The Death of Anne of Cleves

Jul16,2010 #Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves 1875 Engraving

On this day in history, the 16th July 1557 (some sources say the 15th), Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves died at her home, Chelsea Old Manor, the former home of Catherine Parr. She was only 41 but she was the last surviving wife of Henry VIII and had survived marriage to the King known for beheading two of his wives.

Anne of Cleves had been ill for a few months but by the 12th July she was bedridden and drafting her will. Elizabeth Norton writes of how her will “demonstrates her kindness and the fondness which she felt for her household”, because she left money to her ladies , gentlemen, yeomen, grooms and the children of the house, listing every member of her household by name, and also asked her step-daughter, Mary I, to make sure that the rents received from her lands at Michaelmas, would be used to meet the expenses of her household. Anne also bequeathed jewellery to her family, a ring to Catherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, another ring to the Countess of Arundel and jewels to her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth. In recompense for these jewels, she asked Mary to make sure that her servants were rewarded for their long service to her and she asked Elizabeth to take one of her maids into service.

Anne was no longer queen of England but her friend and stepdaughter, Mary I, made sure that she had the appropriate funeral for a woman of her status. Before her funeral, her coffin was covered with cloth-of-gold and surrounded by tapers which were burned day and night. Diarist Henry Machyn recorded that on the 3rd August 1557 Anne of Cleves was taken from Chelsea to Westminster to be buried:-

“The iij day of August my lade Anne of Cleyff, sumtyme wyff unto kyng Henry the viijth cam from Chelsey to be [buried] unto Westmynster, with all the chylderyn of Westmynster and [many] prest [priests] and clarkes, and then the gray ames [amice] of Powlles and iij crosses, and the monkes of Westmynster, and my lord bysshope of Lo[ndon] and my lord abbott of Westmynster rod together next the monkes, and then the ij sekturs [executors] ser Edmond Peckham and ser (Robert) Freston, cofferer to the quen of England; and then my lord admerall, my (lord) Darce of Essex, and mony knyghts and gentyllmen; and a-for her servandes, and after her baner of armes; and then her gentyllmen and here hed offesers; and then here charett with viij baners of armes of dyvers armes, and iiij baners of emages of whytt taffata, wroght with fyne gold and her armes; and so by sant James, and so to Charyingcrosse, with a C. torchys bornyng, her servandes beyrying them, and the xij bed-men of Westmynster had new blake gownes; and they had xij torchys bornyng, and iiij whyt branchys with armes; and then ladies and gentyll-women all in blake, and horsses; and a viij haroldes of armes in blake, and ther horses; and armes sad [set] a-bowt the herse behynd and be-for; and iiij haroldes barying the iiij whyt baners; and at (the) chyrche dore all dyd a-lyght and ther dyd reseyvyd the good lade my lord of London and my lord abbott in ther myteres and copes, sensyng her, and ther men dyd bere her with a canepe of blake welvett, with iiij blake stayffes, and so browth in-to the herse and ther tared durge, and so ther all nyght with lyght bornyng.”

Then, on the 4th of August, Machyn recorded that there was a requiem mass for “my lady prenses of Cleyff” with a “godly sermon” by the Lord Abbot of Westminster. Her coffin was then taken to her tomb and her body interred with the cloth-of-gold laid over her. Then, her head officers broke their staves and her ushers broke their rods and cast them into her tomb. After another mass, there was a dinner led by the chief mourner, Lady Winchester, the Lord Admiral and Lord Darcy. She is the only one of Henry VIII’s wives to be buried at Westminster Abbey and her tomb is on the south side of the High Altar. It is decorated with carvings of a crown and her initials, AC, skulls and crossed bones, and a lion’s head.

It is a sad fact that Anne, as Elizabeth Norton points out, “is often portrayed as the least significant of Henry’s wives” but that she was actually “an international figure of some prominence” and a woman who used her intelligence to survive the English court and become an independent woman. Just like Catherine of Aragon, she did not accept the annulment of her marriage and still thought of herself as Henry’s wife and Queen, and subsequently his widow, but she made the best out of the situation. RIP Anne of Cleves.

Fact: Like the rest of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves was descended from Edward I, BUT, she was also descended from the Kings of France, through her father, and was a close relation of Louis XII of France and the Duke of Burgundy.

Notes and Sources

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13 thoughts on “The Death of Anne of Cleves”
  1. Karen Lindsay in Divorced Beheaded Survived reported something that gave great insight to Anne’s character, which she described as a homely, charming detail.

    The first official meeting between Anne and Henry was their betrothal, with both of them dressed to the hilt, surrounded by the most important officials in their respective retinues (in addition, Henry was attended by his nieces Frances Brandon and Margaret Douglas).

    One of the vehicles in Anne’s side of the procession was a chariot “covered all in black” carrying her three washerwomen. That was quite an honor, that Anne would think of even the lowliest of her servants at such a crucial time in her life.

    I wonder what Anne Boleyn would have made of the very kindly yet shrewd Anne of Cleves? She probably would have appreciated Anne’s kindness to Elizabeth first and foremost, but she might have been a little envious that Anne of Cleves managed to survive Henry where she herself did not.

    Again, I am hoping one day we can get a definitive biography of Her Grace of Cleves. The ugly reputation and the unkind remarks about her intelligence are as far off the mark as the witch and wh*re reputation that blackens Anne Boleyn.

  2. My personal opinion is that Anne of Cleves knew and felt a lot more then she put on at court. All of Europe knew about the horrific end to Anne Boleyn and it only falls into place that Anne of Cleves guarded what she said and also her actions because somewhere in the back of this young woman’s mind was the fear of how Henry dealt with his wives before her. You might say that because of her innocent and careful ways she reaped the rewards that all the others did not.

  3. god rest your soul queen anne of cleves.. you were a lot
    smarter than the other annne, i wonder if old henry ever had
    nightmares over his cruel actions, did he ever regret murdering
    anne b?? yes anne of cleves was a good wife cast aside must of
    been a terrifying time just being around old henry , let alone
    having to sleep with him, like the rocky horror show..yukk.. great

  4. I have seen her tomb many many times and each time I stop and ponder thinking about this woman and her life during Tudor times….Just standing in front of her tomb my mind wonders as to what took place in the very spot I am standing hundreds of years ago…

  5. David you look like The King well done. Anne of Cleves seemed to have lived a fairly long life. The King did like her much,but not in a romance seemed to be out of the picture, they say she was very nice. Claire how long did she rain before her divorce?

  6. Apparently my ancestors were part of Anne of Cleves retinue. Their name was Maynard and they were in Bletchingley, presumably at Bletchingley Palace. Do you know where I can establish this? She listed all her retinue at the time of her death. Do you know how I can find this? Kind regards

  7. While watching the TV series The Tudor’s I was astonished at the cruelty of Henry V111, killing women and children without a blink of the eye.

  8. I was intrigued by the survival of anne of cleves she well deserved the kings admiration at his late day’s of his life it was after the king was married to this young wnd 5th wife that he finally saw Anne’s beauty and had sexual relations in my opinion king Henry the 8th was just a womenizer

  9. Can I ask, why Anne never went back home to her family or was that not protocol.? She was far from being unpleasing in her looks so was there some other reason for Henry Viii to discard her?

    1. If she stayed in England she could keep the lands, houses, income and property Henry granted her when she divorced. She was independently wealthy. If she went back to Cleves she would have to give that up and live in her impoverished brother’s house again.

  10. I love Tudor history. I think Henry, although well educated and intelligent, was a pompous egotistical being. It is actually quite sad how his life played out and how him all the pupeteers around him pulled strings.

  11. RIP Anne of Cleves, the best Queen Henry set aside. Anne was smart enough to see how things were with Henry and she knew of him from his reputation so although she was unhappy about the annulment of her marriage, she consented and did very well. For the rest of Henry’s reign Anna did very well and was called his sister. She had an allowance and several castles and she received every honour as a Princess and honoured guest of the crown. Anna retained all of the dignity of her royal status and she was on fond terms with her step children. Her status suffered somewhat under Edward but she did well under the reign of Mary, who paid for her state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

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