Unlike two of Henry VIII’s other wives, Anne of Cleves managed to extricate herself from her union with the English king with her head still firmly on her body. And she certainly lived to tell the tale. Indeed, Anne not only survived the Tudor monarch himself, but she also outlasted all of his other spouses. But what made the German woman’s fate so different from the rest? Well, the following facts about Anne may just clue you in.
20. Henry and Anne were a political match
Tudor royalty weren’t exactly set on finding romance when it came to selecting spouses; instead, matches were made based on the potential political benefits that marriage would bring. And Henry VIII’s union with Anne Of Cleves was no exception to this rule. The princess had come into the world as the daughter of a German nobleman named John III, and in the eyes of Thomas Cromwell this ancestry made her an ideal wife for the king.
It turned out, you see, that Henry and Anne’s father had one important thing in common: they both opposed the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. John III and Charles V had fought over land, while the emperor and Henry were practically at polar ends of the spectrum when it came to the Protestant Reformation. Given this joint resistance towards the Spanish ruler, then, Henry’s chief minister believed that it would be strategically advantageous to marry the king to the duke’s daughter.
19. A portrait was commissioned in order to seal the deal
Today, we pretty much take photos for granted; after all, even kids can snap a selfie or ten. In the Tudor period, though, there was definitely no such thing as a cell phone, and photography as a medium was still several centuries away. The only way to see what someone looked like before actually meeting them, then, was through art – more specifically in a portrait.
And Henry therefore commissioned paintings intended to depict both Anne and her little sister, Amalia, as he saw the two women as potential fourth wife material. Yet the king apparently had a particular order for artist Hans Holbein the Younger. Yes, it’s said that Henry demanded the portraits be as true to life as Holbein could manage, and he didn’t want the Germans portrayed in a falsely favorable light, either.
18. But Anne didn’t make the portrait painter’s life easy
As a German princess, Anne was naturally often seen in the fashions of her home country. And as a result, she wore dresses that were distinctly different in style to those sported by her English counterparts, with the sleeves in particular being a snugger fit. But as Henry’s courtiers would discover, one garment in particular would end up hindering the king’s preparations for marriage.
You see, Anne and her sister both wore dark veils and were known for hiding their faces. And, obviously, this concealment may have made it rather tough for Henry’s men to give accurate reports on the women’s looks. Ultimately, though, Holbein managed to deliver portraits to the king that ostensibly depicted the siblings in full.
17. And Henry didn’t agree with the assessments of Anne’s looks
It seemed, too, that the princess came highly recommended by her contemporaries. At the very least, French diplomat Charles de Marillac saw fit to praise her “medium beauty and [her] assured and resolute countenance.” Historian Edward Hall was similarly effusive, writing in a tome published in 1548 that Anne’s “French hood… set forth her beauty and good visage [and] that every creature rejoiced to behold her.”
Yet Henry seemingly wasn’t that impressed with Anne. Yes, according to author and historian John Schofield, the king believed that his wife-to-be was “nothing so fair as she hath been reported.” By contrast, Henry thought that her looks were ordinary, and he soon took steps to scold those who had suggested otherwise.
16. There was quite an age gap between the couple
Despite Henry’s seeming dismay at Anne’s appearance, however, the two married on January 6, 1540. At that time, the 48-year-old king was double Anne’s age and so old enough to be her father. And Henry was not exactly in his physical prime back then, either, if historical reports are to be believed.
In fact, it’s said that as Henry approached 50, he had a waist measurement of 48 inches – something that would only increase as he got older and in turn more sedentary. And his lifestyle apparently brought with it a whole host of ailments, too; the monarch eventually experienced prolonged bouts of constipation and became covered in sores. All in all, then, he really may not have had much of a leg to stand on when it came to judging Anne’s looks.
15. Anne and Henry’s first meeting was rather uncomfortable
It’s worth noting, though, that Anne didn’t exactly fall head over heels for the king during their initial encounter. And Henry’s first attempt to charm his bride-to-be her sounded like a rather awkward affair to boot. That first meeting came on New Year’s Day 1540 – a couple of months prior to the wedding – after Anne had made her way to Rochester Abbey. Then, while the princess was watching bullbaiting out of the window, Henry entered the room to make his famously mediocre first impression.
Disguise and dress-up was popular in the Tudor court, and this is exactly how Henry attempted to impress Anne. Yet by all accounts, this bid to win around the German woman failed. In the book Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife, Sarah-Beth Watkins quotes Henry’s imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys as saying of the get-together, “Suddenly, [Henry] embraced and kissed [Anne]… and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him.” Throughout the pair’s subsequent conversation, however, Anne “regarded [the king] little [and] always looked out the window.”
14. Anne’s wedding ring had a personal touch
Upon marrying Henry, each of his six wives was given a royal motto. Jane Seymour’s, for example, was “Bound to Obey and Serve,” while Catherine Howard possessed the credo “No Other Will but His.” Naturally, then, Anne had a motto, too, and these words – “God Send Me Well to Keep” – were ultimately etched onto her wedding ring.
When the royal couple’s marriage was annulled, however, Anne actually gave the ring back to Henry so that it could be broken in two. It’s since been said that she wanted to emphasize the irrevocable failure of their union – and splitting her jewelry was a way to make that clear.
13. The wedding night was apparently a disappointment
Given Anne and Henry’s apparent lack of affection for each other, it’s perhaps no surprise that their wedding night was something of a damp squib. Yes, while the king had reportedly tried to seduce his new bride, he had nevertheless found himself so put off by Anne’s body that he couldn’t complete the deed. And there are even purported accounts of Henry’s impressions of his queen consort.
The monarch was hardly complimentary, either, reportedly complaining that Anne “[had] very evil smells about her.” Owing to “the looseness of her breasts,” Henry also assumed that that she was spoiled goods. Yet there may have been another factor at play in the couple’s failed attempt to consummate the marriage. Given Henry’s age and bulk, it’s assumed that he may have been impotent.
12. And the royal couple’s marriage continued to lack passion
It appears as though sparks didn’t exactly fly between Henry and Anne even after their wedding night. At the very least, in February 1540 the new queen’s words to her lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Rutland, suggest that the pair’s relationship remained a chaste one.
In her 2010 work Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride, Elizabeth Norton quotes Anne as having said of Henry, “When he comes to bed he kisseth me, and he taketh me by the hand and biddeth me ‘Good night, sweetheart.’” But Lady Rutland apparently didn’t hesitate to educate the newlywed. “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a duke of York,” she is thought to have said.
11. Eventually, the king had had enough
Henry subsequently took steps to annul his marriage to Anne, with the failure to consummate the union apparently playing a big part in the decision. And mere months after the couple were married, Anne was thus told to move to Richmond Palace. The king had apparently been dismayed at Anne’s lack of beauty; he was also said to be of the opinion that she wasn’t entirely pure.
And as a means to tackle the rumors of his impotence, Henry claimed that he’d recently had two “nocturnal pollutions” in his sleep – which meant exactly what you’re thinking. Seemingly this assertion sufficed, too, as evidence that everything was fully functioning on his part. His and Anne’s marriage was consequently annulled on July 9, 1540.
10. The marriage was shockingly brief
Henry and Anne were wed, then, for a mere six months, making theirs the shortest of all the king’s legal companionships. In fact, even though he has a reputation for chopping – sometimes literally – and changing wives, Henry was married to his first spouse, Catherine of Aragon, for a grand total of 24 years. All in all, then, Catherine and Henry were together for a longer period than the rest of his unions combined.
However, as we know from the famous rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” Anne got off rather lightly compared to two of Henry’s other wives. This may be somewhat surprising, too, given the royal couple’s fraught time together. And not only did the German princess escape the axe, but the king also saw fit to equip her with a number of parting gifts – which we’ll take a look at a bit later.
9. Henry needed a scapegoat
It should also be said that Henry was well known – and often feared – for his unpredictable outbursts of rage. And as he got older, the Tower of London became full of people whom the king had deemed in need of incarceration. It’s perhaps, unsurprising, then, that he wanted to hold someone accountable for the failure of his union with Anne.
The unlucky subject of Henry’s wrath turned out to be Thomas Cromwell. Word has it that on June 10, 1540 – so a day after the marriage was officially annulled – Cromwell was removed from an important meeting and taken straight to the Tower. He was then sentenced to die without a trial. And at the end of July, Henry’s former chief minister was finally beheaded in front of a crowd in London.
8. But the former couple remained on good terms
But while Cromwell met a grisly end for his fateful decision to push Anne on the king, the erstwhile queen consort appeared to bring out Henry’s charitable side. Following the dissolution of her marriage, she was bestowed with both a palace beside the Thames and a castle in East Sussex. And after the annulment, it’s even said that Henry and Anne struck up an unlikely friendship.
Yes, even though he and Anne were no longer man and wife, Henry appeared to still hold the German in high regard. Anne even ultimately earned the nickname of “the King’s Beloved Sister” – perhaps down to her peaceful acceptance of his decision to end their union. The former queen also went on to spend further time in Henry’s court.
7. Anne’s former stepdaughters liked her, too
And Anne not only went on to be buddies with Henry, but it seems that she also had a way with his children – Mary and Elizabeth in particular. Despite a rocky start to the relationship, Anne came to befriend Mary during her time with the king. Even after the annulment had been finalized, Anne spent time with her ex-husband’s eldest daughter, or so it’s said.
Then, when Mary took over the throne in 1553, Anne had pride of place at the coronation proceedings. For the occasion, the German woman traveled with Princess Elizabeth in an elaborately decorated carriage; she also attended the celebratory banquet that took place on October 1 of the same year. And Anne even brought up her stepdaughters in her will by asking the two women if her servants could join them in their respective royal abodes. It seems, then, that she trusted the workers would be in good hands.
6. And Anne even got on well with Henry’s next wife
Henry’s next bride after Anne was Catherine Howard, and the two were married on July 28, 1540 – the same date on which Thomas Cromwell lost his head. Mary apparently didn’t warm to her father’s new choice of bride, though, instead seeming to favor her former stepmother.
Catherine had actually been one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, and this is said to be how Henry had gotten to know her. But while you may assume that Catherine’s new romance caused a bit of friction between her and Anne, this apparently wasn’t the case at all. At the very least, Henry’s ex saw fit to present the couple with two horses decked in velvet. The two women’s first meeting after Catherine had become queen was apparently civilized and drama-free, too.
5. But Henry continued to be petty
And it seems that Anne wasn’t the only charitable royal of the trio. Upon her trip to Hampton Court in January 1541, she was invited to continue dancing into the night with Catherine, with the ex-queen staying to eat with the newlyweds the following day. Reportedly, Catherine also chose to bestow Anne a couple of gifts: a pair of dogs and a ring from the king himself.
Little did Anne know, however, that at least one of these presents wouldn’t be for keeps. In the months that followed, Catherine would come to be accused of adultery and so faced death for her alleged treason. And owing to this apparent betrayal, Henry wrote a brusque note to Anne in which he asked her to give back the ring that she was gifted.
4. Anne apparently wanted to remarry
Catherine Howard was subsequently executed in February 1542, meaning the young queen may have been only 19 when she died. And as we already know, Henry and Anne’s marriage didn’t quite get off to the flying start that everyone had hoped. But this seemingly didn’t put the king’s ex off wanting to have another go. Yes, it’s said that both Anne and her brother presented the idea of rekindling the match to Henry; history suggests, though, that the monarch was not convinced.
And the kindness that Anne had shown towards Catherine Howard did not appear to extend to Henry’s next choice of spouse. Indeed, according to Alison Wier’s 2007 work The Six Wives of Henry III, the Spanish ambassador claimed to have once heard Anne say that Catherine Parr was “not nearly as beautiful as she [was].” Perhaps there was at least some sympathy towards the new queen, however, as the German woman also purportedly remarked, “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.”
3. And the former queen had the last laugh
In the end, though, Anne got one over on Catherine Parr by surviving the other woman by nine years. Henry, too, died in 1547 – a whole decade before his fourth wife would eventually meet her end. Yet while Anne ended up outliving the rest of Henry’s spouses, she doesn’t hold the accolade for reaching the eldest age. Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was 50 years old when she passed away in 1536.
And the fact that Anne managed to leave her marriage both unhurt and with quite the fortune means she’s perhaps Henry’s most fortunate wife. She got to enjoy her later years living a life of luxury, after all, while still remaining at a distance from her ex-husband’s capriciousness if she so wanted.
2. Anne may never have heard that famous nickname
It seems, too, that Anne wouldn’t have been saddled with the unfortunate nickname of “The Flanders Mare” before she died. That epithet may have only arisen more than a century later, after the then-Bishop of Salisbury Gilbert Burnet used the phrase to refer to the former queen in 1679. There’s also no record of Henry ever having delivered the insult, either.
Nevertheless, the opinion that Anne wasn’t very attractive remains arguably one of the most commonly held beliefs about Henry’s fourth bride. And this is despite the fact that historians today have tended to question the validity of her famous nickname. Holbein’s portrait, for one, definitely doesn’t show the queen as being very horse-like in appearance.
1. Anne was buried in splendor
In July 1557 Anne passed away at her home in London at just 41 years old – perhaps as a result of cancer. And thanks to that friendship with Henry’s daughters, Mary I ensured that Anne had a burial fully fit for a former queen of England.
Gold cloth therefore shrouded Anne’s coffin, while nearby tapers continued to burn around the clock. And the late queen was ultimately interred at Westminster Abbey on August 3, 1557 – making her the sole wife of Henry’s to be laid to rest at the prestigious site. Her epitaph plainly reads, “Anne of Cleves, Queen of England. Born 1515, died 1557.”