The Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

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

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