Was Anne of Cleves ugly?

No, there is no evidence to back that up. Here is an extract from an article I wrote on this (see http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/8390/anne-of-cleves-flanders-mare/):

Although Anne of Cleves has gone down in history as the Flanders Mare, the wife who was ugly and looked like a horse, it is only Henry VIII who seems to have considered her ugly. In January 1539, Henry VIII sent Christopher Mont, a member of Thomas Cromwell’s household, as ambassador to Germany to discuss a possible marriage between the Princess Mary and William, Anne of Cleves’ brother, and to “inquere of the beautie and qualities of the lady eldest of booth doughters to the duke of Cleves, as well what stature, proportion and complexion she is of as of her lerning actyvitie, bihauiour and honest qualities”. Mont reported back that “everyone praises the lady’s beauty, both of face and body. One said that she excelled the Duchess [of Milan] as the golden sun did the silver moon”, although he was going on hearsay as he had not seen Anne himself.

In March 1539, Henry sent ambassadors to Cleves to get further reports on Anne and to get a portrait of Anne but the ambassadors encountered difficulties as Anne and her sister kept their faces covered. In the summer of 1539, Henry sent his court painter, Hans Holbein, to Cleves to paint Anne and her younger sister. When the leading English ambassador, Nicholas Wotton, saw Holbein’s portraits of the sisters, he declared that the artist “hathe expressyd theyr imaiges verye lyvelye” and that others also considered the portraits a good likeness of the young women. Although we do not know what Henry thought of Anne from her portrait, we have to conclude that he liked what he saw as he continued with negotiations. Why then did the King take an instant dislike to his bride-to-be when he first encountered her at Rochester on New Year’s Day 1540? Why did he adamantly declare “I like her not”?

In my opinion, Henry was humiliated and embarrassed by their first meeting, which had been a complete disaster. Always the romantic, Henry had decided to surprise Anne by disguising himself in the great chivalric tradition and intercepting her on her way to London. According to this tradition, the would-be bride would see through the disguise, fall in love at first sight and swoon into her beloved’s arms, it would be the perfect first date and they would both live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Anne knew nothing of this tradition, did not recognise Henry and was shocked and scared by this monstrous man who tried to embrace her and take such liberties with her. She acted in an entirely proper way but she failed to recognise Henry for who he was and failed to react in the way that Henry had anticipated. We don’t know whether Anne lived up to her portrait, but I think it was her reaction to Henry which sealed her fate. If she had been ugly then why did nobody else notice and why did Holbein risk painting her the way he did? Of course, it could be that Anne with her tall stature, her rather long nose and heavy lidded eyes was just very different to Henry’s previous wives, perhaps she just wasn’t Henry’s type?

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53 thoughts on “Was Anne of Cleves ugly?”

  1. Leandra says:

    I read something on this matter I found to be intriguing in Antonia Fraiser’s biography:’The Six Wives of Henry VIII’.
    I’m referring to a part that describes a jealous Anne of Cleves staring at Catherine Parr and saying something like “She is not nearly as pretty as me!” And the opinionated Chapuys apparently overheard Anne and felt no need to comment!

  2. Lilac says:

    she’s beautiful ,the truth has been proved by the descriptions of royal ambassador Eustac and the French ambassador ….Henry did not like her because she is the less literate of his other wives,and the first meeting between them is a disaster for the ego of Henry,and her outfit is also considered terrible.Some sources are dealt with her funeral clothes (her father died)

    1. sadaf says:

      No Lilac i read that she was very ugly but all of the painters painted her as a beautiful lady bcs when she came angry when a painter painted her ugly.

      1. Eileen Agnew says:

        I find it very hard to believe that a man such as Hans Holbein the Younger (who valued his life no doubt as much as the next man) would risk painting an image that was a lie. Henry was a man that would execute the highest noble at the drop of a hat. Do you think a mere painter would mean anything to him? And yet he survived!! No Anne of Cleves inadvertently humiliated the biggest ego in the land at the time of their first meeting and he never forgave her for it! Someone had to pay the price and it was not going to be Henry. so it was Cromwell instead!! No Holbein painted exactly what he saw. If Cromwell has wanted a lie to be painted Holbein would have told him where to get off.

      2. Hayley James says:

        I agree with Eileen. An artist of Holbein’s stature had a reputation for producing perfect likenesses and it would have been against all his professional instincts to deliberately produce a lie.

        The more I read of Anne of Cleves, the more I am of the opinion that she simply lacked good old fashioned sex appeal. The odds were stacked against Henry finding her attractive when you think about it. Firstly, the Germanic style of dress was chunky and unflattering compared to the french influenced fashions of Henry’s court. Anne had few if any social accomplishments ,( talents such as singing, dancing, musical / poetic skills, etc which were considered necessary attributes in court ladies) and her harsh gutteral accent would have dealt the final blow to her femininity. She was considered attractive enough by others who beheld her, the poor woman just wasn’t fanciable!

        1. The famous Miss X says:

          Lol, how do you know that her words sounded guttural? Plenty of German women have married! And the dress did not look at all chunky. He perhaps seemed to go for The English body prototype of tall willowy and flat, and Anne was more curvaceous, which is the natural design of an adult woman’s body.

      3. Tyrone Kracht says:

        That was Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I

    2. Lauralee Henshall says:

      Catherine Howard was not smart at all! She could barely read English Odis not other languages ! So that is false! Henry the Viiii was an idiot

      1. Elizabeth Garcia says:

        Well, that is not because she wasn’t smart, but because she had a very incomplete education. She lacked all these skills because she hadn’t had the opportunity to learn them.

      2. Angela says:

        Of course Henry 8 was a idiot.

    3. Ben shwarts says:

      She was not really that attractive the most beautiful part about Anne of Cleve’s was her eyes but she was a loud mouth and a skinny ugly women like her mom, she was painted like a beautiful queen but the truth is Thomas Cromwell knew this would be a good marriage because Anne of Cleve’s had a powerful protasant brother but when Henry saw Anne in person she was not that pretty and divorced Anne and beheaded Thomas Cromwell for a ugly wife.

  3. Karine says:

    I think Anne is very beautiful. Henry’s lieing…

    1. Kay says:

      Karine,
      Have you ever heard of a beautiful woman being called ugly? I have all too often heard men especially call a pretty woman ugly based off of the encounter with the female. The woman may outwardly express their disinterest in the man, upsetting them to a point of disgust. Some woman are natural snobs and this is looked at as ugly, because their behavior is ugly. Also there were things that were repulsive about the king to Anne. He began to get fat, his leg was infected and smelly, he was arrogant and scary- he had 1 wife beheaded and another he was suspected of poisoning.

      1. Dana Trudeau says:

        You got it dear! As a long time psychotherapist and long lived woman I have observed much social behavior and even when I point out the obvious beauty of a lovely new star, even my husband will declare I heard she’s selfish and arrogant… she’s ugly! …. I don’t find her appealing at all! You are truly beautiful!….. nice to hear but at 61 I am not the pretty thing I may have bee at 20…. it’s all about demeanor and presentation…. impression I’ll say…. same for women with men…. he may be handsome but if he’s nervous and nerdy he’s often a no go… next time look again! He may be brilliant fun and passionate! Now that’s a good pick!

      2. Ben Schwartz says:

        Umm he actually had 2 wives beheaded Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard ad he was once handsome

        1. Alaia says:

          not by the time he married anne of cleves

  4. Diana says:

    Could it be that she was very beautiful but that without her clothes on, he didn’t like the look of her naked body? He seems to have been very superficial a person and women come in all kinds of contours and with any number of bodily details — flat butt, round butt, flat breasts, round breasts, “long” breasts, round bellies, thick thighs, narrow thighs, dimply thighs, etc. etc. I wonder if it was her body flaws uncovered by clothing that turned him off.

    1. Lynn Sabin says:

      Don’t jump to conclusions that Anne was necessarily ugly by today’s standards. It’s entirely feasible that she was tall, trim, and well toned, which would have made her quite different than the more well-rounded women of Henry’s court. The definition of beauty has been a moving target for millennia.

      1. Margaret Walker says:

        Anne Boleyn wasn’t well rounded!! He took against Anne of Cleve’s because she humiliated him..nothing more!! If you look at the portraits of his wives it was actually Anne Boleyn and her cousin Katherine Howard who were the most unattractive yet are always portrayed as stunning

    2. Mike says:

      Perhaps, but Henry was supposedly repulsed at the first sight of her, and she was certainly clothed at the time!

  5. shelby says:

    Henry was ugly. I don’t know of any of you all noticed that. The only thing he had going for him was that he was royalty, because if it weren’t for that he would have never found a wife.

    1. Ben Schwartz’s says:

      He was not always ugly when he married Catherine of Aragon he was rather hadsome

  6. bruno says:

    First of all, I beg you all to excuse my bad english (I’m french) . I – like most of you, I can guess – happened to watch Anne’s portrait by Holbein and I have to admit that she was definitely no beauty at all ! At the same time, Holbein painted the princess of Denmark (niece to the emperor) and the young lady was obviously far more attractive, with her regular (if somewhat childish) features . Anne of Cleves was only twenty-three at the time, but looks like an old heavily-boned peasant, despite her rich clothes . Yes, I know,you can’t tell then why King H was so disappointed (not to say shocked) when seeing her for real . One can imagine that he was impressed by the (local) reputation of beauty, rather than the portrait . However, according to the king himself, the official painter had much flattered his model in this case. No, I don’t agree with Eileen Agnew, the king had no interest (and not even the power) to punish an international painter such as Hans Holbein (even if he happened to favour the wedding of a german princess, whose family could need his services : you have to remember that he used to work for european, and especially german, courts!). In my opinion, all that has to do with legends surrounding princesses, whose beauty can happen to be just a commonplace (or, in other terms, a lie, but necessary to get them married) . I could generalize about it, but, to keep being factual, the Cleves were an ambitious protestant family, whose elder daughter had already made a brilliant match by marrying the duke of Saxony (her own fame, based on her so-to-say beauty, was clearly over-rated when looking at her portraits, for instance by Cranach!) . We can find in the official portraits of the sisters identical features (irregular and not fine),and the same large nose , even if the younger (of three), Amalie seemed to show a darker complexion than her two elder sisters .

    1. sara says:

      Anne was not Protestant and was buried a Catholic.

      1. amber says:

        Ann was a very big protestant. I was just reading about her.

    2. Lara Maria says:

      I’m inclined to believe she was no extraordinary beauty (or perhaps she wasn’t considered beautiful to English standards) but I doubt she was ugly. If we think about it, even today, people are obsessed with youth and often link being beautiful to being young, so if she had a more severe face and looked older than she was, and considering she didn’t have much knowledge of music -something Henry loved- and was reported as being more serious and reserved, then it was a combination of things. Also, sometimes we look to someone’s picture and think “what a beautiful person” but when we met them, there’s no chemistry… But I think that if Holbein had lied to Henry, he would have been beheaded…

  7. Erin says:

    I just believe that everyone is beautiful : Anne probably did look different in her portrait because she would have asked the artist to paint her beautifully or the artist would have just painted her to look beautiful. Based on Henry VIII thoughts , he would have thought she was ugly even though , after that he treated her like a sister. But no-one truly knows , so I believe we should just think what we believe.

  8. Nancy L says:

    It is impossible for us to judge because what counts for beauty today is far different from what was considered beautiful in the 1500’s. Henry would like ly consider one of our super models to be unhealthily thin and too angular in her features. And I’ve read that in that time period too look well nourished and healthy, fair of skin( not spray tanned),and strong was highly coveted.

  9. Cynthia Fabian says:

    Beauty standards have definitely changed but I don’t think that is the reason he rejected her. I found this article to be most insightful and if wagering, would bet on the information and stories put forth by the extract from the writer’s article. If the wives of Henry VIII is searched on Google, at the top it shows portraits of all of his queens. None look much, if at all prettier than Anne, and many, in fact look far less so. Maybe it’s the chosen paintings at the top of the google page, but I don’t think she is ugly at all, especially as compared to those paintings shown of the other queens. I still don’t think it was her appearance, regardless. Lots of historians, history buffs, and others say the rumors only survive because Henry VIII said he didn’t like her look. They say different reasons, political etc, but that the main reason was that the first meeting, a surprise to her, went badly and that the king was embarrassed. Men seem to attack a woman’s beauty when their egos are bruised because for women, historically and now, they are most judged on how beautiful they are. I also notice it is almost all men in the comments that say they still think she had to have been “ugly” and women who support the information in the article, and that of historians. Very interesting…

  10. faolan says:

    I read somewhere she had rotten teeth. But, by then, Henry was no oil painting! And apparently, the leg ulcer stank.

    1. Leia says:

      You’re aware that rotten teeth was very common back then? Elizabeth I was well known to have rotten teeth as well.

    2. Ben Schwartz says:

      Ummmm just saying Anne had more rotten teeth then Henry

  11. meanw says:

    The fact that Holbein continued to be favored by Henry VIII after he painted Anne of Cleves’ portrait shows that it must have been accurate. If it had been wildly flattering, as some historians have suggested, surely he would have, at best, banished him from Court and at worst put him to death. Holbein doesn’t generally flatter, as his portrait of Jane Seymour illustrates.

  12. MARIE LYNAGH says:

    OLD HENRY NO GREAT CATCH WITH SYPHYLIS AND THAT STINKY LEG

    1. Claire says:

      There’s no evidence at all that he had syphilis. We have his medical expenses and he was not treated with mercury, the treatment of the time, and he didn’t have the symptoms of syphilis.

  13. Steve George says:

    There were many reasons why the match with Anne failed.

    1. Foremost, the article is correct in that Henry’s surprise meeting with Anne was an embarrassing fiasco, and that was the nail in the coffin. Henry’s ego was too large and too fragile to tolerate that.
    2. Henry was looking for a political alliance with the German States, which was no longer necessary by the time Anne arrived in England, so she was merely no longer needed.
    3. While Anne may, in fact, have been a knockout, that may not have applied to English court standards of the time. With her long nose, high cheekbones, and heavy-lidded eyes, she would make a great runway model today, and she may have been considered beautiful by continental observers, but that’s just not what Henry was used to seeing. As far as Hans Holbein’s portrait goes, portrait painters painted their subjects with nearly photographic accuracy, because their livelihood depended upon it. No doubt the portrait was accurate.
    4. Henry, in his usual capricious fashion, had probably already begun turning his attentions elsewhere, to other ladies who were already known to him at court and were far more accessible even before Anne’s arrival.
    5. German standards of dress, hygiene, and general behavior were quite different than in England, and other prominent countries during the Renaissance, such as Italy, Spain, and France, and diplomats from those countries were in and out of court on a regular basis, but the various small duchies of Germany at the time were more of a cultural backwater. So even if she were, in fact, attractive, she and her attendants could well have been a bit too rough and uncouth for Henry’s taste.

    So, I don’t think it’s that she was physically unattractive, because if that were the case no match would dared have been made to begin with. Various factors were at play, but that disastrous initial meeting was certainly most important.

    1. sara says:

      Henry chose his first three wives,he didn’t have to marry KOA he chose to,he chased Anne and settled for Jane. Anne of Cleves was the first diplomatic marriage that was not completely his choice.He relied on reports and portraits and his first actual encounter was a complete disaster.He got to know Anne and respected her,however married two more women that he personally chose. Henry was a control freak and in my opinion a total shit but I kind of get him wanting to choose his own wife, especially as he had done so previously, and when he went down the advisory route it all went tits up or saggy tits down if his words are to be believed!

    2. Banditqueen says:

      The United Duchies of Cleves Berg Jullich were far from cultural backwaters and were influenced by the high culture of Burgundy. It was strategically important and one of the richest Courts in Europe. It may not have been as advanced as Italy or Spain but there is no evidence for them being backward on standards of hygiene or anything else. Fashion was heavy but no less fine or beautiful and although England may have thought they were, Anna adopted our Court dress so her dress had nothing to do with the annulment.

    3. The archbishop of Canterbury friend says:

      5. Steve,is an ignorant comment, meaning misinformed. Did you know GERMANY , the Teutonic tribes, FOUNDED ENGLAND? They discovered England, and the British are at least 20 to 25% German blood! Secondly, Germany’s ‘roughness’, as you wrote, is displayed 1000 fold in England. If by that you mean abrupt and brusque, yes, as someone who is part German I can say that is true. If he truly felt that way about Germany, he never would have looked there for a wife! As far as hygiene, you can’t seriously think England was going around taking baths, do you? They only bathed once a month and, Germany excelling at everything, I am sure bathed more often! The hygiene in England was terrible; the streets ran with fecal matter, and you can look up the history of that .

  14. Angie says:

    Why did the brother cover their faces if they weren’t ugly? Was it part of their tradition to cover their faces from suitors?

    1. Chris says:

      yes that’s exactly what it was. Much as Katherine of Aragon had done so 40 years before.

  15. Diana Rainey says:

    I am certain all of his wives were quite attractive , and none would have been put infront of him if thought to be not so. Granted there sometimes was the need for political gain, but in the end, that caused the problems. And beauty is always in the eye of the beholder is it not? And Kings have the most discriminating of tastes! I have heard rumors that all were lovely and all plain, just depends on what source you look upon. Henry was handsome in his youth but forgot how he looked later. But a Kings appetite for life still ruled.

  16. Angelina says:

    Having studied the Tudors for my masters I came to some startling facts
    Henry liked very slim, toned and small breasted women.
    German women at this time were more rotund, like a real woman!
    His ego had taken a huge knock when she failed to recognise him, remember the chivalric code which he belied, stated his true love would see through any disguise and fall into his arms.
    Tudor court was a vile, gossipy place which loved the misfortune of others, Henry hated being the topic of gossip.
    And lastly the way she dressed was embarrassing for Henry, the French had influenced ladies fashions and now we have a woman dressing in old fashioned type dress poor Anne.

  17. Chris says:

    One very important fact not mentioned and which Antonia Fraser discusses in her book on the six wives is that this wife was the only wife Henry did not know. All of his other 5 wives he had known from court or growing up. Their attraction to him grew at varying degrees. Instead whether Anne was ugly or beautiful is irrelevant. This was a wife he was supposed to love based on a treaty. Not on his heart and as we know Henry was absurdly romantic. He had no familiarity with her. Hence why it was a disaster and the fact she had none of the accomplishments he so admired made the deal even harder to broker

  18. amber says:

    Ann of Cleaves was a protestant . How eve she died during Marry was queen and marry was anti protestant and would had buried Ann as a catholic because during Marries rein protestant was illegal.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Anna of Cleves wasn’t a Protestant, contrary to popular myth. She was a traditional Catholic, as shown by Elizabeth Norton and Heather R Darsie, her biographers. She had no problems conforming to accept Henry’s adaptation of the Catholic Faith and was not in any danger from any of the Tudors. She was actually close to Henry’s children, remained friends with Princess Mary, was buried as a Catholic by choice and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

  19. I don’t know if Princess Anna of Cleves was pretty or not, but she
    was smart enough to accept the annulment of her marriage. She
    had shelter, clothing, food, and money. She was better off than
    5 of Henry’s wives. Henry VIII brought her to England. Very bad way
    to meet a lady like he did. He should have found him another lady
    at court like Katherine Parr. She could have been beheaded or burnt
    at the stake.

    Princess Anna had on rights. If she had returned home, she would
    had been on the marriage market again, and subject to her younger
    brother, Duke William.

  20. Banditqueen says:

    Anne of Cleves was not unattractive and I really don’t understand why people still accept that she was when the only source for anything being wrong with Anna is Henry Viii and his friends who were giving evidence to support his annulment, six months afterwards. Henry liked her well enough after his annulment and visited her often. Many other reports say she was fair and gracious and she was considered to be attractive. It wasn’t considered done for ladies to learn dancing and music but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have exposure to culture or poetry and she soon became musical afterwards. Anna would have been a good Queen and was upset when she had to accept the annulment. However, she became a lady of leisure on good terms with Henry and his family and was very well respected. Ideas of any lack of education are ridiculous.

  21. I think Princess Anna of Cleves was attractive.
    The Old Goat, Henry VIII had several Ladies
    at his court who could have married. Jane
    Seymour had been his first two wives Lady
    in waiting.

    If the old goat wanted another wife, why didn’t
    he marry a woman from his court.

    The old goat dumped Princess Anna of Cleves
    after 6 months for a teenage young lady, who
    didn’t know the first thing about being a wife.

    Anna got a bargin in the end. She may not
    have been crowned, but she had money, clothing, food, and shelter. The old goat had a
    Good wife. He just dumped her for a foolish
    young lady who he late executed for almost
    the same Charges as his 2nd wife.

    Anna may have been dumped, by she didn’t
    go empty handed.

  22. Madeline says:

    I read that she was beautiful, but did not understand his humor. This led to him disliking her from their meeting her. Most of his wives had endless patience and constantly massaged his ego. Anne had been warned about many things about Henry. However the English sense of humour was not one of those things. Henry dressed up as Robin Hood, bursting in with his male courtiers, sweeping over to her and kissing her. Anne was shocked and asked for the man to be removed from her presence. However she was payed off generously for a divorce, and never married agan.

  23. Violette Noziere says:

    The available evidence indicates Anne was a fine~looking woman. Aside from the portrait, there are the stacks of comments from.thise who accompanied her to Henry. Lord Lisle spent a lot of time with her, and praised her highly. Nobody saud anything about her being ugly, let alone so ugly she would render a long impote…and if she had “very evil smells about her”, then the ambassadors would have mentioned this.
    Note that after Henry met her, he said that he had been lied to, “she is nothing fair” and that she didn’t look like “all the reports” he’d been given. He been so anxiously awaiting her, he’d done his romantic act: is it feasible that all these lords would have misreported, or not noticed evil smells?
    And Cromwell : how likely is it that he wouldn’t have had people personally reporting to him? This was his grand strategy, Henry HAD to like her, she cannot be delivered so hideous and foul the king can’t even consummate !
    No, it doesn’t add up.
    What DOES add up is the devastating blow Henry got when Anne ignored him at the disastrous first meeting. He saw himself as the hero of romance he used to be: a fantastically handsome man, tall, stalwart, red~gold hair, champion jouster, poet, composer, England’s golden king. Women threw themselves at him, all but Anne Boleyn, and she was all”oh how you arouse me…but no, no, I can’t” .
    Anne of Cleves held up a mirror, as it were, and Henry saw he was fat and old, and it is devastating for a person feted for beauty to lose it. It was his duty to consummate that marriage but he was so wounded he couldn’t do it.
    He is a man. And hurt men lash out. Look at Anne herself : called all those names, but she handled it…Henry couldn’t take it. I’m amazed he didn’t kill her, really…if Catherine Howard hadn’t happened along to flirt him back to self~love, I think Anne might have been in real danger.
    Finally, nobody ever seems to realize what a loss Anne was, what a fine queen she’d have been….except for the English people if the time, who deeply regretted the divorce, finding her kindly and humane….again, if she’d been ugly, would they have loved her so? People love beauty. Anne was working hard at becoming an Englishwoman and at queenship. She was regal, clearly intelligent and practical….we lost a great queen in Anne, for a fat old man’s inability to conquer his vanity.

  24. Violette Noziere says:

    Sorry, that should have been, “nobody said she was ugly, let alone so ugly she’d render a king impotent “

  25. Miss kitty says:

    Hi
    I don’t think she was ugly but he must have had a bad first impression
    It wasn’t her fault they didn’t follow the chivalric tradition in Germany
    He was very silly should have sent her away for a bit and then tried again she could have given him an heir she was very lucky to not to have had her head chopped off I don’t think he entirely let her off the hook as he had her investigated as they suspected she had a child her servants said it was just a visitor’s child not the queen’s bit I think she could have had a child

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