THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII: Anne of Cleves
An article by Lauren Leonard
She was a German duchess who longed to escape from the tense atmosphere of her mother and brother and marry. She had her chance in 1539, when the dream of a lifetime reached her lands, and the King of England selected her to be his fourth wife. Little did Anne know that this king’s three previous wives made him think poorly of her, and she spent seven months fighting fate to escape another execution.
Anne of Cleves was a woman who had all the odds stacked against her when she arrived in England to be Queen of a land she hardly knew. In many ways, Anne survived in ways that would have stumped the previous Queen Anne. She was so observant to her husband’s demands that he thought highly of her courage and wit, and she escaped an execution on Tower Green. In fact, she lived while the advisors who arranged her marriage did not. After their divorce, Anne was given a healthy settlement, including Richmond Palace, and was known from then on as the “King’s Most Beloved Sister.” In many ways, Anne was the ultimate survivor of Henry’s wives, and she was his only ex-wife to outlive him.
Anne was the second of three daughters born to John III, a Duke of Cleves, and his wife, and Mary, the Duchess of Julich-Berg. She was born on September 22, 1515, in Disseldorf, the Duchy of Berg, land owned by her mother. The religions of her parents were divided-John was highly influenced by the scholar Erasmus and embraced the Protestant Reformation, while Mary was a Catholic. Anne, however, was educated as a Lutheran. When John III died on February 6, 1538, Anne’s brother Wilhelm (or William) became the Duke of Cleves, Julich, and Berg, which were then joined to be Cleves-Julich-Berg. Anne’s relationship with her mother was said to be strained, and her relationship with her brother was said to be even worse, and he was sometimes abusive towards her.
Her chance to get away from Cleves came in 1539, when Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII’s famous court painter, was sent to paint Anne and her younger sister Amelia. Henry VIII was considering both of them for a new wife after the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, in 1537. This was so because at the time, France and Spain, two major world powers, were said to be forming an alliance, and it would be useful for England to align itself with Cleves. Anne’s likeness was preferred, and on October 4, 1539, a contract of marriage was formed by one of Henry VIII’s chief advisors, Thomas Cromwell (who had also formed the demise of one of Henry’s earlier wives, Anne Boleyn).
However, Henry preferred a good education in his women, and if not that than a beautiful physical appearance. Anne, however, was not highly educated. She only knew German and a bit of French, yet she was said to quickly adapt to the English language once she arrived in England. She was described as rather dark-haired and pretty, but she did not meet Henry’s standards as a bride. Nevertheless, Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves married on January 6, 1540 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. The marriage was never consummated, and Henry continued not to like her. Anne was finally sent away from court June 24, 1540, and the marriage was annulled on July 6.
Anne, however, was treated warmly and kindly by her former husband afterwards. She was a healthy sum of money and land, including Richmond Palace and even Hever Castle, the former estate of the Boleyns. She was also the most important woman in England, aside from a current Queen and the King’s two daughters, Mary (daughter of Catherine of Aragon), and Elizabeth (daughter of Anne Boleyn). Anne died peacefully on July 16, 1557, after a long illness, at Kent.
Anne of Cleves was in many ways a woman who was a good wife to her husband, although he disliked her all throughout their marriage. This was in part due to Anne’s appearance, which the King heavily did not enjoy, as well as an infatuation with one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Catherine Howard, who would become his fifth wife. The main reason Anne survived her marriage to Henry VIII was because she was willing to accept whatever he wanted of her. Anne is portrayed that way in numerous books about the Tudors, including books like The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory, The Marrying of Anne of Cleves by Retha Warnicke, and Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride by Elizabeth Norton. Because her bravery even as her marriage came to a close, it is little wonder that Anne lived the longest of any of Henry VIII’s wives.