22 September 1515 – Birth of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife

Posted By on September 22, 2017

On this day in history, 22nd September 1515, Henry VIII’s fourth wife and queen consort, Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg (or Anne of Cleves as we know her) was born near Düsseldorf.

Anne was the second daughter of John III, Duke of Jülich, Cleves and Berg, an important German ruler, and his wife, Maria of Jülich-Berg. Anne had an older sister, Sybille, who married John Frederick, Elector of Saxony; a younger brother, William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, who married Maria, Archduchess of Austria, and a younger sister called Amalia. Anne married Henry VIII in January 1540 but the marriage was never consummated and it was annulled in July 1540.

Here are some links to further reading on Anne of Cleves, or you can scroll down to my 60-second history video on her if you’re in a rush.

14 thoughts on “22 September 1515 – Birth of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    I’ve always thought very highly of Anne. This young woman was raised to be a queen just as was Katherine of Aragon and when her time comes she makes a long journey to her new home and due to the vanity of her royal suitor is rejected upon their meeting. What was the psychological effect on her? I realize that the divorce settlement made her quite comfortable but was she happy? Henry would not let her return home and political turmoil in her own country made it unsafe so she was forced to stay in England.

    Everything I’ve read and heard about her points to the fact that she was a very friendly and gracious woman who would have easily won over the English people. She also seems to have been very intelligent and capable and I believe would have been an excellent Queen and may have given England a prince if Henry had been of a different disposition and in better health.

    This is just another ‘what if’

    1. Christine says:

      She was rejected quite publicly by Henry which must have given her a serious dent to her ego, by all accounts she was happy to stay in England albeit as her one time husbands sister and was rewarded among other homes, Hever Castle where his second wife had lived, she was an amiable woman who endeared people to her and Henrys children were all fond of her, I agree she could well have given Henry a prince, all his misplaced affection he showered on his fifth queen the effervescent Catherine Howard, with disastrous consequences.

  2. Z says:

    Just a question, how do we know she was born on 22 September? Is there documentation somewhere?

    If only the English followed the examples of their Continental counterparts and wrote down dates of birth!

    1. Claire says:

      I believe that there is documentation in the German archives but I don’t know. I checked Oxford DNB and the biographies I have of Anne of Cleves and they don’t give a source, and Agnes Strickland, the Victorian historian states 22 September 1516, which is interesting. Kleve celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Anne on 22nd September 2015, so they obviously take 22 September 1515 as her birthdate.

      Yes, I wish we had records of quite a few of the Tudors’ births!

  3. Sandra says:

    Anne of Cleves is one of my favorites of Henry’s queens. Their initial meeting got off to a rough start because of Henry’s impulsive ride to meet her through rain and mud and then grabbing her from behind and turning her to plant a kiss on her lips. The poor woman had no idea who he was and essentially told him to get lost. I don’t think this rejection of Henry did any good in a start to their relationship, but Henry did himself no favors and had no one to blame but himself for that disastrous event.

    Anne seemed to be friendly and eager to learn about her new country and the language.It always amuses me that Henry weighed nearly 400 pounds when he died and with terrible leg ulcers he was still so adamant that his women have good bodies and be pretty.

    I think that Anne of Cleves would have made a good queen.

    Sandra
    Maryland, USA

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Anne of Cleves as a Queen made perfect sense because England was in a political jam and needed the wealth and the military and commercial connections of this growing territory and the League. Her mother had brought territory and connections inside the Empire, her eldest Sybella was married to the Elector of Saxony and through their mother Jullich and Berg and her brother also ruled Guelders, which allowed him to challenge the Emperor, although his latter territory he had to give up in 1543 when France failed to support him to Charles V. He was also known as William the Wealthy, so this marriage had the real potential for prestige and a bit of cash.

    Anne was not the ugly duckling of myth and she was described as having grace and kindness and compassion. Henry lost out on a good wife in Anne by his own stupidity. When he arrived to surprise Anne by dressing up as if he was still in his twenties and she didn’t pick him out of his other gentlemen, she was more interested in the bear baiting than her strange visitor. Then whatever Anne was taught about England and the King, Henry needed teaching about manners in German lands. He grabbed the poor shocked woman in his giant paws and kissed her on the lips, yuk!!! The conversation was polite afterwards and later Anne was made welcome, but Henry was put off and probably embarrassed, too embarrassed to admit a foolish mistake, to put an awkward moment behind him. After that Henry wanted to get out of the marriage and complained that he liked her not. Thomas Cromwell was surprised as Henry had been very keen on the match when he saw Hans Holbein’s portrait. I doubt there was much wrong with her looks but Henry complained about all sorts of things after their wedding night which didn’t go well. She smelt, well his leg smelt so Anne may not have been happy with that, she had droopy breasts, well I doubt that and he couldn’t perform, not for the first time, no doubt. Anne probably wasn’t ignorant on sexual matters either and despite Henry contradictions about her virginity, in the strict German court yes she definitely was.

    Anne proved to be an intelligent and prudent woman, taking Henry’s ways in good humour. However, she knew his history and agreed to an annulment, not divorce, because she knew that history and that she possibly had little choice. Henry had treated her well in her company and in public but he was trying to get out of the marriage at every opportunity. Henry was also having a lively fling with a teenager, one of her ladies, Katherine Howard, a fling which would lead to his fifth wedding. Anne was happy by all the attention and her welcome by the people and she was noted as being gracious and kind and warm and she also made friends with all of Henry’s children. When the courtiers talk to her about the marriage and her betrothal to the Count of Lorraine, Anne had all of the papers sent to her, according to David Starkey, but it was to no avail, for Henry had pushed his cause to have the marriage annulled. Anne was given a good offer, including Hever Castle and Richmond Palace and an income. She agreed and was well provided for afterwards, she was able to stay in England, she was allowed to remarry and she was involved in family and court life.

    Anne could have reacted quite differently because Henry had questioned her virginity and his discarding of her was quite insulting. Henry risked war with Cleves because of this insult and Anne was told to write to her brother saying she was treated well and was content to do this and was happy and consented to everything. William, amazingly was mollified but he may have had other concerns. Anne chose to remain in England, but she may not have wanted to go home after being dismissed by her husband after six months. She saw herself still as the true wife of Henry Viii even though she sent back her wedding ring because she said it was a thing of little value. When Henry married wife no six, Anne of Cleves was shocked.

    Anne was invited to Court at New Year, danced all night with the new Queen to whom she had shown reverence and sent four horses as a present. Anne spent much time with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary and Henry dropped in on her several times, causing the rumour mongers to claim that Anne was pregnant with his child. He had to reassure Katherine Howard that he wasn’t about to leave her and return to Anne of Cleves so regularly did he visit and such good friends did he become with Anne after he was no longer married to her. It was a platonic relationship but there are many to spread stories at court. Anne was given the honorary title of King’s Sister and she remained fairly well off during Henry’s life time.

    Anne was also a friend to Queen Mary I being at her coronation, in the second carriage with Princess Elizabeth. Although she had to haggle over her household and houses under King Edward, she was still well off and remained so until the end. There was some suspicion over Anne’s loyalty during a Protestant conspiracy to kill Queen Mary but Anne was not involved and she was easily cleared. Elizabeth Norton has pointed out that there is no evidence to support the assumption that Anne was a Lutheran. Yes, her brother William was a Protestant but the families mother, Maria had raised her daughters in the Catholic Faith and was herself a Catholic. Anne had no objection to a Catholic wedding or to attending Catholic Mass and when she died she received a state Catholic funeral in Westminster Abbey. Mary left grand plans to complete her tomb and it was carried out to some extent, although it has been scaled back now. It was much grander but money meant it was less than Mary intended, but her tomb can still be seen and is quite fine.

    Anne may have been the most intelligent of Henry’s Queens and she showed she could adapt to life in England, adopted English dress, learned to play musical instruments and she became a card sharp. She was only twenty four when she married Henry, very probably she was fertile and evidence shows she was fairly well educated and politically astute. I believe Anne of Cleves was the best wife Henry missed out on.

    I love that the bakers in Cleves made a cake for her 500 years and she is still fondly remembered. Happy Birthday Anna of Cleves. Have a piece of cake and a German dark beer on me!

    1. Christine says:

      Yes their initial meeting got of to a bad start because Henry decided to dress up as he used to in his youth, with his first queen whilst she was with her ladies in her chambers he and his friends dressed up as Robin Hood and his merry men and burst upon them, there was much laughter and gay spirits but his court was used to that, Alison Weir describes the German court as a cultural backwater where skills such as dancing and singing and the courtly love banter were quite alien, her mother had taught her needlework but that was all, certainly it was not a renaissance court like England France and Burgundy, Henry as mentioned had no idea either of German manners and customs and he should have left the play acting at home, Anne must have been very anxious at crossing the seas to marry this King who had been married three times already, and whose second one had lost her head, she would have been eager to please and nervous at what her new country was like, she spoke no English and spent most of the time with her ladies chattering away in German, as to be expected since she could not speak with anyone else, and Henry was disenchanted, the language barrier was a problem but there was more to it than that, he was used to sophisticated women who could glide onto the floor and dance elegantly, who could sing and whose style of dress was more becoming, who were used to the easy ways of the court and there was Anne of Cleves who must have seemed like a sparrow amongst the peacocks in her rather ugly German gown and headdress, who sat gauche and silent whilst the company chatted around her, I can imagine her feeling very uncomfortable that was no fault of hers, childhood and upbringing has its effects and she had been reared in a very different atmosphere, after the wedding night Cromwell the instigator of this marriage nervously asked Henry how he liked his new bride to be and was met with a snarl, no he liked her even less than he had before and he complained about her flabby breasts and belly, how charming! Anne herself must have thought she was in bed with an elephant yet she showed no signs of distaste or discomfiture and always conducted herself in a decent manner, she was a high born lady and knew like many other high born women around the world, wether they be Princesse’s or earls or dukes daughters, that their marriage was a matter of convenience to the family, she had been told that Henry had asked for her hand in marriage and so she had to resign herself that she was going to leave her home and family behind, it was a big step for a young woman, and it must have been very very hard for women born of noble and royal blood to adjust to, it had happened for centuries around the royal courts of Europe, discord between countries could be started on an insult to an intended bride, yes Henry had to tread carefully if he wanted to get out of this most unsatisfactory marriage, the German alliance was important to England and he had no wish to offend Duke William, Cromwell searched around for a reason to free his most difficult master from the bounds of matrimony and he found a pre contract had existed between Anne and another suitor, once free Henry decided he quite liked her after all, Anne grew to love England and learnt the art of card playing, with which she became very fond and settled quite happily in her adopted country, yet whilst walking in her gardens did she often ponder that she had had a raw deal? She had travelled a long way to become queen of this land and had tried to please her fickle husband but in the end it had been to no avail, she had been unceremoniously dumped whilst he had carried on an affair with her lady in waiting, it had all been for nothing, she could not have known the insulting remarks he had made about her but she must have been aware of the giggles and sympathetic looks of most of the people at court, there was the conversation she had had with one of her women who had told her there must be more than a mere kiss goodnight to become enciente! I don’t think the first time they went to bed Henry tried anything on at all, he did not fancy her and although we have seen he may have had issues about his performance between the sheets, ( George Boleyns trial for one) I think he was so disappointed with her he just turned over and went to bed, he knew that non consummation could annul his marriage and from the minute he clapped eyes on her he was trying to get out of it, Anne herself was not stupid and when she was visited by Henrys council about her earlier betrothal and therefore her marriage was not legal and valid, she knew the King was trying to rid himself of her, there were rumours about Catherine Howard and she must have realised he wished to make her his queen, with typical German prudence she signed the agreement and her husband was free, she could stay in England and be welcomed at court, her ex husband she could call brother as she was his very dear sister, her brother the Duke was quite possibly bemused by the arrangement but he must have thought his sister had been treated well and it was indeed an honour to call the King of England brother so all well, Anne herself saved face by not having to return to her homeland as the unwanted bride, she grew to love her new country and one of her many residences was the charming castle of Hever, she in fact, although losing Englands crown done very well out of the arrangement and keeps very high company in her final resting place, rejected by a King of England she lies amongst the long dead of her other sovereigns, may she rest in peace Anna Of Cleves!

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Hi Christine, although I agree with much of what you say, Alison Weir doesn’t know what she is talking about with regards to Cleves. It was neither a political or cultural backwater and John William I, Anne’s father championed Renaissance thinkers like Erasmus and they were patrons of art, the same as any important court. It is true that high born ladies were not encouraged to sing or play music, but not because these things were not available, but because it was not seemly. The Empire had considered the Duchy important for centuries and it played a very important role in the development of Westphalia. William the Rich as Anne’s brother was known was important enough to marry a French Princess, Jeanne de Albert, whom he had annulled, then Maria, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I. The Swan Castle would be rebuilt and extended in the Baroque style, as with most of the numerous churches. It was already very impressive in Anne’s time. Unfortunately Alison Weir does not always do independent research and goes on what negative reports may be found in other books. She is a good historian in some ways, but not so good at being reliable in her sources. No doubt Anne did wear German dress when she first arrived and it looked odd, but she changed to the English and French way of dress within a short time. We have very little to go on how she adapted in those six months or her interactions, but we do know she was well received by practically everyone apart from Henry. What reports we do have about her sexual knowledge or expectations are hostile and personally I am sceptical, but as this is the only evidence we have it is all we can go on. Anne travelled quite a bit as Queen and was widely entertained. Maybe she felt left out on the dancefloor, maybe not, we dont know at what stage she learned to dance, only that she certainly did dance afterwards and became an accomplished musician, so she may have learned as a child or had a natural talent. Compared to the grander English and French courts certainly, Cleves and its vast territory may not have been as sophisticated, but it was far from a small cultural backwater and was greatly important politically. One thing Anne did learn was politics and in that she was astute. She certainly shone in England and she even tried to get herself reinstated as his wife once Catherine Howard was out of the picture.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          P.S. Amen to her resting among the Sovereignty of Britain and may she rest in peace.

        2. Christine says:

          It’s true that Weir hasn’t got a very good reputation for getting her facts right, and yes Anne did learn to dance and at Christmas partnered Queen Catherine whilst Henry went to bed, in comparison though to the other European courts Cleves does sound very stiff and formal, it made me laugh when Henry sent his ministers to negotiate for her and her sisters hand in marriage and they both appeared in veils, and the fact that it was considered unseemly to sing or play music – blimey, to have a good singing voice has always been considered an accomplishment and to have the ability to play music to, Henry himself was very musical, and wrote as well as played music, in lots of ways it appeared that he and Anne just wasn’t suited, very sad really because she could have given him a healthy son or two, and they may well have survived into adulthood and beyond.

        3. Banditqueen says:

          Yes, very stiff and formal and protective with a separate education. I recently read that Anne and her sisters learned to cook and she was known for her love of cooking and good food. The less mixed events at the English court must have felt like a breath of fresh air. I can just imagine how odd it looked when the sisters were presented veiled, but she soon got rid of any veils. I bet the League were upset when the marriage broke up as they had been trying to get a foothold in England for years and talks were ongoing all the time. Oh, well at least Anne and Henry got themselves out of a difficult situation and probably did better for it, personally. The person who really got the bitter end of all this was Thomas Cromwell. He was accused of a load of rubbish, but it was this marriage which really led to his downfall, him being kept around until he found a way out and gave evidence that Henry didn’t find himself able to consummate his marriage. It is a pity, though, I agree. Henry wanted the sixteen year old Christine of Milan, who refused him and didn’t want a woman who was content to marry him, in spite of his faults. He really had no clue, had he?

  5. Christine says:

    He was acting like he could pick and choose but really by now he was no catch, he was losing his looks fast and putting on weight at an alarming speed, and although King of England he may be his reputation preceded him, yes Christina of Milan Henry seemed to forget was Katherine of Aragons neice, she had heard stories of her bad treatment so it was highly unlikely she would want to marry her aunts ex, there were also rumours that Jane Seymour had been badly neglected which led to her untimely death, and he had executed his second wife after just three years of marriage, having ripped the country apart to attain that end, Henry did not seem to realise what people thought of him, he had an almost childlike belief in his powers of attraction and thought in his own kingdom and abroad he was thought of as a great and just and noble King, still handsome who could win at the joust and write the best music, and make the ladies swoon, in truth many believed him to be a tyrant and a hypocrite but he could not face upto the reality of what he really was and used his ever emerging conscience as an excuse time and again, since no one dared tell him otherwise he believed his own fantasy and in his mind he was still the young Demi god he had been in his youth who was loved for his affable and generous nature, he was brought sharply down to earth when his fifth queens activities came to light.

  6. CB says:

    I am reading The Marrying of Anne of Cleves, a most important and thoroughly researched book by Retha Warnicke. She goes into so much detail regarding Henry VIII’s search for a wife after the death of Jane Seymour and how his decision to marry Anne was motivated mainly by his worry about the Franco-Imperial alliance and the desire to find alternative allies. I know Warnicke offers a controversial explanation for the failure of the marriage and Cromwell’s downfall, but it is an interesting read and she does clarify a lot of the misconceptions about Anne.

  7. Michael Wright says:

    I’m reading the same book. I started it last year and stopped half way through and read 4 other books to get a break from all the detail. I took it up again a few days ago. Very interesting how much went into that kind of royal marriage.

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