June 20 – Anne of Cleves gets cross about Henry VIII and Catherine Howard

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.

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One thought on “June 20 – Anne of Cleves gets cross about Henry VIII and Catherine Howard”
  1. Henry’s treatment of his fourth wife Anna from Cleves from the moment he first set eyes on her at their ill fated meeting was shameless and shoddy, he slandered her to his friends complaining of her evil smells and she was not at all how she was described to him, for Anna had been said to outshine a known beauty, Christina of Milan like the sun outshone the moon, it was Cromwell who had persuaded Henry to enter into the German alliance and apparently told Holbein to paint a very flattering picture of her, and looking at his portrait of Henry V111’s sixth queen he did indeed just do that, Anna’s facial features are soft with doe like eyes and her complexion is like warm ivory, but when the king met her he was aghast at how different she was to her portrait and his anger he took out on Cromwell who had instigated this unhappy affair, it was to be the beginning of his downfall and Anna was to go down in history as the queen whom Henry V111 disliked so much he refused to even consummate the marriage, their marriage was to be the shortest lived of them all, it could also be that the king knew it was easier to have a marriage annulled through non consummation, but as he informed his Secretary the night after the wedding he could not find it in his heart to go further, complain g of her slack breasts and belly, he told Cromwell to extricate himself from this legal loophole and the tricky lawyer had to find a way to free his master without earning the wrath of Cleves, he spent as much time as he could with Anna and enjoyed himself with the other ladies of the court and pursuing his own favourite pastimes, one of them was a very young girl a teenager who was the niece of the Duke of Norfolk, she was described as a very little girl, possibly she was no more than five feet and fair, her portraits show Catherine Howard to have large heavy lidded hazel eyes and auburn hair, she was vivacious and the king was enchanted by her, later he discovered to his detriment that she had enchanted many others and was not the virtuous miss he had been led to believe, but he spent as much time as he could with her with the support of her powerful family and poor Anna was abandoned and shunned, it was a low trick to play on her to inform her to leave the court because of the plague when there was none, and soon she came to hear rumours surrounding her husband and this young girl, she must have felt quite offended and of course like the wife is always the last to know, she complained to her ambassador and he soothed her that it did not mean much, it was just a mild love affair, in face it was much much more serious, for the king had fallen violently in love with this young girl which made his desire to end his marriage with Anna all the more urgent, Anna herself did not appear to share the same distaste for her errant husband that he had for her, her disappointment when her marriage was annulled in July the same year speaks volumes, and after Catherine’s execution she still hoped he might take her back, it was an insult to travel a long way to be queen of a country only to be rejected by her husband, and to be replaced by a young girl who was one of her own maids, to be asked to settle for second best, to be the kings own beloved sister, and Henry must still have been quite a magnificent specimen to behold with his jewelled clothes his great height, and the air of regal majesty he exuded, but he was nowhere near as splendid as in his youth, he was increasingly getting larger but maybe his hair was still auburn with just a few strands of grey in it, and he could be very charming when he wished, after Jane Seymours death he had searched for a bride overseas but was not unsurprisingly successful, his marital history made further brides wary to plight their troth with him, he had publicly executed one queen and the first had been treated most harshly, the third rumour said, had been ill used in childbed and so after the Duchess of Milan had rejected his offer, and Marie’s de Guise, a member of one of Frances noble families had also turned him down, it seemed Duke William of Cleves was the only one willing to have the king marry one of his sisters, however this match Cromwell was keen on for England needed an ally against France and Spain, and Henry looked at Holbein’s portrait was pleased and the wedding preparations went ahead, one can have sympathy for Anna from Cleves, and one wonders what did Henry V111 find so distasteful about his fourth wife? Looking at her many portraits she does not appear ugly, there are several in existence and one painted by her own countryman, we know Holbein’s was designed to flatter, but she was no where near as plain as Jane Seymour, and her other paintings show a similar looking woman, a pointed chin a retrousse nose but not over long, small mouth fine eyes and arched eyebrows, I feel it was a culture clash and her accent maybe, not softly spoken English but rather harsh as German is often prone to be, must have offended his ears, maybe her complexion was not clear and she had bad teeth, the king was very fussy about teeth and she was not skilled in dancing or courtly flattery either, the German court appears uncultured rather dull and stifling, unlike the courts of Burgundy France Savoy and England, Anna was raised by her mother to only know domestic duties, she embroidered but did not play cards even, all in all she was totally unprepared for the sophisticated English court where the men and ladies danced and wore elegant clothes, where courtly flattery was the order of the day, it was said the English ladies laughed at her strange German costume and in her portraits we can see how unflattering they were, there are several bands across the bodice and her headgear is strange, we have no idea of her hair colouring but her eyebrows appear quite dark, Henry as we know seemed to prefer his own countrywomen, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour was English, so were his fifth and sixth wives, his own father and grandfather had English brides and maybe he was just one of those men who preferred English women, it is very hard after all to have a relationship when there’s a language barrier, Anna apart from being very upset at losing her husband and the crown was also fearful of him, she asked one of her ladies if she displeased him would he have her killed? One wonders what the reply might have been, Henry’s generosity towards Anna however is proof that when one of his wife’s pleased him how grateful he could be, with his next marriage to the young and effervescent Catherine Howard, he seems to have rushed in with all the calf love of a young boy, not that of a mature man about to embark on his fifth marriage and it was to have disastrous consequences for all concerned.

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