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The Wives of King Henry VIII: Anne of Cleves

Updated on August 7, 2008

Early Years

Anne of Cleves was born on the 22nd of September, 1515. She was born to John III, ruler of the duchy of Cleves.At an early age (12) she was betrothed to Francis, the son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine, (he was 10). As the two were still children the betrothal was considered "unoffical", and was cancelled in 1535. Anne's father also was in constant contention with the Emperor Charles V (Queen Katharine's nephew) for Gelderland. This enemity proved enticing to Henry VIII and his advisors, who had no love for Charles V and his connection to the deposed queen. At the advising of Thomas Cromwell and others, Henry decided that allying himself with John III through marriage to his daughter would be suitable to his political machinations.

A Wife in Name Only

Soon after Henry gained interest in an alliance the famous artist Hans Holbein the Younger was sent to Cleves to paint a picture of Anne and her sister Amelia, who was also being considered for the marriage. Henry was very impressed with the portrait of Anne, and by 1539 the marriage negotiations were in full swing.

Though he thought her pretty, Anne lacked many of the skills Henry valued in women, such as education and culture. Anne of Cleves had no formal education and instead of learning to sing and dance she was taught needlework. She could write, but only in German. Her personality was quiet and docile however, which made her a good match for Henry.

Henry was so excited to see his new bride he went down to the water to greet her arriving ship. The two were married in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwhich on the 6th of January, 1540. The wedding night was not a joyous occasion however. Within a few hours he emerged from the bedroom and announced, "I like her not". Anne was commanded to leave court on June 26th of 1540, and informed of her husband's wish to annul the marriage on July 6th. She amicably agreed, and the marriage was annulled on July 9th of 1540 on the grounds on non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis.

Anne received a generous parting package, including Hever Castle which had belonged to Anne Boleyn's family. Anne lived a quiet and unremarkable life there until July 16, 1557, when she passed. She is interred in Westminster Abbey.


There are several theories as to why the marriage did not work out. It is suggested that perhaps Anne was ugly and Hans Holbein was not accurate in his painting. However, the king was paying him to be accurate and not flattering, so this is not too likely. It is also suggested that Anne found Henry's obesity grotesque, and tried to make him dislike her. Either way, by the time the marriage was annulled relations had soured between the Duke of Cleves and England, and the marriage was no longer advantageous. In the end, the person getting the raw deal was Anne.


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    • sharewhatuknow profile image


      7 years ago from Western Washington

      Yep, I bet Anne of Cleves thought old Henry was foul and stinky, LOL. During this time I believe Henry VIII was afflicted with an old injury to his thigh that refused to heal, the discharge was foul and putrid.

      Also, Henry was obese, far from the days of his athletic physique. And, he may have been impotent. Just a thought.

      After all, what was Henry going to say after he emerged from his bedchamber: "Since I am not able to perform, our marriage cannot be consummated."

      Instead, he blamed the whole affair on Anne of Cleves. He annulled the marriage and paid her handsomely to keep her mouth shut.

    • spiderlily profile image


      8 years ago

      Anne of Cleves was always my favorite of Henry's wives.

    • funinclass profile image


      9 years ago from Norway

      Yes, I think she was a good and sensible woman. She outlived them all and even got a decent settlement out of the divorce. Good going, Anne!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      10 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Well poor old Anne of Cleves ended up better off than some of Henry's wives-- at least she got bought off instead of beheaded LOL


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