Anne of Cleves (1515 – 16 July 1557) was queen consort of England from January 6 to July 9, 1540 as the fourth wife of King Henry VIII.
Anne was born in 1515, on either September 22, or more probably June 28. She was born in Düsseldorf, the second daughter of Johann III of the House of La Marck, Duke of Jüliich-Cleves, and Berg. Johann III was also Count of Mark, and Ravensberg. Johann held the titles Duke of Jüliich, Berg and Count of Ravensberg jure uxoris which means by right of his wife Maria, Duchess of Julich-Berg (1491–1543).
Anne’s mother Maria of Jülich-Berg (August 3, 1491 – August 29, 1543) was born in Jülich, the daughter of Wilhelm IV, Duke of Jülich-Berg and Sibylle of Brandenburg, a daughter of Elector Albrecht III Achilles of Brandenburg (1414–1486) from his second marriage to Anna (1436–1512), daughter of the Elector Friedrich II of Saxony.
Maria came from the line of German princesses that stretched back to Sybille of Brandenberg, Sophia of Saxony, and Adelaide of Teck. Maria became heiress to her father’s estates of Jülich, Berg and Ravensberg after his death in 1511. In her marriage to Johann III, Duke of Cleves in 1509, Maria’s estates and titles were eventually merged with the Duchy of Cleves. Johann, who inherited the Duchy of Cleves-Mark in 1521, then became the first ruler of the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, which would exist until 1666.
At the age of 11 (1527), Anne was betrothed to François son and heir of Antoine, Duke of Lorraine while he was only 10. Thus the betrothal was considered unofficial and was cancelled in 1535. The Duke of Cleves ongoing dispute over Gelderland with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V made them suitable allies for England’s King Henry VIII. The match with Anne was urged on the King by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.
The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Düren to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia, each of whom Henry was considering as his fourth wife. Henry required the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter the sisters. Negotiations with Cleves were in full swing by March 1539. Cromwell oversaw the talks and a marriage treaty was signed on October 4 of that year.
Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these. She had received no formal education but was skilled in needlework and liked playing card games. She could read and write, but only in German. Nevertheless, Anne was considered gentle, virtuous and docile, which is why she was recommended as a suitable candidate for Henry.
Anne was described by the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim, “of middling beauty and of very assured and resolute countenance”. She was fair haired and was said to have had a lovely face. In the words of the chronicler Edward Hall, “Her hair hanging down, which was fair, yellow and long … she was apparelled after the English fashion, with a French hood, which so set forth her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her”. She appeared rather solemn by English standards, and looked old for her age. Holbein painted her with high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and a pointed chin.
Henry met her privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester Abbey on her journey from Dover. Henry and some of his courtiers, following a courtly-love tradition, went disguised into the room where Anne was staying.
According to the testimony of his companions, Henry was disappointed with Anne, feeling she was not as described. According to the chronicler Charles Wriothesley, Anne “regarded him little”, though it is unknown if she knew if this was the king or not upon their first meeting at Rochester Abbey. In Anne’s defense, Henry did not reveal his true identity to Anne at this first meeting where the king was appearing in cog nito. Although Henry VIII is said to have been put off the marriage from then on.
Henry and Anne then met officially on January 3, at Blackheath outside the gates of Greenwich Park, where a grand reception was laid out. Most historians believe that he later used Anne’s alleged “bad” appearance and failure to inspire him to consummate the marriage as excuses, saying how he felt he had been misled, for everyone had praised Anne’s attractions: “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported”, he complained. Cromwell received some of the blame for the portrait by Holbein which Henry believed had not been an accurate representation of Anne and for some of the exaggerated reports of her beauty. When the king finally met Anne, he was reportedly shocked by her plain appearance; the marriage was never consummated.
Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, doing so was impossible without endangering the vital alliance with the Germans. In his anger and frustration the King finally turned on Cromwell, to his subsequent regret.
Despite Henry’s very vocal misgivings, the two were married on January 6, 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London, by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The phrase “God send me well to keep” was engraved around Anne’s wedding ring. Immediately after arriving in England, Anne conformed to the Anglican form of worship, which Henry expected. The couple’s first night as husband and wife was not a successful one. Henry confided to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.”
In February 1540, speaking to the Countess of Rutland, Anne praised the King as a kind husband, saying: “When he comes to bed he kisseth me, and he taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me ‘Good night, sweetheart’; and in the morning kisseth me and biddeth ‘Farewell, darling.'” Lady Rutland responded: “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a duke of York, which all this realm most desireth.”
Anne was commanded to leave the Court on June 24, and on July 6, she was informed of her husband’s decision to reconsider the marriage. Witness statements were taken from a number of courtiers and two physicians which register the king’s disappointment at her appearance. Henry had also commented to Thomas Heneage and Anthony Denny that he could not believe she was a virgin.
Shortly afterwards, Anne was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed. Cromwell, the moving force behind the marriage, was attainted for treason. The marriage was annulled on July 9, 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine. Henry VIII’s physician stated that after the wedding night, Henry said he was not impotent because he experienced “duas pollutiones nocturnas in somno” (two nocturnal pollutions while in sleep; i.e., two wet dreams).
Cromwell was arrested at a Council meeting on June 10, 1540 and accused of various charges. He was imprisoned in the Tower. A Bill of Attainder containing a long list of indictments, including supporting Anabaptists, corrupt practices, leniency in matters of justice, acting for personal gain, protecting Protestants accused of heresy and thus failing to enforce the Act of Six Articles, and plotting to marry Lady Mary Tudor, was introduced into the House of Lords a week later and passed on June 29, 1540.
Cromwell was condemned to death without trial, lost all his titles and properties. Hoping for clemency, Cromwell wrote in support of the annulment, in his last personal address to the King. He ended the letter: “Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.” Cromwell was publicly beheaded on Tower Hill on July 28, 1540, on the same day as the King’s marriage to Catherine Howard. Cromwell made a prayer and speech on the scaffold, professing to die, “in the traditional faith” [Catholic] and denying that he had aided heretics.
The circumstances of his execution are a source of debate: whilst some accounts state that the executioner had great difficulty severing the head, others claim that this is apocryphal and that it took only one blow. Afterwards, his head was set on a spike on London Bridge.
Anne was not crowned queen consort. Following the annulment, she was given a generous settlement by the King, and thereafter referred to as the King’s Beloved Sister. She lived to see the coronation of Queen Mary I, outliving the rest of Henry’s wives.
Anne died at Chelsea Old Manor on July 16, 1557, eight weeks before her forty-second birthday. The most likely cause of her death was cancer. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, on August 3, in what has been described as a “somewhat hard to find tomb” on the opposite side of Edward the Confessor’s shrine and slightly above eye level for a person of average height. She is the only wife of Henry VIII to be buried in the Abbey.