Anne of Cleves: Life after Henry VIII

Anne of Cleves: Life after Henry VIII

A little ditty reminds us of Henry VIII’s famous six wives:
”Divorced, beheaded, died,
Divorced, beheaded, survived.”

True enough! But what is NOT acknowledged is that Wife Number Four, the “divorcee” Anne of Cleves, also survived. She not only lived a full life after her marriage to Henry was annulled, she outlived both Henry and Wives Number Five and Six!

Anne was born 20 September 1515, daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves. Her marriage to Henry was political. The match was engineered by Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell and was meant to gain England a European ally that was not beholden to France or Spain.

Read More: Henry VIII’s Political Marriage: Why Cleves?

Henry did not meet Anne in person before the arrangements were finalized. The closest he came to seeing her was a portrait, painted by his court artist Hans Holbein the Younger.

When Anne arrived in England for the marriage and the two finally came face to face, things went badly awry. Henry declared, with some vehemence, that he found her totally physically unappealing. Nevertheless, the marriage went forward on 6 January 1540. The situation did not improve. Henry was not only furiously and dangerously disappointed, he was “incapable.”

Contemporary English accounts also disparaged Anne’s courtly graces. She could speak no English, could play no musical instruments and her German clothing style was thought unflattering. Anne’s opinions of Henry and of England were not recorded.

Read More: Anne of Cleves: A Woman Maligned?

Henry’s solution to this particular instance of wedded unhappiness was (in the popular terminology of the time) a divorce. It was actually an annulment. (A divorce severs a marriage. An annulment says that, for various reasons, a true marriage was never contracted.) A united convocation of the churches of Canterbury and York granted Henry his annulment on 8 July 1540. The grounds were a supposed “pre-contract” by Anne with the Duke of Lorraine and that pesky (but, oh so convenient!) nonconsummation.

Henry had reason to wish for a speedy resolution. A man on the rebound, he had already formed a passionate new attachment, to the unaccomplished, uneducated, but very appealing Katherine Howard. Three weeks after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves, on 28 July 1540, Henry made Katherine his fifth wife. On that same day, Henry (never a man of subtlety) had Thomas Cromwell, the engineer of the Cleves marriage, beheaded.

Anne – Single and Free!

During her seven-month marriage, Anne had begun to adjust to life in England. Her English improved rapidly, she engaged musicians to play for her, and she acquired a pet parrot. She began to dress in the English style with the rich fabric of her clothing providing a backdrop for her newly purchased jewels.

Now, as a single woman, Anne found she was free to spread her wings even wider.

Named Henry’s “sister” in the annulment agreement, Anne was given precedence over all the ladies in England, excepting any new queen and Henry’s daughters. This undoubtedly helped smooth any ruffled feathers. Anne had, after all, arrived in England expecting to spend her life as a queen, with enormous social prestige and power, as well as a very luxurious life style. She probably had hoped for children. No one knows what other dreams or ambitions she may have had.

Anne was, however, discreet. With the help of the Cleves ambassadors, she got what she could and accepted what she got. She then proceeded to live her new and unexpected life to the fullest. Henry emphasized to his ambassadors that Anne was cheerful and had agreed to the divorce without hesitation.

Anne had, in fact, written Henry a letter on 11 July 1540. It reads, in part …

Henricus-OctavusThe deed for a property given to Anne of Cleves before her marriage, beginning “Henricus Octavus…”.Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

“So now being ascertained how the same clergy hath therein given their judgment and sentence, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same, wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your highness’ goodness and pleasure; mostly humbly beseeching your majesty that, though it be determined that the pretended matrimony between us is void and of none effect, whereby I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace’s wife, considering this sentence (whereunto I stand) and your majesty’s clean and pure living with me, yet it will please you to take me for one of your humble servants, and so determine of me, as I may sometimes have the fruition of your most noble presence; which as I shall esteem for a great benefit, so, my lords and others of your majesty’s council, now being with me, have put me in comfort thereof; and that your highness will take me for your sister; for the which I most humbly thank you accordingly…
[Signed] Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne the daughter of Cleves”

(as quoted in Letters of the Queens of England 1100-1547, edited by Anne Crawford, p. 203-204).

Anne also wrote to her brother in Cleves, at Henry’s request, assuring him that Henry was treating her kindly.

Before Anne and Henry had married, she had received a generous settlement. The letters patent were signed the day before the wedding.

initial-hThe initial “H” on Anne’s deed has a tiny Henry VIII sitting inside, enthroned and crowned. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

The Divorce Dower

Anne’s dower properties were now exchanged for others.

Henry knew that his marital freedom would come with a price tag, and he didn’t mind paying. The “divorced” Anne was granted over thirty houses, twenty farms and seventy manors, ranging from small but comfortable houses to castles such as Richmond, Sheen and Hever. Most of the smaller properties Anne never even visited. They were rented out to tenants or managed on Anne’s behalf. Her manors and lands brought her £3000-£4000 per year in rents.

Several of the larger properties did serve as her personal residences. Among then was Richmond, a castle with gardens, archery butts, bowling alleys and tennis lawns, plus a deer park.

She also stayed at the manor of Bletchingley. “Merely” a country house and not a castle, Bletchingley had been remodeled about the year 1500. It had some sixty-three rooms on two floors, with deer parks and other outdoor amenities. Letters show that Anne also spent time at Hever Castle, girlhood home of Henry VIII’s second queen, Anne Boleyn.

Hever-ExteriorHever Castle in Kent, with its strong connections to the Boleyns, was given to Anne of Cleves.

Anne was allowed to retain her gilt and silver plate, and her tapestries and hangings, to add to the furnishings of her new properties. She also kept her clothing and jewels, which included pearls. She seemed to particularly enjoy this aspect of her new life. The French ambassador reported that Anne was wearing new dresses every day, and that

”Madame of Cleves has a more joyous countenance than ever. She wears a great variety of dresses, and passes all her time in sports and recreations”
(as quoted in Divorced, Beheaded, Survived by Karen Lindsay, p. 157).

Even without the royal treasury at her disposal, Anne could continue to indulge in new clothing and jewels. The generous rents she received from her new properties were augmented by an annual income of £500. This was more than sufficient for her now much-reduced staff, which no longer included ambitious courtiers and hangers-on whose chief priority had been personal gain and not service.

The number of Anne’s attendants now fell from well over one hundred to thirty. These thirty, however, had actual functions and responsibilities, and were sufficient for her needs. She had a chamberlain, a steward, a receiver (who also served as occasional interpreter), and lady attendants. Several members of her household were from her own homeland: her physician Dr. Cornelius Cepher, her cook Schoulenberg, her butler Henry, two of her women (Katherine and Gertrude), and her secretary Matthew, all hailed from Cleves.

In 1540, Thomas Cawarden was made keeper of the house and parks at Bletchingley, serving as Anne’s steward there. He was critical of her oversight of the house. His letters complain that Anne, instead of spending money on repairs to the house as he requested, built two new buildings – a brew house and an inn.

Buttery-Gainsborough-HallAll Tudor manors had “butteries,” such as this one at Gainsborough Hall, where butts, or casks and barrels, of alcohol were kept.

Thomas was also indignant because Anne’s staff had cut down good trees for firewood. Anne’s letters in response were also full of criticisms.

The two must not, however, have been totally incompatible. The bickering lasted for years and Cawarden remained her steward until her death.

Anne – Our Dear “Sister”

Anne did not live in isolation. The month after the annulment, Henry visited her at Richmond. His motive might have been simple “brotherly” concern. Or perhaps he wanted to ensure Anne was settled – and quiet! Henry could return home reassured. Anne had no interest in causing a stir.

She rode, in January 1541, from Richmond to Hampton Court with a New Years’ gift for Henry of two horses with purple velvet trappings. When Henry received her, his new queen Katherine Howard was seated beside him. Anne showed the inexperienced young woman extreme deference. Henry, Katherine and Anne then dined together.

Henry retired early, while Katherine and Anne danced together into the night! The next day, the trio chatted happily at considerable length. Before Anne left to return to Richmond, she gave Katherine a ring and two lap dogs that Henry had given her.

Anne had been, less than a year earlier, scorned for her supposed lack of grace, intellect, sophistication and accomplishments. In this single visit, she had shown that she could charm not only a notoriously unstable king but also the young queen who had replaced her (and in their own language!), dance in the most formal and aristocratic of English styles, and maneuver successfully through the intrigues of the shark pool that was the Tudor court. Well played, Anne of Cleves!

Read More: Hans Holbein at Henry VIII’s Court

In 1542, she once again exchanged New Years’ gifts with Henry. The French ambassador reported, “She is well and said to be half as beautiful again since she left court” (as quoted in Anne of Cleves, by Mary Saaler, p. 80).

For the rest of Henry’s life, Anne was welcome at court. The two former spouses occasionally corresponded and continued to exchange gifts.

Anne also formed strong ties with Henry’s daughters. Henry gave her permission to visit his oldest, Mary, who was only a year younger than Anne. The two became friends and, on occasion, Mary would visit Anne at Richmond. Anne also asked Henry to permit her to visit his younger daughter, Elizabeth, from time to time. Henry agreed.

As part of the royal family, Anne attended court events in company with both Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth. At the two large receptions (one in London and one at Hampton Court) held in 1546 to greet a French dignitary, Anne’s name appears on the list of attendees directly after the names of the Henry’s two daughters.

By this time, Henry had yet another queen.

Young Queen Katherine Howard, it was discovered, had been indiscreet in meeting privately with a young man. Henry was in a quandary. How could he extricate himself from this new marital dilemma? There was talk that the church convocations might be asked to undo the annulment between Henry and Anne of Cleves. This would have automatically made Henry’s marriage with Katherine Howard void. It would also, however, have made Anne once more Henry’s wife.

The Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, was not in favor of this solution, saying that Anne would not be an appropriate wife because she had become fond of wine and “indulging in other excesses” (perhaps that brew house is suggestive?).

The French ambassador disagreed. He said, in a truly nasty and gratuitous slap at the Spanish ambassador and at Henry VIII’s first wife, that Anne had “conducted herself very wisely in her affliction and is more beautiful than she was and more regretted and commiserated that Queen Katherine [of Aragon] was in like case” (as quoted in Anne of Cleves, by Mary Saaler, p. 95).

Henry, however, never ever looked back. He did not do so now.

Katherine Howard was executed at the Tower of London 13 February 1542. A year and a half later, Henry took a new wife, his sixth and last, Katherine Parr. Chapuys, still anxious to spread disparaging stories about Anne of Cleves, reported that she was humiliated by the marriage because Katherine was “by no means as handsome as she [Anne] is” (as quoted in Anne of Cleves, by Mary Saaler, p. 99). Nothing else except this snippet from a notorious gossip indicates what Anne thought about Henry’s new marriage.

Anne’s Life after Henry’s Death

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, still married to Katherine Parr. A few months later, his young son Edward VI suggested that his Uncle Thomas Seymour should marry Anne of Cleves. Seymour had already set his sights on another of Henry’s queens, however, and had secretly married Katherine Parr soon after Henry’s death.

Now that she was “aunt” and no longer “sister” to the king, Anne’s status diminished, particularly since “nephew” Edward was underage and governed by a Protector and Regency Council. In 1547, Anne of Cleve’s properties of Richmond and Bletchingley were returned to the king (with or, more likely, without her consent). She was given the “lesser” properties of Penshurst Place and Dartford Priory, both in Kent, in exchange.

Penshurst is a great house, not far from Hever. Like Bletchingley, it had been updated in the early 1500s. Dartford, where Anne spent most of her time, was totally modern, having been built by Henry VIII in 1541. Less imposing than Penshurst or her other properties, it nonetheless had a park and a formal garden, and was comfortable and close to London and the court.

Even with smaller properties to maintain, Anne discovered that she was sometimes short of money. Her spending habits were not entirely to blame. There had been significant inflation between 1544 and 1551. She petitioned King Edward’s officials for an additional grant of £126 to pay the debts she had acquired. The council made the grant and added another £180 per year for the maintenance of her household to be paid until the king reached age 18.

That was not to be. Young Edward VI died 6 July 1553, age 15.

After a very short interlude (Lady Jane Grey), Mary Tudor, Henry’s oldest daughter and Anne of Cleves’ friend, ascended the throne. She was crowned as Mary I at Westminster Abbey 1 October 1553.

In her coronation procession from the Tower of London through the streets of London, Anne of Cleves and Princess Elizabeth rode together in a chariot covered in white cloth of silver, drawn by six horses in matching trappings. At the banquet following the coronation, Anne and Elizabeth sat together at the Queen’s high table. After that, Anne regularly visited Mary’s court.

There was a spot of trouble in late 1556. A commission summoned four of Anne’s servants. Two of the servants were ordered to return to Cleves. They may have been insufficiently Catholic for Queen Mary’s comfort – or simply troublesome for other (and unknown) reasons. Anne herself was, however, back at court again 1 January 1557 when she exchanged New Year’s gifts with Mary.

It was during the 1550’s that another interest of Anne’s was first recorded. Cooking!

Kitchen-Gainsborough-HallAnne of Cleves’ kitchen undoubtedly bore a strong resemblance to the Tudor-era kitchen at Gainsborough Hall.

Anne’s favorite residence at Dartford was equipped with a main kitchen with three great fireplaces, a private kitchen near her own quarters, a pastry room, and a larder. Written orders survive, from Anne herself, for the purchase of specific kitchen supplies. These included wines of several varieties, spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace and pepper), fresh meat, best quality wheat flour, mutton, chickens, rabbits and, most intriguingly, several kinds of fish, which were to be “privately drest in her Grace’s laundress’ kitchen for the tryall of cookery” (as quoted in Anne of Cleves, by Mary Saaler, p. 91).

Her new hobby was also acknowledged in her 1557 will, in which Anne made a special bequest to, among others, Michael Apsley, the clerk of her kitchen, as well as giving four pounds to laundress Ellen Turpin in return for her prayers (and perhaps in gratitude for the use of her kitchen).

Anne’s Death and Grand Funeral

Anne was staying at the manor house of Chelsea near London, in 1557, when her health deteriorated. In her will, she asked that she be buried according to Queen Mary’s will and pleasure and “that we maye have the suffrages of the holie Churche accordyng to the Catholicke faithe wherein we ende o’r lief in this transitorye worlde.”

She made numerous and specific generous bequests to members of her staff, to her nurse and physician, and to all the children in her household. She requested that her executors pay her servants a full year’s wages after her death.

She also made specific bequests of several gold rings. One, with a diamond with square cuttings, went to her brother the Duke of Cleves. To his wife the Duchess, went a ring with a great rock ruby. Ann bequeathed to her sister Amalia a gold ring with a large pointed diamond; and to her friends Katherine Duchess of Suffolk and Mary Countess of Arundel rings with table diamonds. She gave her “best jewel” to Queen Mary, “our most dearest and entirely beloved sovereign lady,” whom she named overseer of her will. Her “second best jewel” was given to the Princess Elizabeth.

Anne described herself in her will as the daughter of John, late Duke of Cleves, and sister to “the excellent Prynce Willm,” now reigning Duke of Cleves, Julich and Barre. She did, however, invoke the name of Henry the Eighth – but only once, and without specifying any relationship between herself and that long-ago former husband.

Anne requested that Queen Mary ensure that her bequests to her servants were made in consideration of their long service to her,
“beinge so appoynted to doo at the firste erection of o’r house by hir Ma’tes late father of moste famous memory King Henrye the Eight, for that his Ma’tie saied then unto us that he wolde accompte o’r servants his owne and their srvyce to us donne as to his highnes”
(all quotes from Anne of Cleves’ will as printed in Excerpta Historica, 1831, p. 295-99).

Anne of Cleves was buried at Westminster Abbey – the only one of Henry’s wives to be buried there. Her funeral service was spectacular.

At her death, Anne’s body was embalmed and then “chestyd,” or placed in her coffin. While preparations were made for her funeral, the coffin sat in state at her Chelsea home for several days, covered with a pall of cloth of gold, garnished with the escutcheons of her arms, with great tapers on each side burning day and night. In the meantime, a sumptuous hearse was erected at Westminster Abbey, in the middle of the space between the high altar and the choir.

A hearse, in the 16th century, was a wood structure, painted black, with an ornamental roof supported by pillars, under which the coffin would be placed.

Anne’s hearse was enormous, nine feet high from the floor to the edge of the roof and large enough to encompass not only the coffin but also a small altar, a table with two trestle benches and nine stools with velvet seat covers. There were black hangings with Anne’s escutcheons, the four Evangelists, the motto “Spes mea in Deo est” (“My hope is in God”) and other motifs worked in metallic thread, as well as 126 figures of angels large and small. It was surrounded by candles, with candles mounted on its roof – in all, an astonishing 649 candles.

hearseThe hearse prepared for the burial of the Queen of France in 1514; note the many candles and the escutcheons, or coats of arms.Courtesy of the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Once the hearse was prepared, on 3 August 1557, Anne’s body left Chelsea and journeyed to Westminster Abbey.

A grand procession escorted her coffin from Chelsea to Westminster. The coffin was mounted on a four-wheeled “chariot,” and covered by a pall of black velvet with a white satin cross. The chariot, under a black velvet canopy with fringe, was drawn by four horses. At each corner, heralds bore banners for the Trinity, the Madonna, St. George and St. Anne. The mourning party, including members of Anne’s household, was all garbed in black at her expense. They followed the chariot, along with assorted clergy capped by the Bishop of London and Abbott of Westminster. Anne’s Master of Horse led her “horse of estate,” a white palfrey with a sidesaddle and harness covered with crimson velvet with gold fringe – and no rider.

Anne’s coffin was taken into the Abbey and placed beneath the hearse. It remained there, surrounded by burning candles, until 5 August 1557, when her three funeral masses were celebrated. Her coffin was then taken from under the hearse and conveyed to the south side of the altar where she was, finally, committed to the grave. If Anne was, indeed, looking down, she probably clapped her hands in delight.

The chronicler Holinshed gave Anne an entirely appropriate epitaph as
“a lady of right commendable regard, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and very bountiful to her servants.”

Anne of Cleves was the last of “Big Henry’s” surviving wives. She was scorned and discarded as a queen. But, when she died 16 July 1557 at age 42, Anne had enjoyed a life “after Henry” that was independent, comfortable and entirely her own, for seventeen years. “Living well” was indeed the best revenge!