1540 – The Epiphany wedding of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

henry_anne_of_clevesOn the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January 1540, Henry VIII married Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg, commonly known as Anne of Cleves, in the Queen’s Closet of the Chapel Royal at Greenwich Palace. Henry VIII had been trying to get out of the marriage since their disastrous meeting on New Year’s Day but had realised that there was no backing out. If he cancelled the wedding, then it might “dryve her brother into the hands of the emperowre” and he could not risk that.

Edward Hall records the wedding in his chronicle:

“On whych day about, viii. of the clocke in the mornyng, his Grace beyng apparelled in a gowne of cloth of gold, raised with great flowers of syluer, furred with blacke jenettes, his coat Crymsyn sattyn all to cutte and embrodered & tied with great Diamondes, & a ryche Coller about his necke, came solemly with his Nobilitie into the galery next the closettes, and there paused.

Then the Lordes went to fetche the Ladye Anne, whiche was apparelled in a gowne of ryche cloth of gold set full of large flowers of great & Orient Pearle, made after the Dutche fassion rownde, her here hangyng downe, whych was fayre, yelowe and long: On her head a Coronall of gold replenished with great stone, and set about full of braunches of Rosemary, about her necke and middle, juelles of great valew & estimacion. In this apparell she goynge betwene the Erle of Ouersteyn & the Graunde Master Hostoden, which had the conduyte & ordre of the performaunce of her maryage, with most demure countynaunce & sad behauiour passed thorough the Kynges chamber, all the Lordes goyng before her tyll they came to the galery where the Kyng was, to whom she made three low obeysaunces & curteisyes. Then the Archebysshop of Caunterbury rcceyued them & maried them together, and the Erle of Ouersteyn did geue her: & about her mariyng ryng was written: GOD SEND ME WEL TO KEPE.

When the Mariage was celebrate, they went hande in hande into the Kinges closet and there heard Masse and offered their tapers, & after Masse had wyne and spyces, and that done the Kyng departed to his chamber, & all the Ladies wayted on her to her chamber, the Duke of NorfFolke goyng on the ryght hande, and the Duke of Suffolke on the lefte haude on her grace.

After, ix. of the clocke, the Kyng with a gowne of ryche Tyssue lyned with Crymosyn Veluet enbrodered, came to his closet, & she in her here in the same apparell that she was maryed in, came to her Closet with her Serieant of Armes and all her Officers, lyke a Queene, before her. And so the kyng & she went openly on Procession and offered and dyned together. And after dyner she channged into a gowne lyke a mannes gowne, of Tyssue with longe sleues gyrte to her, furred with ryche Sables, her narrowe sleeues were very costly, but on her head she had a cap as she ware on the saturdai before with a cornet of laune, which cap was so ryche of Perle and Stone, that it was iudged to be of great valew. And after her fassyon, her Ladies and Gentlewomen were apparelled very riche and costly with chaynes of dyuers fassions, and in this apparell she went that nyght to Euensong, and after supped with the Kyng: and after supper were Bankettes, Maskes, and dyuerse dysportes, tyll the tyrne came that it pleased the Kyng and her to take their rest.”1

It was now time for the marriage to be consummated, but it appears that the couple’s wedding night was a disaster in that department. The next morning, when Thomas Cromwell asked a rather bad-tempered Henry what he thought of his queen, Henry replied: “Surely, as ye know, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. For I have felt her belly and her breast, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid… [The] which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters… I have left her as good a maid as I found her.”2 Oh dear!

Henry discussed the matter with his physicians, telling them that “he found her body in such sort disordered and indisposed to excite and provoke any lust in him”. Henry was unable to consummate the marriage and blamed it on Anne’s appearances, for he “thought himself able to do the act with other, but not with her.”3

The marriage was eventually annulled on 9th July 1540 and Henry VIII married Catherine Howard on 28th July 1540. You can read more about the end of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in my article Henry VIII divorces Anne of Cleves.

Epiphany, the feast commemorating and celebrating the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, was the last celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas and you can read more about it in my article Twelfth Night and Epiphany.

Notes and Sources

  1. Hall, Edward, Hall’s Chronicle, p. 836-837.
  2. Burnet, History of the Reformation, Vol II, p. lxxxvi, quoted in “Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister”, Robert Hutchinson, Chapter 10.
  3. Burnet, History of the Reformation, Vol IV, p. 427, quoted in Mary Tudor, Anna Whitelock, p. 107.

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5 thoughts on “1540 – The Epiphany wedding of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves”
  1. Two interesting comments that appears again and again in discussions about Anne of Cleves is how ‘lucky’ and how ‘smart’ she was to escape her marriage. However, the truth is quite the opposite. Anne’s divorce/annulment upset her greatly. Evidently, Anne felt it was her destiny to be Queen, and being let go was very shameful to her.

    It is known for a fact that after Katheryn Howard’s fall, she was even hoping that the King would take her back, and her German envoys even approached him on the matter. He gave them an emphatic ‘no’. When Henry married Katharine Parr instead, Anne was heard making snarky comments about her.

  2. Yes I also read that Anne wanted Henry to marry her after Catherine was beheaded therefore it dispels the theory that she didn’t find him attractive, I think it sad she hoped he would take her back as she was humiliated when he rejected her the first time around, she was said to have been tall and quite large boned with blonde hair, typically German there is a second painting of her by another artist and in it she doesn’t look very attractive, she has an angular looking face with a jutting chin, Henry said she had evil smells about her but whether he was just saying this isn’t known, she could well have suffered from body odour perhaps she sweated excessively? It’s a shame this marriage was doomed to failure like his others as she could well have given Henry a healthy son and heir which was what he so desperately wanted yet he was so repulsed by her, I think the problem lay more in the bedroom department, she had absolutely no idea what was expected of her and possibly Henry couldn’t perform either because he just didn’t fancy her, an ill matched couple indeed yet Anne was willing to give it another go, I think she was a genuinely nice woman as all her step children loved her and she was held in affection by her servants in later years and remembered her with great fondness.

    1. I do agree, Christine and Roland .
      Anne of Cleves was very upset for having been so publicly despised by a King.
      I understand of course much contemporaries wishing passionate feelings have to do with weddings, even royal .
      That really does not seem to be the case when we are faced with a wedding, decided from abroad and failing once the groom and bride meet each otherl
      I am afraid that, in spite of this beautiful miniature above, Anne was not beautiful at all !
      The way you depict her, Christine, might be very close to truth
      I can just fancy that she would have been satisfied not to go back to her brother’s boring court, on the other hand…

      Might be not only because she felt sort of humiliated (or much in love with K H, I mean evrything is possible, of course, but reports about him in his 50s are rather hopeless on the matter), but because she KNEW she could not find another princely husband after being rejected for her own unattractiveness.
      After all, her brother Duke William kept being invited by K H; if his sister could expect another betroth, he’d rather have negociated with his past brother-in-law about Anne’s fate – I mean, find some money, or the right words to make things known.
      I guess it had too far between the two newly-wed and matters of shame were something of very public by now …

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