On this day in history, New Year’s Day 1540, a very excited Henry VIII arrived at Rochester, where Anne of Cleves was resting before travelling to Greenwich, to surprise his bride-to-be. Henry loved chivalric traditions and wanted to follow the one where the groom meets his bride in disguise. According to the tradition, the love between them would be so strong that it would allow Anne to see right through his disguise and recognise him as her beloved husband-to-be. Unfortunately, nobody had told Anne of Cleves of this tradition and the meeting was a complete disaster.
On arrival at Rochester, Henry VIII ordered his attendant, Sir Anthony Browne, to tell Anne that they had brought her a New Year’s gift from the King. Browne told Anne and then Henry, in disguise, entered the room to show Anne the gift he’d brought her. Anne was rather distracted as she was watching bull-baiting out of the window so did not pay any attention to this man who seemed to be a lowly servant. Shocked at Anne’s disinterest, the amorous Henry pulled her towards him and attempted to kiss her. This overly familiar behaviour from a stranger shocked Anne and, of course, she did not respond to his advances or recognise him as her King and beloved husband-to-be. Henry’s dreams of true love were dashed and he was completely humiliated. No wonder he took an instant dislike to Anne!
You can read more about how the relationship developed, or rather didn’t develop, in my article “Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves”