4 September 1539 – A marriage arranged for Anne of Cleves


On this day in history, 4th September 1539, Anne of Cleves’ brother, William, Duke of Cleves, signed a marriage treaty promising Anne in marriage to King Henry VIII. She was to be the king’s fourth wife.

The treaty was then sent to the king in England and it was ratified and concluded by early October 1539. The couple married on the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) 1540, but the marriage lasted only six months, being annulled in July 1540.

Click here to read more about the marriage treaty.

Picture: Miniature of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, William V of Jülich-Cleves-Berg by Heinrich Aldegrever.

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7 thoughts on “4 September 1539 – A marriage arranged for Anne of Cleves”
  1. Anne of Cleves was a good political match for England and Henry and as a German Princess with great pedigree she was made for the position of Queen. Had Henry warmed to the poor woman instead of acting like a frozen bear, she would have made him a great wife and his succession may well have been blessed as well. Anne was not ugly, her likeness is a good one, did not smell, did not have floppy breasts and she was gracious and kind. Henry took their first meeting too much to heart and didn’t want to marry her so he made himself miserable and made stuff up to get out of the marriage. I have never been to the Swan Castle but from what I have read they have a very different view of their Princess over there, more closer to the truth. Everyone save Henry had something positive to say and even afterwards he decided he liked her after all, just not as his wife. Henry used to visit her often, leaving Catherine Howard feeling deserted and Anne was called his Sister. She was the most sensible of the Queens and did well from her annulment settlement. Anne of Cleves was not divorced. Her marriage was declared null and void and she got the best settlement with Richmond Palace and Hever Castle among the properties she received. Anne was not lucky as some comments have made, but sensible. Henry was not some monster that you are lucky to escape from, although given two wives were executed, it must seem like that. Henry treated his wives generally with consideration. Had Henry remained married to Anne of Cleves he most probably would have found her agreeable and had a successful marriage. He already had a son and more sons would have added to his security but he was not demanding more sons. Anne had every attribute to be a successful Queen and she learned quickly, she became musical, could dance, was fond of gambling and cards and she got on with his children and people well. I think it is unfair to write her of as a potentially successful Queen or to patronize her by saying she lucky to escape being Queen.

  2. The picture of her brother Duke William shows a good looking man, but how stuffy the German court was, when Anne and her sister were first introduced to the English ambassadors they wore veils, strange yet maybe it was their way of announcing the women were maidens, although Henry did run her down as mentions, no one else did but what makes me think she was not as pretty as her portrait is one courtier, having met her before the King did remark that having seen her, he did not think the King would like her very much, maybe he knew she wasn’t the type to appeal to the King, Weir says it could be she was quite big boned and Henry preferred petite women, it is a mystery as to what she actually did look like, like her tragic predecessor Anne Boleyn, we only have Holbeins portrait and another one showing her face at an angle, this one does not look very attractive but painted at an angle or profile, not many faces do, unless the sitter has a perfect straight nose and firm chin, although Henry has this reputation of a wife killing monster it’s true he did treat them with consideration, he had a lot of respect for his first wife only after many years of defying him did he give up and banished her to lonely places far from the court, and kept her apart from her daughter, but she was given a good funeral at Peterborough and Anne was not thrown in any old dungeon in the tower but housed in the luxurious apartments she stayed in during her coronation, and lucky girl was beheaded by the sword instead of the axe, depending on what you call lucky that is! Catherine Howard was treated with all due respect and Catherine Parr, it was only if they overstepped the mark then Henry could turn from an affable husband to an incredibly dangerous one, he was very generous bestowing wonderful gifts on Anne Boleyn during their courtship, and after their marriage beautiful gowns and jewels, one gift which was a beautiful gilt clock, an incredibly expensive present as clocks were a rarity at that time and it survives to this day, housed in a museum or private collection somewhere, with Catherine Howard he would bestow on her beautiful gowns and jewels also and even little puppies and she gave one or both to Anne Of Cleves, after their divorce Anne was given some lovely homes including Hever Castle and a comfortable income, and she was often at court so it was not a case of ‘iv got rid of Anne I don’t have to see her anymore’, she was welcomed back into the fold so to speak and yes her and Henry became friends and she was allowed to call him brother and he called her sister, an amiable woman she got on well with her step children even tho Mary possibly abhorred her religious views, his queens were treated with the respect they deserved but as we have seen if they angered him…

    1. I think Henry had a few problems. First, he wanted Christine of Milan, a beautiful sixteen years old virgin widow with wealth and power and the right family connections, but she had common sense and said no, as she only had one head. Then he had an obsession with all the French ladies and caused offence as he wanted a beauty parade. The political life on the continent was unbalanced and he was forced to swing back and forth with Francis and Charles V and he also had reluctant bridegroom syndrome. Henry didn’t want another wife, but he needed one. Cleves was a favourable compromise and a powerful one. Christina was closely related to Katherine of Aragon and he would never get a dispensation as he was out of sorts with Rome. Holbein was a genius painter but his likeness is accurate. However, note the full profile. A full face is easier to project a blank canvas or see what you wish in, which is why portraits were normally side profile. Having said that I suspect Anne and Amelia were reasonably good looking as their mother and elder sister were lovely. Duke William looks quite handsome in this portrait, but I don’t know when it was done. It’s certainly different to the actor in the Tudors.

      William was definitely a Protestant but he caused controversy by getting his own marriage in a pickle and committed bigamy when he didn’t get a divorce, much to the upset of the other Princes in the League. He was quite a character and he visited his Sister in England a few times. He did submit to the Emperor eventually and the League was a strong ally to have. The one mystery about Anne of Cleves is her religious persuasion. It has always been presumed that she was a Lutheran, but her biography by Elizabeth Norton doubts this. Anne had no objection to being married in a more or less Catholic ceremony or to regularly attending Mass and there is little to indicate that she followed anything but the faith of her mother. Of course she may just have conformed, but she took everything seriously. Mary got on with her, even after a short period of suspicion, raised by those involved in a plot during her early reign and she certainly went to town on her state funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1557.

      1. I think I am getting her brother mixed with another Prince, Philip of Barvaria who was a bigamist, but William did have a marriage annulled and then later a very successful marriage. His lands were extensive and his wife and mother brought many more. He did, however, have to hand over Geuelders back to the Emperor. He did well age wise as well dying somewhere like 1592 aged 76 and was also known as William the Rich so I guess he was very wealthy. Anne was raised within the setting of a sophisticated growing nation with good contacts and was smart. I think she wanted her marriage to work and she certainly had very strong feelings when he married for a sixth time as she regarded herself as his true wife, in spite of everything. I cannot recall the details but Elizabeth Norton noted that many of her bequests towards the end of her life show her acting as a widow, not a wife set aside. William must also have been a reasonable person because Henry’s actions could have led to war. Anne’s cooperation saved him as she did as she was told and wrote to her brother saying she was content with the end of the marriage. If this was my sister, personally I would’ve been spitting feathers. Henry’s actions were highly insulting and he knew it, which is why he had Anne pacify her brother. Anne must also have had a good nature and head as to have accepted everything and been gracious to his new Queen in the first place. She could have sulked afterwards, but she didn’t, no, she came to court, sent presents and danced with Katherine Howard, a woman below her in rank, but now her new Queen. What a bizarre world these people lived in.

  3. I think Henry reacted as he did because he was embarrassed. A normal man when that situation arose would find out what happened and re introduce himself. Henry, at this late stage in his life was caught up in his own perceived mythos and could not deal with anyone not recognizing him so he claimed she was ugly and didn’t like her. If the portrait by Holbien was so inaccurate why wasn’t he thrown in the tower or worse?

    Re the non-consummation of the marriage: I am of the opinion that Anne was not as naive about sex as she let on. I believe that she claimed this lack of knowledge to protect herself by not impugning the king’s dignity and mentioning his impotence.

    1. I think you are correct, Michael, very much so. Henry’s pride got in the way and he was angry, stupid and embarrassed. Anne was watching bear baiting when he arrived, dressed up and probably didn’t take much note of him. She didn’t swoon and see through his childish disguise and he found himself a laughing stock. He could have just set that aside and began again, but Kings are fools. You make an excellent point about Holbein and as far as we know he wasn’t even out of favour. He painted the sons of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk soon afterwards and it was his job to show Anne accurately. I doubt Anne was naive either, as it was traditional for a mother or sister or older female matron to prepare her for her wedding night and the only testimony we have is again a hostile one from Lady Bryan and Lady Rochford. We don’t have evidence from her own ladies. Quite possibly all that happened was them being polite and chaste, but I doubt Anne was as ignorant as she appeared in that so called conversation, which possibly never happened. Henry’s own sexual problems had begun to surface now as he was older. It was a common problem and still is, but as King his masculine side cannot be questioned, so hence his words to his doctor about his sexuality being fine. Anne would not want to say anything against Henry’s dignity, so as you say, we have this invention about her lack of knowledge.

  4. We will never know what went on between the sheets with Henry and Anne of Cleves, their wedding night is as much a mystery as Katherine Of Aragon’s and Prince Arthur’s, it’s true that before a marriage the brides mother or older sister/ aunt would have wanted to prepare her a little, and her other ladies married of course would have gossiped about it, so yes I believe Anne must have been told something it’s only natural, and she would have been curious enough herself to have asked questions, so could be she was playing the role of innocent maiden just so Henry could save face, we will never know the truth.

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