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

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