|Born||February 18, 1516 Greenwich|
|Died||November 17, 1558 City of Westminster
|Buried||December 14, 1558 Westminster Abbey, London
Anne of Cleves was the fourth wife of King Henry VIII; it was a very brief marriage, to the astonishment of all observers but the relief of both spouses. Henry infamously referred to his bride as a ‘Flanders mare’ and told courtiers and ambassadors that he could not perform his husbandly duties because of Anne’s appearance. Anne’s reaction to Henry’s physical charms was not recorded, but she agreed to an annulment very quickly and remained in England for the rest of her life. Henry was grateful for her cooperation and granted her a generous income and several homes, including Hever Castle. Anne enjoyed an independent lifestyle denied most women, often visiting Henry’s court as an honored guest. Her fondness for English ale and gambling were her only vices. Along with her successor as Henry’s wife, Catherine Howard, Anne remains a mysterious figure about whom too little is known. Had she and Henry remained married and had children, the course of English history might have changed dramatically. But the mysteries of physical attraction denied Anne her place on the throne, ended the brilliant career of Thomas Cromwell, and thrust the king into the arms of his ill-fated fifth queen, Catherine Howard.
‘So she came to Greenwich that night, and was received as queen. And the next day, being Sunday, the king’s grace kept a great court at Greenwich, where his grace with the queen offered at mass, richly dressed. And on Twelfth Night, which was Tuesday, the king’s majesty was married to the said queen Anne solemnly, in her closet at Greenwich, and his grace and she went publicly in procession that day, she having a rich coronet of stone and pearls set with rosemary on her hair, and a gown of rich cloth of silver, richly hung with stones and pearls, with all her ladies and gentlewomen following her, which was a goodly sight to behold.’ Anne of Cleves marries King Henry VIII, 1540
Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s fourth wife, though not his first choice for the role by far. His ambassadors searched out all the eligible heiresses of Europe and discovered their king had a very nasty marital reputation. The beautiful Christina of Milan was told of the king’s interest and wittily replied that if she had two heads she would risk it, but she had only one; Marie de Guise, who would later wed his nephew the King of Scots, replied much the same. The tragic tale of his second queen, Anne Boleyn, had kept European gossips busy for three years now. The king’s poor and disrespectful treatment of his first wife (he was rumored to have bullied Katharine of Aragon to an unhappy death) and the quick end of his third (in his desperation for a healthy male heir, the king was rumored to have ordered Jane Seymour cut open, mangled and killed) only contributed to his low reputation.
One wouldn’t think a king would have too difficult a time finding a wife, but Henry VIII – who defied his contemporaries in so many other ways – did so in this respect as well.
In the end, it was religion which brought Anne of Cleves to England.
Henry had sought out Catholic princesses like Marie de Guise and his fifth wife would be a Catholic as well. Despite the Henrician ‘reformation’, England and its monarch remained a Catholic nation, albeit one in which supreme authority resided within the king rather than the pope. But Henry’s influential advisor, Thomas Cromwell, wanted England to ally herself with a Protestant nation that also rejected papal authority. Cromwell recognized the inexorable Catholic decline which was only just beginning to occur; the king’s assumption of supreme authority had merely been the first and most spectacular opening shot in a new religious war. Raised to be a churchman until his brother’s untimely death and deeply interested in theological debate, Henry VIII didn’t appreciate the Pandora’s Box of change he had opened. Cromwell, younger and more philosophically attuned to the attitudes of the rising middle class, did appreciate it. And he approved of it. The marriage to Anne of Cleves would openly ally England with a Protestant duchy, thus making the ‘reformation’ even more settled.