After Queen Jane died, Henry started looking around for a new bride. He was still worried about the succession, and hoped to have more children. Henry's right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, was in favor of a political alliance with a Protestant country. Cromwell encouraged Henry to consider marrying a German princess.
Anne of Cleves was one of the candidates that Cromwell brought to Henry's attention. Anne was a moderately attractive German princess in her mid-twenties, whose brother was the ruler of the German state of Cleves. She was reportedly kind, generous and intelligent. She was not, however, highly educated, and had no special musical or artistic training. She spoke little English, and dressed in the ornate, cumbersome Dutch fashions popular in Germany at the time.
Henry wanted to see a picture of this prospective bride. He sent the artist Hans Holbein to Germany to paint Anne's portrait. Some say that Holbein fell in love with Anne, and portrayed her as more attractive than she really was.
Henry liked Anne's portrait and negotiated to marry her. Unfortunately, he decided to surprise her while she was en route to London to meet her future husband. Henry disguised himself in ugly old clothes, and rode to the place where Anne was staying. He burst in on Anne in her guest room, and pretended to be a messenger from the King.
Anne, who was watching a bear-baiting out the window, didn't act too interested in this odd visitor. She barely glanced at him, and answered his questions without much attention or enthusiasm. When he finally revealed his true identity as her bridegroom, Anne of Cleves was shocked. Henry may have still thought himself the handsomest prince in Christendom, but in all reality, he was no longer the golden Adonis of his youth. In his royal garments, he could present the illusion of his former self, and hide some of his fat, but his messenger outfit didn't flatter him in the least. Besides, what kind of rude behavior was this, to come bursting on a lady unannounced?
The net result of all this good fun was that both parties were offended, and Henry claimed to find Anne most unattractive. The feeling was probably mutual.
Henry went ahead with the marriage to save face, and to keep the German alliance, but soon convinced Anne to agree to a divorce. Anne thought this was a great idea. She shared Henry's negative feelings about the marriage, which, by all accounts, had never been consummated.
Henry was amazed at Anne's willingness to go along with the plan. As a reward for her cooperation, she was allowed to stay in England, was given the honorary title of "Henry's dear sister", and held a high position in the royal circle.
Henry provided well for Anne, and she lived a happy life at her country estate. She gave fine parties, wore beautiful English fashions, and gave generous gifts to just about everyone she knew. She enjoyed a close relationship with Henry's children, and even became good friends with Henry. All things considered, Anne of Cleves's life story had the happiest ending of that of any of Henry VIII's six wives!
Additional Reading About Anne
For additional reading about Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and Henry's other wives, here are some books that may be ordered from Amazon.com.
To bring up the details about a particular book, please click on the underlined link beside the picture of the book you are interested in.
The Marrying of Anne of Cleves : Royal
Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Wier
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Henry VIII : The King and His Court by Alison Wier
Henry VIII : Images of a Tudor King by Christopher Lloyd, Simon Thurley, Hampton Court
The Tudors (A Royal History of England) by Neville Williams, Antonia Fraser (Editor)
The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England by Antonia Fraser (Editor)
The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry, Peter Fry
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