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Visiting Anne of Cleves House, Lewes, England: recalling one of the wives of King Henry VIII

Updated on February 6, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Anne of Cleves House, Lewes, East Sussex, England
Anne of Cleves House, Lewes, East Sussex, England | Source
Anne of Cleves after Holbein by Henry Hoppner Meyer, printed in 1828
Anne of Cleves after Holbein by Henry Hoppner Meyer, printed in 1828 | Source
Map location of Lewes district, East Sussex
Map location of Lewes district, East Sussex | Source

Remembering a sidelined Queen Consort

This ancient house in Lewes, East Sussex, England, was once owned by Anne of Cleves (1515-1557), one of King Henry VIII's six wives, and is thus known as Anne of Cleves House.

The structure is a Medieval timber framed building built around a hall, which proved especially popular in areas such as Wealden, in eastern Sussex and Kent: the term Wealden hall house is sometimes used to describe this category of building. Dating from the 15th century, some of the structure of the house continued to be modified until the 17th century. Architect Walter Godfrey (2) was active in the 20th century restoration of the House.

The House, containing authentic, period funishings, is now a museum, containing the Museum of Lewes and the Wealden Iron Gallery. It is also hired out for functions and is a venue for concerts.

It is thought that Anne of Cleves came into the possession of the House, named for her, in Lewes, Sussex, as a result of the annulment settlement to which she acquiesced in 1540. Given the fate of some of Henry VIII's other wives who were less passive in Henry's desire that they be removed from the matrimonial scene, one wonders how optional a choice was presented to Anne, who was thus Queen Consort of England for only a few months. Interestingly, records indicate that Henry remained on good terms with Anne of Cleves, even elevating her to the somewhat odd, fictitious title of the King's Beloved Sister.

Anne outlived Henry VIII, and, having converted to nascent Anglicanism in order to marry Henry in 1540, re-converted to Roman Catholicism after the accession of Queen Mary Tudor in 1553.

But please note: there is no record of Anne of Cleves herself ever having even visited this property, let alone lived there. To be brutally frank, its very name is thus really a monument to Anne's acquiescence in Henry VIII's revolving door approach to matrimony.

Anne of Cleves House is located at 52 Southover High Street, Lewes, East Sussex.

February 6, 2013


(1) Anne was the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves (1490-c.1538) and Maria of Juelich-Berg (1491-1543). In his German territories, Duke John was known to be favourably disposed to the Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, and strove to promote what was similar to the via media, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism that became an ideal for some English monarchs and Anglican prelates. There were strong political reasons why Henry VIII contemplated marriage with Anne of Cleves. Anne's mother, Maria of Juelich-Berg, leaned, however, towards a strict Roman Catholic upbringing for Anne, and it is thought that, when exposed to the highly urbane and Henry and the English court, Anne's conversation did not impress. This, in fact, may have been part of the underlying reason why Henry decided to dispense with her later in 1540; Henry's protestations that Anne was supposedly not as fair as a portrait of her painted by Holbein was not borne out by contemporary opinion.

(2) Architect Godfrey (1881-1961) was the founder of the National Buildings Record; he was responsible for restoring many other ancient buildings, including Herstmonceux Castle and Michelham Priory.

Also worth seeing

In Lewes itself, its castle has 1000 years of history; and a number of old buildings, including churches; the town has an annual bonfire festival, against the historical background to the burning at the stake of 17 Protestants during the reign of Mary I, in the 16th century.

Newhaven (distance: 12 kilometres) the Canadian Memorial — recalling the ill-fated Dieppe Raid in 1942 — in the Downtown area, and Newhaven Fort are visitor attractions at this English Channel ferry port.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. (Distance from London Heathrow to Lewes : 111 kilometres.) For access by road, take M23/A23/A27. There are rail links to Lewes from London Victoria railroad station. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago


      I agree; it's an absorbing part of England's history! Thank-you for your comment.

    • sallieannluvslife profile image


      5 years ago from Eastern Shore

      Very interesting!


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