9 July 1540 The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves

On 9th July 1540, convocation declared that Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves had never been legal married and that they were both free to remarry. The judgement is found in Letters and Papers:

“The clergy of both provinces have received the King’s commission (recited), dated Westm., 6 July 32 Hen. VIII. After mature deliberation, they have found the marriage 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. Westm., 9 July 1540.”1

The legal proceedings had begun on 29th June and had involved investigations into Anne of Cleves’ former pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine and Henry VIII’s claim that the marriage had never been consummated. Sir John Wallop, Henry’s ambassador in France, was instructed to talk to the Cardinal of Lorraine, uncle of the Duke, regarding the pre-contract, Richard Pate was sent to inform Emperor Charles V of the proceedings, Anne’s consent to an enquiry into the validity of her marriage was sought and a double convocation presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer met at the Chapter House of St Peter’s Church, Westminster, from 7th July. According to the records, convocation opened with Richard Gwent, Archdeacon of London, presenting “the King’s letters of commission under the Great Seal addressed to the archbishops and clergy, which were then read by Ant. Husey, notary public, in presence of Thos. Argall, notary public.”2 It was then agreed that the commission could go ahead and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, “explained the causes of the nullity of the marriage of the King and lady Anne of Cleves in a lucid speech.” Retha Warnicke3 lists the King’s reasons for an annulment as being:

  • The required documents to prove the invalidity of the Lorraine match had never been produced.
  • The King “had wed her reluctantly.”
  • Henry had decided to postpone consummation until he was sure that the pre-contract had been discharged.
  • Anne’s marriage to the Duke “was presumed to be per verba de presenti“, a binding contract which could not be done, as opposed to per verba de futuro.

The Countess of Rutland, Lady Rochford and Lady Edgecombe, all ladies of Anne’s privy chamber, were questioned about what Anne had said regarding her relationship with the King and they signed a deposition. Apparently, they had asked Anne if she may be pregnant and she had said to them:

“How can I be a maid… and sleep every night with the King?… When he comes to bed he kisses me, and takes me by the hand, and bids me, good night, sweet heart: and in the morning kisses me, and bids me farewell, darling. Is not this enough?”4

As Warnicke points out, it is unlikely that Anne would have been that ignorant about the birds and the bees when it was her duty to provide the King with a son, and her mother surely would have prepared her.

Whatever ‘evidence’ was collected during the inquiry, convocation ruled that the marriage was invalid and councillors were sent to visit Anne at Richmond on 11th July 1540 to obtain her agreement to the annulment. Anne gave them a written agreement, writing a letter to the King:

“Was told by divers of the Council of the doubts concerning their marriage, and how petition was made that the same might be examined by the clergy. Consented to this. Though the case must needs be hard and sorrowful, for the great love she bears to his most noble person; yet, having more regard to God and his truth than to any worldly affection, she accepts the judgment. Asks the King to take her as one of his most humble servants, and so to determine of her as she may sometimes have the fruition of his presence. The Lords and others of his Council now with her have put her in comfort thereof, and that the King will take her as his sister. Richmond, 11 July 32 Hen. VII Subscribed: Your Majesty’s most humble sister and servant Anne dochtter the Cleyffys.”5

On the 12th July, the same day that Parliament announced Anne’s agreement to the annulment, Henry VIII replied to his former wife:

“Right dear and right entirely beloved sister,” by the relation of the lord Master, lord Privy Seal and others of our Council lately addressed unto you we perceive the continuance of your conformity, which before was reported, and by your letters is eftsoons testified. We take your wise and honourable proceedings therein in most thankful part, as it is done in respect of God and his truth, and, continuing your conformity, you shall find us a perfect friend, content to repute you as our dearest sister. We shall, within five or six days, when our Parliament ends, determine your state after such honourable sort as you shall have good cause to be content, [we] minding to endow you with 4,000l. of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richemont where you now lie, and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London, that you may be near us and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you. When Parliament ends, we shall, in passing, see and speak with you, and you shall more largely see what a friend you and your friends have of us. Requires her to be “quiet and merry.” Westm., 12 July 32 Hen. VIII. “Thus subscribed, Your loving brother and friend, H.R.”6

Anne responded favourably, thanking the King and giving him “a ring for a token”.7 She later sent him “the ring delivered unto her at their pretensed marriage, desiring that it might be broken in pieces as a thing which she knew of no force or value.”8 The marriage was over and Anne was making it clear that she accepted that. Henry must have been relieved that his fourth wife was not going to cause him any trouble and Anne was rewarded for her submission, being granted Hever Castle (the former Boleyn family home), Bletchingley Manor, Richmond Palace, a house in Lewes and various jewels, plate, hangings and furniture.

On 28th July 1540, just nineteen days after his fourth marriage had been annulled, Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

You can read more about Anne of Cleves in the following articles:

Notes and Sources

  1. LP xv. 860
  2. Ibid.
  3. Warnicke, Retha M. (2000) The Marrying of Anne of Cleves, Cambridge University Press, p236
  4. Ibid., p234
  5. LP xv. 872
  6. Ibid., 925
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1553 – Mary (future Mary I) wrote to the Privy Council stating her claim to the throne and demanding their allegiance. Also the Duke of Northumberland officially informed Lady Jane Grey of Edward VI’s death in front of the Council and nobles, going on to explain the terms of Edward’s will which named Lady Jane Grey as the heir to the throne. Lady Jane Grey accepted that she was Queen. See 9th July 1553 – Mary Writes to the Privy Council and Lady Jane Grey is Informed that She is Queen

Related Post

21 thoughts on “9 July 1540 The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves”
  1. I wonder what madness took her when she was upset at Henry marrying Katherine Parr. She behaved with such dignity throughout the whole divorce, to be jealous of a woman who takes your place after the last one who took your place was executed seems a bit illogical to me.
    I love Anne of Cleves, she was a real survivor. Her life wasn’t easy after Henry died.

    1. Henry had previously insulted her looks, calling her a Flanders Mare. Then he went around and married Catherine Parr, a thirty year old widow who was no great beauty by that time. Catherine Howard might have been a little more acceptable. After all, she was young and beautiful. But seeing him marry Catherine Parr, especially since he specifically rejected a proposal to remarry Anne to do so, made her feel slighted. Also, she might have been less angry than snarky and a tad bit bitter. She was recorded as saying “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.”

      1. Henry made many insulting remarks about Anne of Cleves, mostly her body, but he didn’t call her a Flanders Mare. This was a seventeenth century myth for literary purposes.

  2. Far out, king henry had an excuse for anything he didn’t like in his life! -“Gee, I don’t like this, let me get rid of it somehow and make my servants come up with something that sounds good and decent so that the common people of England still like me”….

  3. Interesting, the reasons Retha Warnicke lists for Henry’s divorce petition, yet seems to omit the one most important to Henry, his “inability” to consummate the marriage because he “could not.” Translation: he was so repulsed by Anne that he was unable to make love to his wife.

    Or was that reason common knowledge, and Henry too much of a “gentleman” to bring it up during the divorce proceedings?

    For someone who was so steeped in chivalry, and the traditions of romantic love, Henry sure was a pig to his women – wives, mistresses, sisters, daughters – wasn’t he?

    1. HE was repulsed by Anne of Cleves??? Didn’t henry have a mirror back in the day?? he was no stud (well, not by the time he married Anne of Cleves because of his knee injury)…..I personally feel sorry for Anne of Cleves having to sleep with that monstrosity – thank God for her rescue far away from him 🙂

  4. I’m no fan of Henry, but I expect in his own (twisted mind) he was asking only one small thing from each of his wives: a son. Jane Seymour gave him one, but all the others disappointed him. Was that so much to ask for. A son to carry on the dynasty? If you are so focused on that one thing, and women continuously enter into a relationship knowing what is expected of them, and then they repeatedly deny him that one thing he requires. Well . . . what’s a man to do?

    I don’t say I agree with him, but I’ve know enough selfish, self-centered people to know that is how some of them think. Usually their sentences start out ‘all I wanted was . . .’ whatever, and because it wasn’t forthcoming, they feel justified in whatever unacceptable behavior they engage in from that point. They’ve been cheated, so it’s okay to act like a jerk.

    My 2 cents.

    1. I agree with Kilian – this is a typical psychopathic/narcissistic way of thinking – there are dangerous men in this world who honestly treat women as a ‘commodity’ – if the women of these evil men’s lives (wives/intimate girlfriends) are an inconvenience (in this scenario king henry thinks his wives were an ‘inconvenience’ because they (?) were unable to produce a son, yes) then they are ‘erased’ and replaced….it’s quite sickening, but true unfortunately – some very sick evil men still do this to this day as we know from the news now and again, but thank God they are not kings that we have to listen to and be scared of as a society anymore and as a result they are quickly punished!

        1. His need for a son had nothing to do with evil or madness, but being a man and a King of the sixteenth century raised to believe the same as most people, male and female, that women didn’t have the intellectual capacity to rule, without a man and were few people believed a woman could rule. We can’t judge the sixteenth century by modern ideas or psychology, especially as there are numerous explanations for Henry Viii, most of them unproven, if interesting and many are physical, not psychological. It is not evil to need a son and heir.

    2. Things happen nobody is perfect but that still does not give that person he she or whoever they maybe to treat a person in such a way manner! Does one think that this is justified?

  5. …i would like to add if you have not been to westminster abbey before now then when you do check out Annes tomb its on the high altar,difficult to see unless its pointed out though.

  6. I do think Anne of Cleves was on of the lucky ones–she got a good deal and she didn’t have to actually have relations with a middle-aged, smelly, tubby man, a tyrant to boot! So, she was wise, perhaps the wisest of his wives.

  7. Certainly the LUCKY one ! She managed to have a decent life after her marriage was provee null – and void – she was not beheaded – she did not have to sleep with the King – she got herself a nice place to live – very smart i should think she was –

  8. It is interesting that the judgment on the divorce states, that “the lady Anne (is) free to marry.” when one of the reasons given for the divorce or annulment was the precontract with the duke of Lorraine. So… she could not marry Henry, but she could marry someone else? Interesting. The duke, Francois of Lorraine was still unmarried when Henry divorced Anne of Cleves, so that cannot have been the reasoning behind the statement that she was free to marry. He did not marry Christine of Milan and Denmark-Norway (the one who supposedly had refused Henry with the words “If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England’s disposal”) until July 1541.
    And yes, Anne seems the lucky one of Henrys wives.

    1. I think they just meant that her marriage to Henry, which was no null and void, was not an obstacle to her marrying again. The pre-contract could be undone.

  9. Anne of Cleves was shrewd to accept the offer of Henry’s generosity and to consent to the annulment, although to be honest she didn’t have any choice and wasn’t even represented at Convocation. However, she didn’t have a lucky escape either. Anna wanted to remain as Henry’s wife, she wasn’t mistreated by him, there is no real independent evidence that he didn’t like her personally or that he found a problem with her looks or anything else from their first meeting. All we have is what Cromwell put together at the orders of the Council and King written in June and July 1540 in order to justify ending this marriage. The German accounts vary widely from those written on the Kings orders, his Council and those of his courtiers who supported his claims. The truth is, Anna was highly valued as a bride in January 1540 and that had changed by the Summer because of the political situation in her homeland. England was in real danger of being drawn into the escalating tensions between Cleves and Charles V over Gelders and the Ambassadors reports are of interest here because we can see them reporting to Henry the progress being made towards a potential war and warnings to Henry not to get involved. Anna must have become aware of the crisis at some point and her decision was to remain in England where she was comfortable and to avoid being taken hostage as she returned home via the Empire.

    The decline in the relations between Cleves and the Empire, England’s commitment to the Duchy and Henry’s capacity for wavering all contributed to lowering the added value Anna brought as a bride. By May 1540 it was becoming clear that Henry’s inability or unwillingness to consummate this marriage had been heightened by the political situation in Europe. It wasn’t Anna who was undesirable as a bride, it was the alliance with Cleves which was no longer desirable. Henry had also began to hotly pursue a lovely seventeen year old noble woman in his wife’s service, the representative of the powerful Howard family, petite Kathryn Howard. Anna appears to have become aware of Henry’s visits to her home across the river and expressed disappointment. However, she herself was committed to the marriage and wasn’t happy about ending her tenure as Queen. She complied and received a generous settlement but the marriage had great potential as a political and personal union. The failure of Henry’s fourth marriage are varied but it certainly had nothing to do with the looks, smell, body or personality of Anna of Cleves. The reason cited was that Henry was unwilling and so did not consent, which is probably a load of rubbish and the none consummation of the union as well as Anna being previously promised to the Duke of Lorraine. The union with Lorraine was most certainly broken off, but the case to Convocation claimed it was not a breakable contract. This made Henry’s marriage to Anna invalid. A series of totally invented statements were also taken from various ladies and Cromwell and Anthony Browne and Suffolk to back up claims that Henry was unable to consummate the marriage, Anna didn’t know what to do and didn’t have a maiden body. Despite all of these insulting statements, yet Anna was very gracious and was pleased to do the bidding of the King as her Lord. Had the marriage been more successful, it would have been one of the best matches England has made. Henry wasn’t in any way making any threats to Anna, her life was never in danger, there was less of a demand for sons than with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, although more would be hoped for and there is no evidence Henry was cruel to her. Anna believed herself to be a true wife to King Henry Viii for the rest of her life. Both partners were, however, desirous of making a clean break as the alliance was no longer viable. Henry was desperate to get out of the marriage and Anna wise enough to see that her only way forward with her dignity in tact, the only way to prosper with a good future was to make the best of it and accept. That is the mark of an intelligent noble and shrewd Princess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *