6 January 1540 – The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

On 6th January 1540, Epiphany, Henry VIII married Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg, or Anne of Cleves, in the Queen’s Closet at Greenwich Palace.

Henry had been trying desperately to get out of the marriage, since meeting Anne and deciding that he didn’t like her. There was, however, no easy way to get out of it and he knew that a cancelled wedding might drive the bride’s brother, who was now Duke of Cleves, “into the hands of the emperowre”.

Chronicler Edward Hall describes the bride’s outfit that day:

“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, luelles of great valew & estirnacion.”1

And the King was also suitably attired, wearing “a gowne of ryche Tyssue [cloth of gold] lyned with Crymosyn”.

Hall records that Anne curtsied to the King three times and then the couple were married by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anne’s wedding ring was engraved with the words “GOD SEND ME WEL TO KEPE”.

After the ceremony, the bride, groom and guests enjoyed the usual wine and spices, followed by “Bankettes, Maskes, and dyuerse dvsportes, tyll the tyme came that it pleased the Kyng and her to take their rest”, i.e. to consummate the marriage. This never happened, apparently because the King was so disgusted by his bride’s body:

“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

However, it may have been down to Henry VIII’s impotence problems, we just don’t know. What we do know is that the marriage was ended in July 1540 and Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. You can read all about the end of the Cleves marriage in my article “Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves”.

Notes and Sources

  1. Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall
  2. Burnet, Vol II, p. lxxxvi, quoted in “Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister”, Robert Hutchinson, Chapter 10.

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8 thoughts on “6 January 1540 – The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves”
  1. To me it seems Henry had made his mind up from the first meeting that there was no way, if he did have to through with the marriage, that he would stay married to her for long, and maybe putting a doubt in the minds of those around him about her being a ‘maid’ would be a ‘just in case’, if no other way out of it could to be found.

    Even though Henry was having problems with impotence, and from what is written about how naive Anne was, she would be unlikely to know the King ‘couldn’t perform’, even if he did try, sooo…maybe this was more of ‘I’m not going to consumate this marriage, because I don’t like her’. A spoilt brat tantrum, more than an inability. If the mind ain’t willing, nothing else will be…!!

    At least Anne had the good sense to agree to what he wanted, and faired better than the other 5 ladies put together.

  2. I have seen written so many times clothing and draperies made from “cloth of gold”, but have never found an explanation or definition of what exactly it was. Was ‘cloth of gold’ actual cloth made from gold, or was that simply the name of a specific type of elegant material?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Cynthia,
      If you google it you will find the explaination you need, and some lovely pictures of examples of Cloth of Gold too. Hope that helps.

    2. There’s a good article on it at http://www.needlenthread.com/2007/02/medieval-textiles-what-is-cloth-of-gold.html which explains that “real cloth of gold consists of gold either beaten or worked into long strips and wound around a core (such as silk) and then this thread is used in weaving a very rich fabric, which is relatively stiff, heavy, and expensive”. There are also some wonderful photos at http://www.needlenthread.com/2007/02/goldwork-up-close-photos-of-magnificent.html.

        1. Oops.. just realized Claire has referenced the exact same article! Yes the photos on this website of gold work are wonderful!

  3. To Claire and everyone — thank you for the very good info. I love the articles and pictures!! Now I finally know what cloth of gold is! Took so long to reply because I asked the question, then didn’t check back often enough to get the answers! Thanks again!

  4. Henry really played the martyr on this one. He was embarrassed by her not going along with his foolishness on New Years Day and he was now trying to get out of a binding contract he knew quite well he couldn’t break. Henry and Anne were actually a good match and Cleves was one of the richest Duchys in Europe. It was strategically important and it was important as a military ally and for its connections to the Empire, Portugal and the Germanic states. It was a good barrier to ward off the potential attack from either Charles or Francis and her own descent through the English Royal family made her pedigree better than Henry’s. However, their first meeting was a complete disaster.

    Henry claimed to be put off by Anne’s looks but the evidence shows this is nonsense. Nobody else said that there was anything wrong with her looks and everyone seemed to get on with her. It seems to me Henry was too proud to put that meeting out of his mind and just wanted to make any excuse to get out of a marriage he had been keen enough on just a week earlier. Anne was 24, fair, attractive, pleasant, amenable, became popular, had good pedigrees and came from fine breeding stock. Henry was no picture of health and beauty but Anne was willing enough to be his Queen. He was courteous towards her and had dinner with her at that same meeting, staying until the afternoon the next day.

    Anne may or may not have been prepared for her wedding night, it seems to me unlikely that she wasn’t, but Henry found it impossible to do his duty and he found nothing to encourage him either. He tried for several nights but the marriage remained unconsummated. Anne quite possibly was also put off by him and they just put on a good public show. We only have the King’s side of things and he was not pleased the next morning. He wanted out of his non marriage.

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