Anne of Cleves (1515-1557)
Anne of Cleves, Queen of England, fourth wife of Henry VIII, King of England, daughter of John, Duke of Cleves, and Mary, only daughter of William, Duke of Juliers, was born on the 22nd of September 1515. Her father was the leader of the German Protestants, and the princess, after the death of Jane Seymour, was regarded by Cromwell as a suitable wife for Henry VIII.
She had been brought up in a narrow retirement, could speak no language but her own, had no looks, no accomplishments and no dowry, her only recommendations being her proficiency in needlework, and her meek and gentle temper. Nevertheless her picture, painted by Holbein by the king’s command (now in the Louvre, a modern copy at Windsor), pleased Henry and the marriage was arranged, the treaty being signed on the 24th of September 1539. The princess landed at Deal on the 27th of December; Henry met her at Rochester on the 1st of January 1540, and was so much abashed at her appearance as to forget to present the gift he had brought for her, but nevertheless controlled himself sufficiently to treat her with courtesy. The next day he expressed openly his dissatisfaction at her looks; “she was no better than a Flanders mare.” The attempt to prove a pre-contract with the son of the duke of Lorraine broke down, and Henry was forced to resign himself to the sacrifice. On the wedding morning, however, the 6th of January 1540, he declared that no earthly thing would have induced him to marry her but the fear of driving the duke of Cleves into the arms of the emperor.
Shortly afterwards Henry had reason to regret the policy which had identified him so closely with the German Protestantism, and denied reconciliation with the emperor. Cromwell’s fall was the result, and the chief obstacle to the repudiation of his wife being thus removed, Henry declared the marriage had not been and could not be consummated; and did not scruple to cast doubts on his wife’s honour. On the 9th of July the marriage was declared null and void by convocation, and an act of parliament to the same effect was passed immediately.
Henry soon afterwards married Catherine Howard. On first hearing of the king’s intentions, Anne swooned away, but on recovering, while declaring her case a very hard and sorrowful one from the great love which she bore to the king, acquiesced quietly in the arrangements made for her by Henry, by which she received lands to the value of £4000 a year, renounced the title of queen for that of the king’s sister, and undertook not to leave the kingdom. In a letter to her brother, drawn up by Gardiner by the king’s direction, she acknowledged the unreality of the marriage and the king’s kindness and generosity. Anne spent the rest of her life happily in England at Richmond or Bletchingley, occasionally visiting the court, and being described as joyous as ever, and wearing new dresses every day!