July 9 – Anne of Cleves goes from wife to sister

On this day in history, 9th July 1540, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, went from being queen consort to being the king’s “right dear and right entirely beloved sister” following the annulment of their six-month marriage..

But why was their marriage annulled? How did Anne of Cleves react to the news? What happened to her and Henry VIII afterwards?

Let me explain in the video and transcript below…


On this day in Tudor history, 9th July 1540, the marriage of Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was declared null and void. They had been married just six months.

Convocation ruled that the marriage of forty-nine-year-old Henry VIII and twenty-four-year-old Anne of Cleves was found null on three different grounds:

  1. That there was already a precontract between Anne and the Duke of Lorraine, which was said to be a binding contract which could not be done.
  2. That it was unwillingly entered into, on Henry’s side anyway.
  3. And that it had never been consummated. It was claimed that the king had decided to postpone consummation until he was sure that the pre-contract had been discharged.

Convocation declared that both Henry and Anne were free to marry again if they so wished. Of course, the king had a new bride waiting in the wings, the 17/18-year-old Catherine Howard, and he would marry her on 28th July 1540. Anne, on the other hand, still considered herself married to the king and never remarried. When Catherine Howard fell in 1541 and was executed in 1542, Anne assumed that the king would return to her, but it was not meant to be.

The legal proceedings into the annulment had begun on 29th June 1540 and had involved investigations into Anne’s former pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine and Henry VIII’s claim that he had not had sexual relations with his bride. Sir John Wallop, Henry’s ambassador in France, was instructed to talk to the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Duke of Lorraine’s uncle, regarding the pre-contract, while Richard Pate was sent to inform Emperor Charles V of the proceedings.

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 about her relationship with the king and she had said:
“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?”

As Retha Warnicke points out in her book on the marriage, it seems 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 for her wedding night.

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. There, “the King’s letters of commission under the Great Seal addressed to the archbishops and clergy” were read, 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.”

Convocation was convinced that there were grounds for the annulment.

After their ruling, 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. VIII Subscribed: Your Majesty’s most humble sister and servant Anne, daughter of Cleves”.

On 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 4,000 pounds of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richmond, where you now lie, and the other at Bletchingley, 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.”

Anne responded favourably, thanking the king and giving him “a ring for a token”. 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.” How very sad!

Henry must have been relieved that his fourth wife was not going to cause him any trouble and Anne was rewarded for her submission by being granted Bletchingley Manor, Richmond Palace, a house in Lewes, the lease of Hever Castle, the former Boleyn family home, and various jewels, plate, hangings and furniture. She would also have precedence over all ladies in England, after the Queen and the King’s children.
Anne went on to have a good relationship with the king, spending New Year 1541 at Hampton Court Palace with him and Queen Catherine. She also had good relationships with his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward.

Anne died on 6th July 1557, having outlived the king, all his other wives and her stepson, Edward VI. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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