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Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves is Annulled

Updated on July 9, 2013
Henry VIII loved Anne of Cleve's portrait but not the real life woman
Henry VIII loved Anne of Cleve's portrait but not the real life woman

On July 9, 1540, Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was dissolved. The marriage only lasted for six months and was never consummated. Out of the three marriages dissolved to this point, it was the only one that could be done legally. It was a quick process too, thanks to Anne of Cleves’ cooperation.

The Disastrous Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

After Jane Seymour’s death in 1537, Henry VIII of England went into a state of mourning. Whether he really loved his Queen or just loved her for the heir she provided, Henry refused to think about marrying someone else. The country may have needed more potential heirs but Henry wasn’t interested. It took two years for him to finally agree to consider brides.

Thomas Cromwell wanted to continue the religious reformation. He needed Henry to marry a protestant woman; preferably one that would also work in Henry’s favour. At the time, France and Spain were aligning and that put England is a tricky situation. The best thing for Henry was to align himself with another power in Europe – Germany. Cromwell put Anne of Cleves forward as a potential bride and Henry opted to send Hans Holbein the Younger to paint a portrait of the princess.

Henry VIII liked the portrait and agreed to marry Anne immediately. She was sent for but would sail during November and December, when the waters were choppy. While Henry had agreed on a set date to see his bride-to-be, he couldn’t wait and went to meet her on New Year’s Day in 1540. This didn’t help. Anne had just gotten off the boat and would have looked pale. Anne also didn’t know he was the King and failed to show him the respect he deserved. Henry didn’t like the look of his new bride.

Henry VIII had to go through with the marriage for his alliance with Germany at the time
Henry VIII had to go through with the marriage for his alliance with Germany at the time

Thomas Cromwell Offers a Way Out of the Marriage

Before the marriage, Thomas Cromwell tried to find a way out of the marriage; believing that was what the King wanted. He knew that Anne was previously betrothed to another man. The problem for Henry was that it would cause problems with his alliance with Germany and he still needed that!

Begrudgingly, Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves on January 6, 1540. He refused to consummate the marriage and only kissed her. Anne was so naive that she asked her ladies whether that meant she could be pregnant! It was in February 1540 when Anne confessed to the Countess of Rutland about how kind Henry was but that he only kissed her that she realised there wouldn’t be a baby.

Learn More About Henry VIII's Wife, Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves Is Sent Away

Anne of Cleves left court of June 24 and heard that the King was reconsidering the marriage on July 6. Henry stated that the marriage was not consummated but failed to believe that Anne was still a virgin. He regularly stated that he felt misled about her looks; although it is possible that the first impression but a very bad taste in his mouth.

By this time, the alliance between Spain and France had fallen apart. Henry no longer needed the alliance with Germany. This was the best chance to find a way out of his doomed marriage. Despite Thomas Cromwell being in the Tower of London by this point, all eyes fell on him to find a way out of the marriage. Cromwell offered the same option as before the marriage – Anne’s betrothal to Francis of Lorraine, the Duke of Lorraine’s son. This was a pre-contract and was as good as a marriage.

Anne’s consent was needed to annul the marriage, first. Interestingly enough, she could have fought the annulment like her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon. However, Anne agreed. Did she know that the marriage wasn’t valid? Did she know the trouble fighting it could have caused? Was she really just naive enough to think that Henry knew best?

This must have made Henry happy because he offered her numerous lands and a generous salary, as well as the title The King’s Beloved Sister. Two of the places Anne of Cleves gained once belonged to the Boleyns: Hever Castle and Richmond Palace. The only women to have precedence over her were the next Queens and Henry’s daughters.

The condition was that she was to remain in the country and never marry. Anne grew to enjoy England and was possibly happy about being away from her brother. Anne had switched her religion from the Lutheran one to England’s Anglican one and her brother never approved of this. She did suffer from homesickness from time to time but nothing to make her want to leave England.

Henry VIII Meets Anne of Cleves

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves Become Friends

In Showtime’s The Tudors, there are many scenes showing the growing friendship between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves; with an affair at one point. There is no evidence to support much of this but Anne did learn more about Henry’s favourite pastimes, especially playing cards. She was invited to court often so it is possible that there was some type of friendship between them.

When Katherine Howard was executed in 1542, there was the talk of Henry VIII marrying Anne of Cleves again. Henry quickly refused and chose Katherine Parr as his next wife. Anne remained in favour with the King though and was present at court on numerous occasions.

This ending could have been Catherine of Aragon's ending too
This ending could have been Catherine of Aragon's ending too

Catherine of Aragon Could Have Had the Same as Anne of Cleves

Henry’s actions after Anne of Cleves’ acceptance of the annulment show how thankful he could be. Travelling back to between 1526 and 1533, it could have been a different story for Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was offered much of the similar rewards as Anne – all Catherine had to do was live in a nunnery and call herself the Dowager Princess of Wales. Of course, Catherine fought her way through the divorce proceedings, caused the country to tear apart and led to the last years of her life cold, regularly ill and with very few friends.

It would be interesting to know how Anne of Cleves would have been treated had she decided to fight the annulment. Of course, since there was a pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine, there were valid grounds for an annulment so she wouldn’t have lasted long. It is possible that her advisors made that clear and suggested that she take the King’s offer and live a life of luxury.

Her acceptance of the annulment also led to her being good friends with Lady Mary Tudor (later Mary I of England), despite their differences in religion. Anne greeted Mary and Elizabeth’s arrival to London before Mary’s coronation and was present for the coronation. However, she rarely visited court after 1553. In fact, the coronation was the last time she was seen before her death in 1557.


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