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

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

The bride was completely unaware of the fact that her groom had been trying his utmost to get out of the marriage, and that was why the wedding had been postponed from 4th January – Henry had been desperately searching for a way out. By the evening of 5th January, Henry realised that he had no other option but to go ahead with the proposed marriage. If he cancelled the wedding, it might “dryve her brother into the hands of the emperowre”, and he could not risk that.

The chronicler Edward Hall describes Anne on her wedding 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.”

The King was 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”. It was time for the all-important consummation of the marriage, something which seems to have been a complete disaster. 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.”

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”.

It seems that Anne did not have any sexual knowledge at all, and Lady Rochford had to break it to her that it took more than just sleeping beside the King to be with child. Anne replied, saying, “when he comes to bed, he kisses me and taketh me by the hand and biddeth me, “Goodnight sweetheart”; and in the morning kisses me and biddeth me, “Farewell, darling”. Is that not enough?” The Countess of Rutland replied, “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a Duke of York”, but Anne said that she was content with the status quo and did not know what more was needed.

Things never improved between the couple, and it wasn’t long before Henry’s head was turned by the young Catherine Howard, whom he married on 28th July 1540. Fortunately for Anne, she kept her head and walked out of the marriage with the title of the King’s Sister, property including Hever Castle, jewels, plate and an annual payment of £4000 per year.

(Taken from “On This Day in Tudor History” by Claire Ridgway)

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13 thoughts on “6 January 1540 – The Wedding of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves”
  1. Clever Anne! What a woman–I wonder if she didn’t make herself undesirable as a way to avoid Henry–Maybe she understood more English than she let on–Thanks!

  2. Anne of Cleves is my favorite wife. She was practical and pragmatic. She won the brass ring by accepting the King’s offer. She ended up with status, money, and freedom. Oh, and her head, too.

  3. I greatly admire Anne of Cleves because she had the intelligence to realize that you did not argue with Henry when he wanted something – you just gave it to him while stroking his ego. Where the other wives had to navigate a mine field, she sat back and let Henry lead her through hers which allowed her to not only keep her head but to become a woman of property and esteem in a time women just did not run their own estates without a husband. She was a very smart lady who got what she wanted without the King waking up to the fact that she did get exactly what she wanted – a life without a man telling her what to do and freedom from her brother! I wonder if sometimes when she was alone if she didn’t giggle a little.

  4. Anne is also one of my favorite queens. I too believe she got the best deal of all of Henry’s wives and I certainly hope she fully realized what a deal she got and most improtantly that she was happy. Sometimes I feel a little sorry for her because I think she was willing to please and yet she was rejected for her looks. Everyone wants to be loved. But she gained so much…. autonomy, weath, and respect. Three things most women did not get back then.

    1. You do have to wonder if she was really happy.She came a long way to be made a queen then when it didn’t work out she was pushed aside for Katherine Howard.Although, there are reports of them being very friendly with each other after you also have to wonder at the rumors that Anne wanted Henry back after Katherine was executed.She never remarried but that perhaps had to do with a contract saying if she ever did so Henry would no longer support her.But also I sometimes think who would she have chosen for a husband after Henry?No one at court was his equal so maybe she choose to stay unmarried.I’m not sure she planned to live alone and maybe she always continued to hope that Henry would change his mind and take her back.

      1. I do agree with most of the posts However i believe that Anne’s main objective was to get as far away from her brother as possible. Anne was a very intuitive woman. I think she probably found Henry big and smelly. Not what a young woman would find desireable. I think she found the deal put before her was a gift. She was free from men, wealthy and still had her status. I think if she wanted a husband she would have had no problem getting one.

  5. I really do not know who I actually feel sorrier for reluctant bride or bride groom. Anne may have accepted and been honoured to be Queen of England, may even have been happy to marry Henry, she had a deep sense of obligation and she was trained to accept as a high born Princess she would make a good match for the sake of peace, dynastic furtherment and the need for alliances etc; but she must have had some trepidation of the wedding night itself and her new role. But Henry was going into the marriage also more out of obligation and the need for peace than actual romance or a real desire for this marriage. He had tried to kindle love with a romantic gesture, in the hope of attempting to get to know the Princess Anne, to welcome her, to impress her with His Majesty and she was meant to see through his disguise and to his kingship and swoon at his feet. He was then meant to have been seen as her protector and they were meant to then get to know each other and find they had chemistry. None of this happened and instead of looking forward to a wedding that would unite the two powers for some time, a marriage that may grow into something productive for both partners, there was now a real possibility that the marriage would not take place.

    For a number of reasons there was no attraction between the parties, which is not surprising since they were strangers and in fact Henry was completely repulsed. He had the chivilary at least not to tell the lady what he believed about her and as far as the Germans were concerned it was all going as it should. The officials must have been horrified and shocked and disappointed to have a summons to the council to be demanded as to whether or not the contract with the Duke of Lorraine had been broken or not and Anne was free to marry. Henry hoped this would be a way out of the marriage, but was told that the arrangement had been long set aside. He now had no choice but to go ahead with a wedding that he did not want and somehow we are made to feel sorry for Henry, as we have only information about what he felt and not very much from the other side.

    It is probably only guess work to establish what Henry actually found wrong with Anne as the reports about her from the public varied at odds with his claims about her smelling, having droopy boobs, not being graceful and not being very good looking. She may not have lived up to the Holbein portrait and other portraits do show her as less attractive, but I doubt that she was as ugly as Henry claimed. I think he was more put off by her failure to see through his gesture and to swoon at his feet. They did not hit it off; did not spend time together and did not have any chemistry. Henry had built up this mythical impossible image of her and how things would be with her: did he imagine her as another Catherine of Aragon: beautiful, full of life, his perfect companion for life? Did he in fact fall in love with her name: Anne as he had fallen in love with another Anne? The questions could fill a book. Did Anne have an unfortunate body odour? I dout it as no-one else mentions it. She was a regal Princess and they took far more care over their appearence and hyeine than most other people did. It is a myth that people did not wash and wallowed in dirt. They washed as it kept away infections which they were afraid off. They may not strip and bathe all the time, but they did have solutions to this; wearing a white cloth that soaked up the sweat and dirt and washed this every 10 days or so. Also evidence of baths in high born bedrooms in castles shows that they did bathe. But something put Henry off and he was full of all sorts of excuses as to why he did not want to be married to Anne. He told his friends he liked her not and he was certainly not looking forward to the wedding night.

    But what of Anne herself? What was she thinking at this time? As the article above reminds us it appears that Anne was not only a virgin but her upbringing was very restricted and sheltered and she was ignorent of the mechanics of the sex act. In most cases it would have been her mother who should have prepared her for the wedding night, but Anne’s mother died many years earlier and she did not have her to help her. Someone else should have taken this role to prepare the girl for her wedding night, but it seems in Anne’s case no-one bothered. She too must have been afraid of what was to happen that night, she had also heard stories of this man that she was marrying; his angry reputation had been over spun over Europe and she was being told things no doubt that may not even have been true, but must have worried her. She was not sure of how she would be treated, although she was up to now treated with respect and she feared that if she did not please Henry he would get rid of her. This of course was nonsense; his other wives were set aside for failure to provide a male heir not because they did not please him in the bedroom! Where did this idea come from? It was not something that anyone tried to reasure her about and it was played to by her ladies to try to get her to make herself more pleasing to the King. In the Tudors Cromwell pays her a visit and tells her desperately to make herself appealling to the King and Anne objects as she does not find Henry appealling either due to his bad leg. Whether there is anything in this or not; it shows that Cromwell had deep concerns that Anne did not please the king as his own reputation and head were on the line. Much was expected of Anne; a lot of pressure would have been on her and she could not have felt at ease as she was led by the ladies to the public act of bedding with the King; who at this time was not the attractive and athletic man that he still imagined himself. the couple I am sure found the other less than the ideal partner and this would not have helped with the wedding night or afterwards. Anne was also a devout lady and was raised in a court that found the forward manners of the English court over the top; and Anne had been shocked when Henry kissed her in greeting on the mouth. It was just not done. So may-be she did not think very much of him in the attraction sense; although she was honoured to be his wife. She was pleased and relieved to be welcomed by the people and court and was treated with all respect and genuine affection, but she sadly was not the fulfillment of the two nations hopes.

    The wedding, however, as we know did go ahead, there was nothing to stop it and both Anne and Henry could do nothing but save face; Anne being unaware thankfully that nothing was wrong. I cannot but think that had the date being put back for a short time and the couple got to know each other; then it is possible that they may have found some chemistry. It seems that they did have some things in common and that they did find some ways to pass the time. It is much later of course after the annullment that Henry and Anne appear to hit it off: not now having to endure the nightly ritual of the royal wedding bed. It is also odd that during the entire six months of this marriage that Henry and Anne actually slept together every night. It was not normal for royals to do so; they had seperate chambers and only slept together from time to time. Henry must have really been anxious to save face and to keep up appearances while plotting a way out of the marriage. Although he did make some attempt to consumate the marriage; it was not possible and unfortunately for poor Anne he found her even more unbearable sexually the next day. Again Henry made excuses but the real truth was that neither side found the other attractive and things were not going to work between them. In the end it is reasonalbe to say that it was a blessing in disguise that they got out of the marriage, as it was very clear that neither of them wanted the situation to continue. We are led to believe that Anne did not know what to do and thought that she was having enough of the King when he kissed her goodnight and goodmorning, but I am not so sure of this as we only get part of the story from Lady Rochford. We cannot be sure what Anne really wanted, but I think that she ddi not want sexual relations to go any further with Henry. She may not have wanted to end her marriage, but I am sure not having to share his bed any more must have been a great relief.

    Finally, even had Anne been attractive it may not have led to a successful marriage. George I while Elector of Hanovor married the beuatiful 16 year old Sophie Dorothea and their marriage ended in complete disaster. He did not have any chemistry with her, ddi manage to do his duty a number of times and they did have 8 children, but the poor Sophie was left abandoned while he womanized and was set aside by him, spending 30 years in exile in Germany after he came to England. It seems to be that what was wrong between Henry and Anne went far beyond just being physically put off by each other; they could not stand each other and believed that they were not right for each other; the first meeting was a disaster and that put down the marker for the rest of their short relationship. Henry was unhappy from the outset and he was determined everyone else would be as well.

  6. It seems like Anne of Cleves was such a sweet lady. And undoubtedly intelligent.
    At least she was spared death. It would have been incredibly tragic for her to be put to death for no other reason that she displeased the King, & was unappealing to him. I wonder how things would have turned out had the two remained married and had children.

  7. It was not Anne who was naive it was the Lady Rochford who could not discern that Anne was talking tongue in cheek about her relationship with the King. If his complaint to Cromwell is to be taken literally he says that when he touched her he could feel she was no maid and therefore had not the heart to go any further. In other words Henry believed she was not a virgin.If he was correct then she could not have been as innocent as Lady Rochford believed.
    On Anne’s side was the fact that she had little choice in the matter of the marriage and the man she was bedded with was overweight, had a smelly ulcerated leg, and was hardly the most desirable partner a woman could wish for on her wedding night. Therefore the morning and evening kiss was quite sufficient for her.
    The fact that Henry could not get any of his subsequent wives pregnant suggests the lack of poweress lay with him at this time.

  8. Anna will get my vote as one smart lady any day of the week. She realised that honour and being the coverted Queen of England was not worth dying for and by accepting the terms offered she would not only be a very well off gentlewoman but would also avoid being sent back home and have the stigma of damaged goods attached. She also recognised how religion could dictate fate, the proof being her life long friendship with princess Mary, not bad for a lutherian princess.

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