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Anne of Cleves: The King's Sister

Updated on July 26, 2013
The Fourth Wife of Henry VIII: Anne of Cleves
The Fourth Wife of Henry VIII: Anne of Cleves | Source

Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII's fourth wife. She was a protestant from the German state, Cleves, and was a the sister of the Duke of Cleves. She knew little of the world outside of her state and simply grew up learning how to obey. She did not even know what the King of England looked like, so upon first meeting him she did not bow to him; a serious snub to Henry.

It can be assumed that Henry only agreed to marry Anne in the first place because he had had trouble finding a fourth wife. After the divorce of Catharine of Agaron, the execution of Anne Boleyn and the death of Jane Seymour, which had been rumoured to be at the orders of Henry since he wanted a healthy male heir and ordered for the baby to be cut out of Jane (something that would have killed her due to the lack of hygiene and medical care in the 16th Century), no English noblewomen wanted to marry Henry and neither did most of the rest of Europe. Henry had already been denied by Christina of Milan and Marie de Guise, so if he wanted to marry for a fourth time he would have to marry someone who had been raised in a way that Anne had.

Henry's First Meeting with Anne of Cleves

Henry had never met Anne before agreeing to marry her, he had seen a small painting by Hans Holbein the Younger which made Anne look beautiful. However, when Henry met her, he did not like her and stated that she had the face of "a Flanders mare". He believed that he had been lied to by Holbein, however it is likely that the sea air or her nerves of meeting Henry had caused her complexion to pale and be different from the portrait.

Henry also found that there was a language barrier and Anne had no skills in the Henry's interests; she was not musical, she did not read books and, even though she had been taught on her sail over, she could not play the king's favourite card game.

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves were married for six months
Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves were married for six months

Henry VIII's Marriage to Anne

Henry found that he could get out of his marriage with Anne, but also realised that he could not stop the wedding anyway. France and Spain were joining together, so England needed an alliance in Europe. The marriage to Anne would bring an alliance with Germany.

It can be argued that Henry and Anne were simply not attracted to each other, which would be why Anne never fell pregnant. It is known that it was not an instant revulsion from Henry, it was only on their wedding night that Henry stated that he could not consummate their wedding; he stated to Thomas Cromwell that he 'liked her much worse' after that night.

Anne was also not flirtatious, something that the king enjoyed in his women; most notably Anne Boleyn and, his fifth wife, Kathryn Howard. This meant a downward spiral for Henry and Anne's marriage.

It was around this time that Kathryn Howard became a lady-in-waiting to Anne, which is where Henry first met her. Henry liked the flirtatious and curvaceous Kathryn much more than Anne, and there was no language barrier. He started sending her gifts well before his divorce to Anne.

Anne of Cleves' Betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine

It was before the wedding to Anne of Cleves that Cromwell had possibly found a way out of Henry's marriage to Anne. Anne had been betrothed to Francis, the Duke of Lorraine. However, this had not been looked into much before the wedding, that could have been because Henry needed the alliance with Germany against France and Spain and also the fact that Henry had struggled for so long to find a fourth wife.

However, once Kathryn Howard had come into the picture, Henry had found somebody else who he wanted to marry and so he used this chance to look more closely at whether Anne was still betrothed to Francis.

When Cleve ambassadors could not find actual papers of dispensation, since they did not exist, and all they had was a report that stated negotiation with Lorriane 'were not going to take their natural course', it was clear that Anne was still in fact betrothed to Francis and there for the marriage between Henry and Anne was legally invalid from the start.

Ironically, for the first time, the decision for Henry to end a marriage was legally valid and acceptable to all.

Six Wives of Henry VIII: Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves was smarter than her royal predecessor, Catherine of Aragon
Anne of Cleves was smarter than her royal predecessor, Catherine of Aragon

Anne of Cleves Agrees to an Annulment

It is known that Anne agreed very quickly to her marriage to Henry being annulled. The question would be was that because of her fear of losing her head or because she didn't care. Another question is, if she had advisers would the outcome have been different? Would she have been advised to fight the annulment? However, the reasons for the annulment were that the marriage had not been consummated and it was also invalid from the start due to the pre-contract with Francis. Anne made the choice herself to agree and Henry was grateful, which is what makes her one of the luckiest wives of Henry VIII.

Unlike Catharine of Aragon who had been left very few of her households, Henry was very generous to Anne. He decided that she was to have precedence over all ladies in England, with the exception of the Queen and Henry's daughters; she would be known as the king's 'good sister'. Anne received a very nice settlement of manors and estates, some of them had belonged to Cromwell, who had been executed shortly before the annulment, and she had an income of £3000. To receive this, Anne was to remain in England, which she was more than happy to do - she had grown to love England and her English had become much better while being in the country.

The luck did not stop there, either. It is known that Anne had grown incredibly fond of English ale and gambling, and that she was often visited by Henry during his marriages to Kathryn Howard and Katharine Parr. Anne was also seen at court, even after Henry's death in 1547; her last appearance was at Mary Tudor's coronation in 1553.

Maybe luck had nothing to do with it, maybe Anne was smarter than she had let on and knew that agreeing to an annulment would mean she would be thought highly off in the eyes of Henry. However, her naive and kindly character does not agree with that, after all, in her will she did leave gifts to everyone who had ever served her, no matter how humble or long ago.

Anne of Cleves could be seen as the most unluckiest of wives due to her marriage being short and not having the chance to provide an heir for Henry (which could have saved the marriage and led history down a completely different path) but she can also be seen as the most luckiest by going from the Queen of England to the King's sister.


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