20 June 1540 – Anne of Cleves knows about Henry VIII and Catherine Howard

Anne_of_Cleves,_miniature_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerAccording to Carl Harst, the Cleves ambassador and advisor to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, it was on 20th June 1540 that Anne complained to him about her husband’s interest in Catherine Howard, one of her maids of honour. Harst tried to reassure the Queen that it was just a “light romance” and that soon she and the king would be on their summer progress, but Harst had actually known of the King’s interest in Catherine for months.1

There were also rumours going around about the King wanting to divorce Anne. London merchant Richard Hilles recorded what he’d heard about the King, Anne and Catherine Howard in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger:

“Before St. John Baptist’s day [24th June] it was whispered the King intended to divorce his queen Anne, sister of the duke of Gelderland, whom he had married publicly at Epiphany after last Christmas. Courtiers first observed that he was much taken with another young lady, very small of stature, whom he now has, and whom he was seen crossing the Thames to visit, often in the day time and sometimes at night. The bp. of Winchester provided feastings for them in his palace, but it was looked upon as a sign of adultery, not of divorce.”2

On 22nd June, Harst was able to report that Anne had cheered up, which historian Retha Warnicke puts down to Catherine Howard having left court, but her happiness was shortlived.3 On 24th June 1540 Anne reported to Harst that she was being sent away from court to Richmond Palace and that she’d be leaving on 25th. It was said that she was being sent there to avoid the Plague and that the King would join her, but there was no plague and she never saw the King again as his wife. On 9th July 1540, Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was declared null “by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated, and that the King is at liberty to marry another woman, and likewise the lady Anne free to marry” and on 28th July 1540 Henry married Catherine Howard.4

You can read more about Anne of Cleves in my article Anne of Cleves – Flanders Mare? and more about the end of her marriage in Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1565 – Margaret Douglas sent to the Tower of London by Elizabeth I after the announcement of the betrothal of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, Margaret’s son. She was released after Darnley’s murder in February 1567.
  • 1567 – The Discovery of the Casket Letters. Click here for more information.

Notes and Sources

  1. Warnicke, Retha (2012) Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners p62.
  2. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XVI: 578, and Robinson, Hastings (1847) Original letters relative to the English Reformation written during the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary, chiefly from the archives of Zurich, p201.
  3. Warnicke, Retha (2000) The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Early Modern England, p183.
  4. LP xv.860 – see LP xv. 860 and 861 for the full records of the meetings of convocation in July 1540.

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25 thoughts on “20 June 1540 – Anne of Cleves knows about Henry VIII and Catherine Howard”
  1. I wonder if Anne Of Cleve’s did like Henry a lot more than what historians suppose, we don’t really know what she thought of him only what he thought of her, her portrait shows a pretty woman with fine eyes and a small face but when he saw her he was appalled, it couldn’t have been easy for Anne either to be ignored like that innocent as she was, she must have known Henry wasn’t much taken with her and then hearing the gossip about Catherine, very humiliating having all the world knowing that your husband divorced you because he found you so unattractive, even though the old excuse about pre contract was used, Catherine is described as being small of stature, in Tudor times the average height was smaller than it is today therefore I’m wondering how tall she actually was, maybe under five foot, it’s interesting but it would help with identifying her bones in St Peter.

    1. I believe the theory that it was actually Anne who was appalled when she first met an old stranger who began to kiss her, not knowing that it was Henry in disguise. He had believed that she would fall in love with him as his self image was still a handsome young man, and the blow was so crushing that he pretended that it was she who appalled him.

      1. I think Hannele has a good point here. Anne did not react well. I still think Henry really could not cope at this point with a foreign stranger in his bed. A foreign stranger at his time of life, with his health issues, was a disaster waiting to happen. Henry had known all of his wives to this point for years before he married them. They had certain things in common, especially Katherine and Anne. We don’t know as much about Jane, but it seems likely she took an interest in music at some level. Katherine and Anne are known to have been fine dancers, as was the little Howard. His wives were demonstrably intelligent. Hard to know how long it took him to figure out Anne had a brain as well, but it was too long to help her. They had nothing in common, as her upbringing had been strict and not courtly. Anne was so sheltered she did not seem to know the basic facts of life, and she also had no idea of how to capture his attention. She seems to have been content with a polite if somewhat distant relationship.

        Anne knew enough about Henry to fear him rather than worship him, and he was accustomed to worship. By this time he was no longer the attractive man he had once been. Not sure how he could smell anything about her over his leg, but there may well have been something about her diet or perfume he found an issue. I suspect another issue may have had to do with her weight. She was not the slender reed Anne had been. Another thing about his wives is that he preferred slender women. Anne was more zaftig, and Henry may have been reminded of Katherine in her later years.

        One has to give her credit for enormous common sense She endured an awful humiliation with great grace. I suspect she did grow fond of Henry, as he was kind to her, at least in person. That was a good deal, as not every royal bride was well treated.
        It’s really a shame no one thought to make sure she had English clothes and some real prep time to be ready for Court life. It might have helped.

  2. Anne of Cleves marriage to Henry VIII is a hard one for me to understand.

    *enter theory/impression/opinion/etc*
    As I understand it, she didn’t understand what it took to get pregnant – and aside from her description of how Henry talked to her – I’m not getting the impression he was overly warm to her at any point. So I have to wonder how upset she could genuinely get that a husband who didn’t treat her like a wife he loved could be upset that Henry was looking at another woman.
    Maybe she learned what became of the wives that he tired of – did she know the entire history there from the get go? I’d assume she’d know about Jane Seymour’s death in childbirth, but given she’s described as being “sheltered” back home and such along those lines, who sat down and told her what became of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. But saying someone sat down and told her the whole story.. I wonder if her being upset wasn’t so much that her husband strayed but maybe, even partially, fear due to know what became of those women. Then possibly, the “cheered up” mood describe, maybe she knew what she was actually going to face by doing what those two previous wives basically didn’t, and give Henry what he wanted, which was essentially a freedom she may never have known before.
    *end theory/impression/opinion/etc*

    Ok that’s my two cents there.
    (I agree her portrait gives the impression of a pretty woman – of which I always thought to be more attractive then the portrait of Katherine Howard actually.)

    1. Although Anne talked as if she did not know anything about sex, it does not mean that she was actually ignorant.

      There is an important difference between the stories Henry and Anne told. According to Anne, Henry only kissed her in the evening and in the morning. But Henry told after the wedding night that he had caressed her breasts and belly but because they were such that he did not believe that she was a virgin he did not “dare” to go further.

      I believe in the theory that Anne wanted deliberately to conceal what had happened in the bed in the wedding or later (that Henry *had* tried but failed) because she knew that it was best way to secure the good treatment from Henry.

      Anne and Henry’s marriage was based on the political alliance, so Anne would not wait for love nor faithfulness from Henry. It was quite enough that he always treated her with courtesy due to the queen.

      Only in the annulment, Henry did not behave at all well by telling (via Cromwell) intimate details of Anne’s body. Instead, Anne tried her best not to hurt Henry’s self-image.

    2. I suspect the real reason Henry 8 had a problem with Anne of Cleves, was because she was from another Country. Hense, she could very well have her Country behind her like C.O.A.
      And Henry didn’t want to deal with another Country if he decided to execute her. I’m sure he was extremely happy when she agreed to the annulment (unlike COA).
      Also he was in no hurry to bethro his daughters to another Country. He wouldn’t have gotten control out of that. Yet he “roughly” tried to woo Mary Queen of Scots for his son.
      For Henry it was all about power, control and no one being able to stop him.

  3. I have never understood the idea of Ann of Cleaves being unattractive to the King. I think that we may not understand the different tastes of the day but I am also of the opinion that Ann may have insulted the King with her lack of enthusiasm upon their first meeting as the story goes.
    Also I think that Ann of Cleaves was smart. Catherine Howard was not and I think the King enjoyed the manipulation of a young woman.

    1. Anne has no reason to show enthusiasm as she did not know that the old stranger who suddenly started kissing her as the king.

      The fault was entirely Henry’s.

  4. I often think Anne was actually the smartest and best of Henry´s wives. She was pragmatic and “streetwise” I have no doubt that she knew exactly what happened to the previous wives, Nevertheless she had been bartered by her brother for political aliances, as so many royal women were then. I recently learned that Richard Lionheart offered his sister to Saladins brother, for example! “I love my big sis, but hey, I need a political solution, lets give her to my enemy´s brother!” A bit off tangent but it shows the politics. Nack to henry. He execited Ann Boletyn on trumped up charges, because shee was a “Noble Commoner” and she had no one to protect her. He couldnt execure Katherine because shge had “The Holy Roman Emperor” on her side and he couldnt risk war. Jane Seymour played the same hand as Anne B. She wouldnt have gone the same way, because she gave him the much wanted son and then convenoently died! Once her “meekness” (she wasn´t actuallally, she fought for the protestors of the Pilgrimage of Grace and was told in no uncertain terms by Henry to shut up!) she would have had to endure an endless string of mistresses, anyone of which could have usurped her, as she had Anne, and Anne had Katherine, or she would have “found God” and been shunted off to a convent, denounouncing her marriage to marryChrist, leaving Henry with a legitimateate heir and room to make more. Anne knew her hand and she played it to perfection! She ended up with houses, a generous stipend and the friendship of the king. And she didnt have to go home to be bartered to her brothers next political schmoozing. I wonder if Henry ever though the had thrown over a jewel for a bimbo? Middle aged mushmale syndrome. I wonder why that is why he cjhose Katherine Parr? I often wobder how better some of his other wives would have fared if they werewnt ruled by religious fanatascism, or puré ambitionj.. To me. Anne is a woman betond her times. And nope, she looks perfectly fine to me, much prettier than Jane or Catherine Howard, who appears to have had an unfortunate number of chins for one so young!! Lol

  5. Anne Of Cleve’s comes across as wise compared to some of Henrys wives but I don’t think she was particularly so, she was in a foreign country where she couldn’t speak the language, was on her own amongst strangers apart from some of her ladies who had come with her and the ambassador, therefore she must have felt very unsure and Henrys behaviour certainly didn’t help, choosing to ignore her whilst he flirted with Catherine Howard and sending Anne away from the court, she must have found it all strange and rather bewildering, the fact that she agreed to the marriage being found null meant that she had been advised to do so and really under the circumstances there was nothing else she could have done, she couldn’t contest it, to do so would have put her in quite a difficult position, she agreed to be called Henrys sister and he gave her fine houses and Hever Castle, so he bought her off.

  6. I like Anne of Cleves – she got out, got a wad of cash and made more by gambling and basically had a very nice life. She did a nice job for her country and ended up in a better spot herself. Cheers to her!

  7. I was in the process of typing a comment and before I could complete it I may have accidentally submitted. In any case, Anne of Cleves is my personal favorite. She was not motivated by love, ambition, religion, or politics. Simply, she married Henry because she was told to. She made the best out of a bad situation that would have only gotten worse. She saw a chance to have freedom she had never known before and she took it without hesitation. She had the most common sense of them all, including Henry. And she had a happy, productive life and many friends. She was a true queen in every way and by far, in my view, the most dignified.

    1. Melissa, I like your point of view and I hope it is right because I like her, too. There is an old production of “The six wives” where Anne is portrayed as grabbing the possibility of freedom form Henry with two hands and then running. “Thanks, bye!” 🙂

  8. Anne must have felt humiliated at this time; her young lady in waiting running off with the King in this manner; but she was the smartest of the wives as she realised what defying Henry meant and worked out a good plan: accept what you cannot change. Later she would become a good friend to the King, she gave honour to Katherine as queen, went on to live a good life and was at the coronation of Mary Tudor in the same carriage as Elizabeth. Mary paid for her state funeral in 1557 and her memorial is very beautiful and colourful in Westminster Abbey. Anne was angry when Henry married Katherine Parr and always saw herself as Henry’s last true wife. She may not have been book learned but she had a brain and used it well.

    1. Bandit Queen, thank you so much for being so accurate about Anne of Cleves’ status in royal court.
      Yes, I can guess that, as a “nearly royal” (Voltaire in his “Candide” was much kidding when speaking of Germans’ pride about their titles related to very tiny territories in fact) princess, she surely felt humiliated by her husband’s numerous (and obvious) crushes, even when they were still a married pair.
      I also feel like sure she had a brain.
      On the other hand, ugly as she actually was, she was well aware how lucky she had been to escape her father’s and then brother’s boring and narrow-minded court by marrying abroad; so she never intended to go back to her german duchies (Jülich and Gelderland).
      After such an event (everyone knew that it was only her physical appearance that had induced the king not to be able to have sexual relation with such a woman), we can indeed infer that she was both terribly humiliated, as well as conscious that staying in England was a unique opportunity for her.
      She was clever and seems to have had a real sense of humor (that may indeed show that she never had deep feelings for her royal husband); when she saw Henry’s flirt, she made a joke about her own “beauty” being offended by such a rival.
      No one could openly laugh of course, she was untouchable, both as the queen and as princess-born (and which is more, a foreign princess).
      But she knew how to get laughing persons on her side, we can say she was witty and clever !
      She was aware from the beginning, how much her appearance had been disappointing for english subjects (aware but maybe not surprised by the fact : we must remember that she and her other sister – this one was never to find an husband – had been anxious not to show their face before english visitors, knowing they were sent in order to report about their looks).
      In fact, it seems to have been a common laugh in H VIII’s court.
      The next day of her arrival, H VIII asked John Russell of Bedford (who was known for his tact) if he found his new queen to be “fair”.
      Of course the courtier surely felt intantly uneasy, but he coldly replied that he took for sure that her Majesty was rather dark – than fair -, that meaning of course in her complexion.
      Being such a subject of jokes certainly lead her to develop much humor and wit and it was probably these qualities, as well as her own discretion at court that made her if not loved, respected – even if she had no precise role, neither a reason for being at court.
      Alas (for her reputation as a woman), if it had only been a bout of offended pride on K H’s side, he would have made further efforts to succeed in a wedding only settled on political grounds (that is the english king desperately needed some protestant support against an alliance to be between K François I of France and the Emperor).
      Henry was tied by this wedding but, on the other side, was obviously unable to fulfil his marital duties .
      This difficulty wsa solved by the good-will on both sides.
      That is only my view – I see here that it is not much spread among the site-readers.


    I was personally attacked and my country smeared with a quote by Adolf Hitler that is a country of”mongrels”. This post was LEFT INTACT for me to find a week later (today) and the poster called lovely while Clare, that absolute nightmare of dumb dumbness, said I should apologize!

    Really, are you all so dainty that calling England small compared to Spain and France in the 1500’s is cause for quoting the NAZIs and demanding an apology of ME?

    Have you seen the US news where middle aged African American women were gunned down last week by a Neo-Nazi crazy who said the same thing as the poster here called “lovely”?

    I happen to know that Britain is not a bastion for neo nazi crazies. I am not the racist.

    1. It wouldn’t matter to me whether you were English, American or from outer Mongolia, you would still horrify me with your behaviour. That is ‘you’ and nothing to do with you being an American. You are insulting to the history of my country and you chose to be insulting to everyone who disagrees with you, and then become defensive when they retaliate. As I’ve already said, I don’t condone racist comments, but I can understand the frustration which underpinned them due to your constant attempts to suggest England under Henry VIII was a small powerless country. You refuse to listen to historical fact which contradicts your views due to your determination to believe what you want to believe rather than the truth. Christine made no mention whatsoever to Hitler. That has been manufactured in your head for effect. She said America is a mongrel nation, which it is, just like England is, and many other counties.

      I love America and Americans, and I am only grateful that you are not indicative of your lovely countrymen. I agree that I have been rude to you, but why wouldn’t I be when you are so unpleasant to deal with. I disagree amicably with many people about Tudor history, including people who I consider friends, but I have never come across anyone who is as deliberately provocative as you. You relish, not intelligent debate, but causing as much disruption and unpleasantness as possible. Sadly I do not share Claire’s tolerance of that sort of behaviour. You have been lucky that Claire is such a tolerant person or your time on this site would have been brought to an end long ago.

      She has gritted her teeth and let you get away with insulting her and her site time and time again. For the last time, GO AWAY

      1. Clare, you continue to be a bloating ignorant biased person. You are an embarrassment to anyone who can read history with a discerning eye. Just go tell someone else that Anne got pregnant by a married man but wasn’t his mistress. No rout all the dummies who can’t use a dictionary will agree.

        You are selling anne boleyn to make a buck and pay your bills. I get it.

        But promoting racist quotes for Adolf Hitler that ANYBODY who can use google can look up, and sanction it because you hate that I beat you in every single debate
        makes you a ridiculous person. And pathetic. and yup, a racist by default.

        Claire is perfectly capable of speaking for herself and doesn’t need you to puppet your heat off me through her mouth.

        1. Anne got pregnant by a married man but wasn’t his mistress? Again, what on earth are you talking about?
          I make no money out of Anne Boleyn, I’m a lawyer.
          There was no quote from Hitler as Claire has explained over and over and over again. It’s in your head.

        2. JudithRex you call other people ignorant and biased, while you continually attack people who have more knowledge than you, more common sense or who just want to learn more about Anne Boleyn or other people on the site, people who ask questions or would like a relaxed conversation about the articles that are well researched and put together. You are rude and often talk rubbish. It’s not your wacky theories people object to, it is your direct rude and personal attacks. Claire puts a great deal of effort into this site and you are driving people away who just want to enjoy the information on this site. If you don’t want to read the comments. if you don’t want to be here, if you think we are all racists. then why are you still herr? There are many other sites you can troll, the administration may not be as tolerant as Claire. You leave posts demanding your comments be taken down, yet you still add more. Please go away and set your computer to prevent you from returning here again.

    2. Please leave. Christine posted her comment two days ago and apologised. She didn’t quote Hitler, she’s not a Nazi and talking about her comment, which she apologised for, in reference to an awful shooting is ludicrous and offensive. Christine made one out of line comment, you constantly attack others and it’s time for you to go.

  10. 1. the post is up TWO weeks later. a RACIST quote from Adolf Hitler that any educated person recognizes as such. Do you not know that is what is its? That it was tiler and the Nazis who called the US a nation of mongrels? Look it up, Claire. Educate yourself!

    2. why should I be asked to apologize?? and why did you leave that piece of stupidity up, too unless you agreed that a nazi slur about racism (what the hell else is a mongrel?) is equal to calling England in the 1500s small or a backwater? really? Unity Mitford a relative of yours?

    Take my comments off his board and I will go away. No doubt you will just delete what you like here, but I have snapshots of this garbage and have already started sharing it with people to use if anybody in England decides to take shots at us in America over the terrible neo-nazi events of last week.

    what you post here matters!!

  11. Anne of Cleves was spot on and I doubt she really believed Henry was merely having a “light romance” no matter what the Ambassador said. She may have felt happier once Catherine had gone for a bit, but she was too intelligent not to be on her guard.

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