On this day in Tudor history, 20th June 1540, five months into their marriage, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, got rather cross about her husband’s inappropriate behaviour.
Anne complained to her advisor about they king’s interest in one of her maids of honour, a certain Catherine Howard.
What exactly was going on and what happened next?
Find out more about the final weeks of the royal couple’s marriage in this video, or scroll down to the transcript.
On this day in Tudor history, 20th June 1540, Queen Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, complained to her advisor, Carl Harst, the Cleves ambassador, about her husband’s interest in one of her maids of honour, a certain Catherine Howard.
Harst tried to reassure the worried queen that it was just a “light romance” and that Anne and the king would soon be off on their summer progress, but Harst had actually known of the king’s interest in Catherine for months.
There were also rumours going around about the king wanting to divorce Anne. London merchant Richard Hilles recorded what he’d heard about the king, Anne and Catherine Howard in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger:
“Before St. John Baptist’s day [24th June] it was whispered the King intended to divorce his queen Anne, sister of the duke of Gelderland, whom he had married publicly at Epiphany after last Christmas. Courtiers first observed that he was much taken with another young lady, very small of stature, whom he now has, and whom he was seen crossing the Thames to visit, often in the day time and sometimes at night. The bishop. of Winchester provided feastings for them in his palace, but it was looked upon as a sign of adultery, not of divorce.”
On 22nd June, Harst was able to report that Anne was much happier, which historian Retha Warnicke puts down to Catherine Howard having left court. However, the queen’s happiness was to be very shortlived. On 24th June 1540, Anne reported to Harst that she was being sent away from court to Richmond Palace and that she’d be leaving the next day. It was said that she was being sent there to avoid the Plague and that the king would join her, but there was no plague and she never saw the king again as his wife.
On 7th July 1540, a convocation of clergy agreed that “the king and Anne of Cleves were no wise bound by the marriage solemnised between them”, and messengers were then sent to Anne to get her agreement to the annulment of the marriage. Anne must have been upset, for she believed herself to be the true queen, but she also feared what would happen if she resisted the king’s request. Anne wrote to the king confirming that she accepted the annulment and signing herself “Anne, the daughter of Cleves”, rather than “Anne, the Queen”. Henry must have been delighted and relieved with her submission, and he wrote back to her, addressing her as his “right dear and right entirely beloved sister”, thanking her and informing her that he was intending to endow her with £4000 per year and houses at Richmond and “Blechinglegh” (Bletchingley).
Anne was rewarded handsomely for her acceptance of the situation, also receiving jewels, plate, hangings, furniture, a house in Lewes and the lease of Hever Castle, the former Boleyn family home.
On 9th July 1540, Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was declared 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”. Less than three weeks after that, on 28th July 1540 Henry VIII married Catherine Howard.
Of course, Catherine fell in 1541, when it was found that she hadn’t been a virgin when she married the king and that she’d been having secret meetings at night with Thomas Culpeper. Anne hoped that the king would return to her, but he didn’t, and in 1543 he married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. Anne may have been unhappy with the end of her marriage, but she kept her head and also kept good relationships with the king and her stepchildren. Anne outlived the king and his other wives, dying in July 1557 at the age of 41.