November 1541 – Anne of Cleves Rumoured to Have Given Birth to the King’s Son

Anne of ClevesI had read before about rumours regarding Anne of Cleves having a child by Henry VIII, but I actually came across the primary sources for it while delving into Catherine Howard’s fall. In State Papers, in the section covering November 1541, there is a letter from the King’s Council, to Anthony Browne and Ralph Sadler regarding the investigations into Catherine Howard’s behaviour and in it is the following paragraph:

“We examyned, also, partily befor dyner and partily after, a newe matier, that the Lady Anne of Cleves shuld be delyvered of a fayr boye, and whose shuld it be but the Kinges Majestes, and gotten when she was at Hamptoncourte; whiche is a most abomynable slander, and for this tyme, and the case in ure, as we thinke most necessary to be met with all. This matier was told to Taverner, of the Signet, more than a fortnight a goo, bothe by his mother in lawe, Lambertes wief, the goldsmythe, and by Taverners oune wief, who saithe she hard it of Lilgraves wief, and Lambertes wief hard it, also, of thold Lady Carewe; Taverner kept it; and they, with others, have made it a common matier of talk, and never reveled it tyl Sonday night; at whiche tyme he told it Doctour Cox, to be further declared, if he thought good; who immediatly disclosed it to me, the Lord Privy Seale. We have committed Taverner to the custody of me, the Bishop of Winchester, and Lambertes wief, who seamethe to have been a dunse in it, to Mr the Chauncelour of th’Augmentacions.”

It is mentioned again in a letter from the Council with the King to the Council in London:

“Fynally, to the matier touching the Lady Anne of Cleves, His Majeste thinketh it requysite to have it groundely examyned, and further ordered by your discressions, as the nature and qualyte of the case requyreth; and semblably to enquyre diligentlie, whether the saide Lady Anne of Cleves hath, in dede, had any childe or no, as it is bruted; for His Majeste hathe ben infourmed that it is so in dede; in which parte His Majeste imputeth a grete defaulte in her officers, for not advertising His Highnes thereof, if it be trew.”

This is followed, on 9th December, with a letter from the Council in London to the Council with the King, reporting that Anne of Cleves’ officers and Dorothy Wingfield (of Anne’s privy chamber) had been sent for, Taverner and “Lylgraves widdow” (Richard Tavernor and Frances Lilgrave) had been committed to the Tower of London, and a “Jane Ratsey” had been taken into custody. Jane was described as “most sorrowfull” and the council reported that “more than she hath allredie confessed, we can nott gett of her.” The Council awaited further instructions from the King. On 10th December, the King gave instructions for Jane Ratsey to be released, judging “her wordes to procede of rather lightnes, then of anye malice.”

The matter seems to have then been dropped, although Archbishop Cranmer reported to the King on 13th December 1541 that the Ambassador of Cleves had visited him “to commende unto me the cause of the Lady Anne of Cleve”. Cranmer went on to explain that “the cause” was “the reconciliation of Your Majestie unto the Lady Anne of Cleve.” It was obviously assumed by Anne’s brother, and perhaps Anne herself, that Henry would go back to Anne seeing as his marriage to Catherine Howard was falling apart – interesting!

Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, also heard the rumours of Anne’s pregnancy and the arrests of those spreading them. He wrote to the Emperor on 11th December:

“Two honest citizens were imprisoned three days ago for having said, since the Queen’s misbehaviour was published, that the whole thing seemed a judgment of God, for the lady of Cleves was really the King’s wife, and that though the rumour had been purposely spread that the King had had no connection with her, the contrary might be asserted, as she was known to have gone away from London in the family way, and had been confined last summer,—a rumour which has been widely circulated.”

Of course, the stories were just rumours and there is no evidence that she gave birth to any children, never mind the King’s son.

On this day in history, 13th November…

  • 1537 – Burial of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, acted as chief mourner.
  • 1553 – Lady Jane Grey, her husband Guildford Dudley, his brothers Ambrose and Henry, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer were tried for treason at a public trial at London’s Guildhall. See The Trial of Lady Jane Grey.

Notes and Sources

  • State Papers: King Henry VIII; Parts I and II, Volume I (1831), p697, 701, 706, 709 and 716
  • LP xvi. 1441

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