The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

Posted By on January 6, 2011

On this day in history, 6th January 1540, Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves, or Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg.

The bride was completely unaware of the fact that her groom had been trying his utmost to get out of the marriage and that was why the wedding had been postponed from the 4th January – Henry had been desperately searching for a way out. By the evening of the 5th January, Henry realised that he had no other option but to go ahead with the proposed marriage. If he cancelled the wedding it might “dryve her brother into the hands of the emperowre” and he could not risk that.

On Epiphany, Tuesday 6th January 1540, a reluctant Henry VIII put his “neck in the yoke” and married Anne of Cleves in the Queen’s Closet. The chronicler Edward Hall describes Anne:-

“Then the Lordes went to fetche the Ladye Anne, whiche was apparelled in a gowne of ryche cloth of gold set full of large flowers of great & Orient Pearle, made after the Dutche fassion rownde, her here hangyng downe, whych was fayre, yelowe and long: On her head a Coronall of gold replenished with great stone, and set about full of braunches of Rosemary, about her necke and middle, luelles of great valew & estirnacion.”

The King was wearing “a gowne of ryche Tyssue [cloth of gold] lyned with Crymosyn”.

Hall records that Anne curtsied to the King three times and then the couple were married by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anne’s wedding ring was engraved with the words “GOD SEND ME WEL TO KEPE”.

After the ceremony, the bride, groom and guests enjoyed the usual wine and spices, followed by “Bankettes, Maskes, and dyuerse dvsportes, tyll the tyrne came that it pleased the Kyng and her to take their rest”. It was time for the all important consummation of the marriage, something which seems to have been a complete disaster. The next morning, when Thomas Cromwell asked a rather bad-tempered Henry what he thought of his queen, Henry replied:-

“Surely, as ye know, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. For I have felt her belly and her breast, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid… [The] which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters… I have left her as good a maid as I found her.”

David Starkey writes of how, the same morning, Henry discussed the matter with Dr John Chamber and Dr William Butts, his physicians. Further consultations in which he described that “he found her body in such sort disordered and indisposed to excite and provoke any lust in him” show that Henry was suffering with impotence, which he blamed on Anne’s appearance. Was he just covering up his own inadequacy and failure? Probably, although Henry argued that he had had two wet dreams and “thought himself able to do the act with other, but not with her”, hmmm…. Methinks he doth protest too much!

It seems that Anne did not have any sexual knowledge at all and Lady Rochford had to break it to her that it took more than just sleeping beside the King to be with child. Anne replied, saying, “when he comes to bed, he kisses me and taketh me by the hand and biddeth me, “Goodnight sweetheart”; and in the morning kisses me and biddeth me, “Farewell, darling”. Is that not enough?” The Countess of Rutland replied, “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a Duke of York”, but Anne said that she was content with the status quo and did not know what more was needed. Poor Anne!

David Starkey argues that Anne may not have been as naive as is suggested by this conversation between her and her ladies. He wonders if she was actually “trying to keep up appearances” or even trying to protect her husband:-

“For there is a clear indication that she knew that something was wrong from the start. ‘The Queen [has] often desired to speak with me,’ Cromwell told Henry on 7 January, during their post-mortem discussion on the disaster of the wedding night. ‘But I durst not.’ ‘Why should [you] not?’ Henry replied. ‘Alleging’, Cromwell remembered, ‘that I might do much good in going to her, and to be plain with her in declaring my mind.’ “

In the end, Cromwell asked Anne’s Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Rutland, to talk to Anne and he also spoke to the Queen’s Council, asking them to advise their mistress “to use all pleasantness to [the King].” It was a tricky situation and Starkey points out that it was difficult to try and get Anne “to take the sexual initiative” without mentioning or hinting at the King’s little problem, “after all, it was only three years since Rochford had gone to the block after doing just that.” It seems that nobody wanted to handle the situation head on and things just got worse and worse, and it was not long before the King’s head was turned by a pretty young thing who excited him more than Anne did – Catherine Howard.

You can read more about the deterioration of the Cleves marriage in my article “Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves”, but the marriage was formally over just six months after it had begun and Henry married Catherine Howard on the 28th July 1540. Fortunately for Anne, she kept her head and walked out of the marriage with the title of the King’s Sister, property including Hever Castle, jewels, plate and an annual payment of £4000 per year – she was a very lucky woman.

Notes and Sources

11 thoughts on “The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves”

  1. Tess says:

    I always found Anne of Cleves to be his luckiest wife. She out lived him, was able to marry any man of her choosing, was giving many houses and lots of money, gold, jewelry. She had it made!! She was a very very lucky women!! Thanks for the great article!!

    1. Claire says:

      I do feel that she was lucky to keep her head, her dignity and also her relationships with Henry’s children but I also feel sorry for her in that she never remarried and enjoyed a normal life.

      1. Lynda says:

        Commenting 10 years later – her life was no less without a man, especially in those times.

  2. Nancy says:

    I can see Claire’s point that Anne should have married a man she loved (and who loved her) and lived a normal life, but probably Henry turned Anne off to the idea of marriage. Much is made of the fact that Henry considered Anne too ugly to for him to want to have sex with her, but nobody mentions what Anne’s first impression of Henry must have been – he was ugly, obese, smelly, had an ulcer on his leg which added to the stench, unpleasant, disgusting in general and – in spite of all these things – vain! He thought that Anne was marrying the beaufiful prince that Katherine of Aragon had married 30 years earlier, and expected her to react as such. At the time Henry wasn’t exactly every (or ANY for that matter) woman’s fantasy, and Anne was lucky that he was unable to consumate the marriage! If Henry had been a sweet, considerate man who just wanted to make his bride happy his physical shortcomings and limitations wouldn’t have mattered, but Henry must have been truly repulsive at the time. In an era when a woman’s only future was marriage, whether it was happy or not, I believe that Anne considered herself fortunate to have escaped not only with her head but all the things that Henry gave her for going along with him, including beautiful Hever Castle! If she had returned to Cleeves she would have only been used by her brother in another political marriage meant to strengthen his status in the world, not for her happiness. Maybe girls from noble families were actually less fortunate than poorer girls in that they were constantly used as pawns and trophies.

  3. lisaannejane says:

    I always thought her portrait showed a pretty young lady
    who just happened to be from another country. I think Claire has a
    point in that it would have been nice for her to have wed a nice
    man and had her own children (sounds like what Katherine accused
    Henry of not doing for poor Mary in the last Tudor episode). I
    think the issue became a supposed pre-contract between Anne and the
    Duke of Lorraine so Henry could say she was already married. Maybe
    this stopped men from approaching her and what guy would risk
    asking the king’s sister for her hand in marriage? She sounds like
    a practical person and made the most of the situation. And I think
    Nancy makes a good point about not wanting to be used by her
    brother in another political marriage.

  4. Gena says:

    Henry was just put out that she didn’t find him attractive at first meeting so he had to “punish” her by saying nasty things about her. He was incredibly stupid when it came to women… he thought Anne of Cleves wasn’t a “maid” but he runs off and marries a girl who couldn’t say no to anyone. You would think that he would have wondered at Kathryn Howard’s behavior when they were first married that she wasn’t a maid.

  5. Eliza M. L. says:

    I wonder what Anna of Cleves was thinking when she’d heard
    of Kathryn Howard’s fate…probably that she was a lucky, lucky

  6. Carolyn says:

    Eliza, I think her first reaction was actually to hope
    Henry wanted her back, now that he’d gotten Kathryn out of his
    system! But she lived in a culture that said a woman’s only value
    was as a wife and mother, so I can’t blame her for believing it of
    herself. Perhaps it was only with time and reflection that she was
    able to see herself as fortunate.

  7. Carol says:

    Yes, I have read that Anne of Cleves hoped that Henry would take her back after Katherine Howard was executed. She was upset that he decided to marry Catherine Parr (who was about 4 years her senior). She also considered herself more attractive that Catherine.

    1. jenny says:

      From what I understand, once the fact that she wasn’t going to lose her head, A of C, with all the gifts she was given, was mightily happy woman to escape the world of H to “Headhunter”. An experience like that would certainly have put me off men in any case but the fact that the lands, dosh, etc. was there for her taking, well………. She got on well with all her step-children and outlived at least 2 – Again from what I understand, she never wanted to return to Cleves and had a genuine affection for England – From the time she was given her freedon (and especially when H from Hell kicked it), he must have had a wonderful life. There have een so many comments on how the husbands would have influenced their wives lives – She eventually had a perfect one. For me she is No. 1 of the 6 (and poss. the most modern). I have to say that long ago my interest in Anne Boleyn died. The latter now must be turning in what ever grave she is in with all the “investigation of what.who she was, etc. and motives.
      I would say that the lady should be left to rest in peace now.

  8. Banditqueen says:

    Anne of Cleves was the best wife Henry set aside. She would have been a good Queen Consort. Her head wasn’t under any threat because she was a foreign Princess and there is no evidence that she was ever under threat, that’s just modern nonsense. Henry was in a position that put him in the middle of a fire storm brewing in Europe. When Anna arrived in England, her marriage was still favoured there, the Emperor had allowed her passage and was outwardly friendly when she came to his territory. Henry’s first meeting with Anna has always been sold as a disaster but the English accounts were written at the time of his annulment and are therefore suspect. The German account is very different and Hall is closer to this one. There is no mention of furs being sent by a King who forgot the next day, but of a great golden cup being given to her at Supper with the King and Henry remaining for two days. Anna is described in favourable by most people and everyone but Henry found her looks acceptable. This puts his protests over her looks and body into question. I believe Henry made the whole thing up in order to hide his own problems, his desire for Katherine Howard and to get out of a marriage which quickly became a political powder keg. The Emperor was warning England of trouble over the marriage to Anna of Cleves because he was on the verge of war with the United Duchies. Henry’s failure to consummate the marriage was now an excuse to annul a marriage which less than six months in, to be frank, was no longer desirable. Henry’s protests were indeed a little too loud.

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