Anne of Cleves


Anne of Cleves,

4th wife of King Henry VIII



20 September 1515, daughter of John, Duke of Cleves, and Duchess Maria


6 January 1540, Henry VIII, at Greenwich Palace


not crowned


16 July 1557 at Chelsea


Westminster Abbey

enry’s fourth marriage was his first – and only – experience with an unknown bride (the usual situation for most kings).

This marriage was diplomatic, engineered by Henry’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, in order to cement alliances with the Protestant princes of northern Europe against the newly allied Catholic powers of France and Spain. Enthusiastic reports about Anne prompted Henry to send his own court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to Cleves. The resulting portrait of Anne persuaded Henry that she was the bride for him.

Anne arrived in England in December 1539. Instead of waiting for her ceremonial entrance into London, Henry decided to play the ardent and romantic suitor. He rode to Rochester and burst unexpectedly into her chambers in disguise. The result was not happy. Henry stumped out, balefully muttering his disappointment and dislike. Anne’s reaction to her aging Prince Charming – by now corpulent, balding and with an ulcerated leg – was not recorded.

The two, nevertheless, grimly proceeded with the marriage. Henry was not able to consummate. No recovery was possible. Henry complained loudly of his inability and placed the onus entirely on Anne. A few months later, the marriage was declared invalid.

Anne received a generous financial settlement and the honored status of the “King’s Sister.” Henry, whose “ailment” had been cured by the young, seductive Katherine Howard, happily acquired his freedom and proceeded to yet another marriage.

The price for Henry’s unhappy marriage to Anne was paid by Thomas Cromwell, who was executed on the day of Henry’s wedding with Katherine Howard.

Anne of Cleves remained in England, enjoying a contented and comfortable single life. She maintained a friendly relationship with Henry, visiting and exchanging gifts with him on occasion. She also became friends with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and briefly returned to court when Mary succeeded to the throne.

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