Anne of Cleves (1515-1557), Fourth Wife of Henry VIII
Written by: Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewski, B.F.A.

Portrait of Ann of Cleves by Hans Holbien,
the younger (1497-1542)

Anne of Cleves was the luckiest of Henry's wives, since Henry annuled their marriage on July 9, 1540, before he even consumated it. The reasoning being that the king NEVER gave his consent to the marriage. Their marriage was annulled in 1541. Henry was so glad to be relieved of Anne of Cleves that he set up a settlement of 4,000 English pounds per year, and a number of stately manors (9) in Sussex, with the stipulation that Anne must make her permanent residence in England. This property and trust was put into place on January 17, 1541. One of her homes was made into the Lewes Folk museum. It was located in Lewes (in Southover), Suffolk, England. This house was timber-framed Wealden type building and it had been owned by Lewes Priory. Anne never actually lived in the house.. Anne was assured that she would be treated as "a sister," in Henry's court. One month later Henry married Catherine Howard, Queen number five. After Anne's death, the house again became Crown property until it was sold three years later.

Anne of Cleves House and Lewes Folk Museum
52 Southover High Street
Lewes, East Suffolk

Anne of Cleves House

When the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was annulled in 1541, she was given this house in Southover as part of her settlement, but it is doubtful whether she ever stayed at the property, or even visited it. After her death, the house again became Crown property until it was sold on three years later. During the next 350 years the house changed hands countless times, and the accommodation was altered to provide three separate units. For most of the time Anne of Cleves house was occupied by tenants, much as it was in her own lifetime. Eventually, in 1923 it was given to Sussex Archaeological Society who have since repaired and re-modelled the premises to provide a living museum within the walls of the old house. An abundance of exposed timber beams, white plastered walls, and richly carved oak furniture help preserve the atmosphere of a substantial dwelling house, whilst displays of local artefacts create an historical insight into the surrounding area. On the ground floor several finds are exhibited from excavations carried out at Lewes Priory, including some beautiful pieces of carved stonework. As the property once formed part of the monastic estate, and probably incorporates some quarried materials from priory buildings destroyed after the Dissolution, it is an appropriate and poignant reminder of the house's origin. The kitchen presents a fairly typical scene of the medieval era, there are some wonderful early 18th century tapestries hanging in one of the upper rooms, and examples of Victoriana in display cases in the Long Gallery. An entire room is dedicated to people and events associated with Lewes, and a recent gallery has been set up to show the history of the iron industry, an important part of Sussex life for several centuries. At the back of Anne of Cleves house is a small garden which gives an entirely different view of this fascinating building, much altered over its time yet seeming to have retained its original identity and charm. Henry wanted a woman who could speak English, so she could understand his "sweet nothings." In truth, Henry was excited after seeing Anne's portrait, the image with which he "fell in love," as painted by Hans Holbein. Most agreed later that this portrait flattered the real Anne. Hans Holbein did portraits of both Anne and her sister Amelia, and Henry was to pick his future wife from the two.

Anne of Cleves was equally disappointed in Henry. She had few social graces, so she felt like a fish out of water in the English court. Before the marriage she was lodged with her retinue in the Bishop's Palace in Rochester, England, after traveling from her native land. This was about one year after negotiations had begun between Anne's parents, her brother and Henry. Henry (or Cromwell?) had actually been searching for his next wife since November 1537, which was only one month after Queen Jane's death. By February 1539, Henry's Council was urging him to remarry. In March, Nicholas Wotton and Robert Barnes were sent as envoys to Cleves, to arrange a marriage with either Anne or Amelia. When they were presented with the two daughters, they were both covered up for modesty sake, and the two men could see very little of their figures or faces. When the envoys complained, the Duke Wilhelm asked if they wanted to see them both naked? Hans Holbien was then commissioned, on April 23, 1539, to paint both their portraits, in the privacy of their chambers. The Germans wanted Lucas Cranach to paint the portraits not Holbien. This was a heavy point of discussion that was evemtually worked out.

Cromwell reported to Henry:

Every man praiseth the beauty of the said Lady Anne, as well for her face as for her person, above all the ladies excellent. She as far excelleth the Dutchess of Saxony as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon. Every man praiseth the good virtues and honesty wuith shamefacedness which plainly appeareth in the gravity of her countence.

Cromwell exaggerated what he had been told. He had never seen Anne without heavy clothing. He did sense that she was brought up strict, thus no worries about past lovers. Cromwell wanted this union because of the Protestant attachment of the Cleves. King Henry was swayed by Cromwell's letters. However, the Dukes of Cleves (her father and her brother) suggested Anne and Amelia were fearful of Henry's licentious court. Cleves said he was too poor to offer a dowry, since his father was ill. Wilhelm, Duke of Cleves, was suspicious because of what happened to Henry's other wives. He also protested that he feared for his sister's happiness and safety. Afterall, another Anne had been beheaded. After much debate, Hans Holbien was given permission to paint the duke's two daughters. It seems that the lengthy wait for Anne reminded Henry of another Anne who made him wait. Both women had the same name, were of slender build, had flaws in their appearance (Boleyn's extra fingers and Cleves' scars), and had sharp features. Many historians have suggested that Henry balked because of these similarities. Anne's brother's tactics may have spurred the king into the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" syndrome. Henry was not one to have to wait. Afterall, kings should be granted things and have their privileges. Henry was spoiled. Henry actually was "in love" with the image of Anne of Cleves as a fragile virgin. Since Henry VIII had to marry someone to produce more heirs, he had to marry soon (as his prowess was waning), and Anne was the only one who was available.

Only one portrait, of Anne of Cleves, survives besides that of Hans Holbien. The other was by a Flemish artist called Barthel Bruyn the Elder. Bruyn's portrait hangs in St. John's College in Oxford, England. This profile portrait shows Anne with an angular face, a long-pointed nose, and heavy lidded eyes. She was taller than Henry's other wives, and many people later commented that she was afflicted with an excessive amount of body odor. The King was said to have noticed her smell more than once. He found her stupid, lacking of wit, and musical skills. After she learned courtly skills, Anne became all the thing Henry said she lacked, including playing a mean game of cards, and people began to like her. It was thought that Anne loved her new found freedoms, in England. Although she admired a few courtiers, she never wanted to marry again.

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves' wedding was on the Feast of the Epiphany, the last day of Yuletide at court. Anne wore a gown of gold embroidery with large flowers of great Oriental pearls. Her long hair was hanging loose, in token of her virginity. She wore a gold crown and a courtly necklace. She looked demure, but serious. On the wedding night Henry did not commsumate the marriage. It was explained later that Anne had no idea of what was to happen in the wedding chamber. Apparently, her mother had not schooled her in this. Henry said Anne did not react to his pleasuring but, instead, rolled over and went to sleep. The next morning Henry rose early and was asked by his men about his wedding night. He was livid and said that it was nothing like he would have imagined it. He complained about her smell, her sagging breasts, and the looseness of her private parts that made him think her not a virgin. Henry openly told all the court that he had found her body disordered and indisposed to excite or provoke any lust in him. However, if we think back to Anne Boleyn, she said the same thing about him.

Henry quickly took up with Anne Bassett (as mistress), and after her, Catharine Howard, another unfortunate queen. Anne of Cleves could not figure out why she was still a virgin since she had "slept" with King Henry. She told courtiers that things were find and that Henry kissed her gently good night. Some wonder today if maybe this was her way of getting out of a marriage, she never wanted. Her technique might have been to act demurely and unworldly so as not to provoke Henry's anger. This was the portrayal given in the movie version of their marriage. Elsa Lancaster portrayed Anne with her husband, Charles Laughton, as Henry VIII, in The Private Life of Henry VIII.

Before the marriage was to become fact, the Germans wrote, to Henry VIII, that Anne had led a sheltered life and that she was such a joy that her mother could not bear to part with her gentle and humble daughter. Anne was touted as being very intelligent. However, she could not speak anything but High Dutch. One might guess that Anne was sheltered because of the reputation of her grandfather who was called "the babymaker," because of his many mistresses and illegitimate children. The Duke's men told Henry's ambassadors that Anne should easily learn English because of her quick mind. After their annulment, Anne learned English and could party with the best of them.

The Duke of Cleves threw into the negotiations that Anne was betrothed to the Duke of Lorraine's son, the Marquess of Pont-a-Mousson and that he must be careful not to break the precontract and anger that family. The House of Lorraine was questioned about this contract which they seemed to have lost and knew nothing about. At last, an agreement was reached.

On September 4, 1539, a marriage treaty was signed by the Duke of Cleves. The Treaty was scheduled for its ratification procedures on September 23, 1539, and it was finally approved on October 4, 1539. The Lady Mary (daughter of Katherine of Aragon) was upset to hear that her father was to marry a "Lutheran heretic." Later on, Mary would befriend Anne and convert her to the Catholic faith. As luck would have it, Catherine Parr was also Anne of Cleves' friend. Anne was said to have given Catherine a gift of two horses (a mare and a stud) dressed in matching velvet. This was Anne's humorous play on her own nickname. Anne was invited to all palace functions and in 1541, she and Catherine danced together one evening when King Henry retired early. Catherine died on September 1548.

At the time of their marriage Anne of Cleves was age twenty-four (24), a reasonable age for to wed, and in good health. Before marriage, Henry VIII made a surprise visit to his future bride. Anne trembled with nervousness at the first sight of her future husband, a husband who had already divorced one wife, beheaded another, and had the third die in his quest for an male heir. Anne's training, as reported, had been in the domestic skills such as art, literature, and music. All these things Henry loved, but he could never get over that portrait. He forgave Hans Holbein because he understood artistic license, but he never forgave Cromwell.

In reality Anne was described as being "pockmarked" and "thin." Henry was said to like more buxom women, like Katherine and Jane had been. Anne Boleyn was thin and angular. Henry should have realized that he wasn't much to write home about either since he was now approaching forty-seven (47) years of age and even described himself as a BIG man who needed a BIG woman.

Before settling for Anne of Cleves, Henry had hoped to marry Mary of Guise, daughter of Claude, Duke of Guise. Mary was a widow and had two sons. She was about twenty-two years old. When she heard that Henry VIII was wanting to be her next husband, she quickly decided to marry Henry's nephew, James V of Scotland, the lesser of the two evils. Another candidates for marriage was Christina, the Dutchess of Milan. Henry also fell "in love" with her portrait, and was anxious to make this union. However, the Dutchess had other ideas. Her ambassadors refused him in a letter:

...the King's Majesty was in so little space rid of the queens that she [the Dutchess Christina] did not dare trust his Council, though she durst trust his Majesty for her council suspecteth that her great-aunt was poisoned, that the second was innocently put to death, and the third lost for lack of keeping her in childbed.

She was asked again about marrying Henry and she told her ministers that she did not want this match. They then had to tell the King that a marriage to her was hopeless.

By this time Henry Tudor was huge and had a bad reputation as a husband, He was not the kind of man a woman would have wanted. He had a constant pain in his leg, and he had surgery in May 1528. This surgery involved the lancing of a rather large abcess. This did not cure the problem, but was said to have relieved some of the pain. Henry was in ill health from this point on.

When Henry first saw his new bride (Anne of Cleves) he was so put-off that he even forgot to give her the betrothal gifts. Henry was quoted as calling Anne "Flander's Mare," but current historians have said that was her nickname around court.

He confided in Cromwell:

"If it were not that she is come so far into England, and for fear of making a ruffle in the world, and driving her brother into the Emperor and the French King's hands, I would never have her: but not it is too far gone, wherefore I am sorry" (Cannon, 326).

Henry Tudor and Anne of Cleves were married January 6, 1540 at Greenwich Palace. Ann was born September 22, 1515, in Duca, capital of Dusseldorf and died on July 16, 1557, in England. Rumors spread much later that Anne and Henry became best friends, and might re-marry. This was because her public liked her. Anne was the daughter of Johann III (at this time age 58), Duke of Cleves and Mary of Jülich-Berg-Ravensberg. Johann was a leader in the Protestant movement of western Germany. Johann has four children. His son, William was born in 1516 and would succeed him in 1539, as Duke of Cleves. His eldest daughter, Sybilla, was an auburn-haired beauty whose charm had been captured by a Lucas Cranach portrait. She was married in 1526, at age 12, to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony (d. 1554). His two younger daughters were Anne and Amelia. Amelia was born in 1517. It was Thomas Cromwell's idea to place a Protestant queen on the throne, as message to the Catholic powers in Europe. After Henry's annulment from this marriage, he was denied the joining of the Protestant League. Henry's rage towards Cromwell ended in his being arrested, without warning, and he was beheaded on charges of treason, only nineteen days after Henry's annulment.

For more about the House of Jülich-Cleves CLICK HERE

Anne retired to Richmond Palace, where she lived peaceably, until her death on July 16, 1557. Anne of Cleves was buried in Westminster Abbey. She was the only one of Henry's queens to be so recognized. She outlived all of his wives and Henry too.

For more about the various German Ducal Houses see Germania

British Table

[Henry VIII|Catherine of Aragon|Anne Boleyn|Mary I|Edward VI|Elizabeth I|Lady Jane Grey]


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