Anne of Cleves, was the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England. Of her three predecessors,two of them, Katherine of Aragon, who was Henry's first wife and Jane Seymour, his third, died natural deaths, Jane's being the result of childbirth, when she bore the King a male heir.
His second wife, Anne Boleyn had not been so fortunate. She was beheaded on 19th May 1536 on Tower Green inside the Tower of London.
King Henry VIII had stayed single for more than two years after the death of his third wife Jane Seymour. Whether there is any substance behind the thinking, of not just a few people, that it was the result of a genuine love for Jane, or the thinking of just as many, that he had such a bad reputation over his first three wives, no suitable lady could bring herself to trust him.
To many people he appeared quite tarnished and to marry him appeared to come at quite some price. It is quite an interesting subject for debate and It is probably correct to accept both of these possibilities.
She was born near Dusseldorf on 22nd September 1515, the second daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves and his wife, the Duchess Maria. The Duke died in 1538, followed by his wife in 1543.
ABOVE: APORTRAIT OF ANNE OF CLEVES BY HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER.
In 1527 at the early age of twelve, Anne of Cleves was betrothed to Francis, who was the ten year old son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine. That was the reason the betrothal was deemed to be unofficial when it was cancelled in 1535.
Religiously, Anne's mother the Duchess Maria, was described as very strictly Catholic, whilst her father followed a not too extreme line in the Reformation, which had been spreading throughout Europe. Her brother William who succeeded his father as Duke of Cleves was a Lutheran.
There had been an ongoing dispute between The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and the Duke of Cleves over the Gelderland, for some years. This made the Duke of Cleves an ideal ally for King Henry VIII of England.
It was for that reason, that Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, tried everything in his power to make an alliance between the Duke and King Henry VIII, by persistently urging the King to make a match with Anne, a policy which eventually cost Cromwell everything, including his life.
The King, who had employed Hans Holbein the Younger to be the Court painter, now dispatched him to paint portraits of both Anne and her younger sister Amelia, both of whom he had been considering to be his next wife.
By March 1539, talks were well advanced, with Thomas Cromwell himself overseeing them and on the 4th October, a marriage treaty was signed. Unbeknown to Cromwell, he had signed his own death warrant.
Her education was very limited having not received a formal one and she could only read and write in German. She was very skilled at needlework and enjoyed gambling. Her nature was considered to be very gentle, docile and virtuous, which made a suitable match for King Henry VIII.
She had dark hair and looked older than she was, being described by the French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim, of middling beauty, and of very assured and resolute countenance.
The King was so impatient to see his future wife, that he travelled down to Rochester to meet her. To say he was disappointed would be an understatement. Everyone who had met Anne had praised her attractions.
He felt very much that he had been terribly misled, complaining that "She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported," and instructed Cromwell to find a legal way out of the marriage.
At this point it was impossible to do so, as it would endanger the vitally important alliance that had been made with the Germans.
They were married by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, at the Royal Palace of Placentia (Greenwich Palace) on 6th January 1540, in spite of Henry's loud protestations.
Their wedding night was not a happy one, King Henry telling Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, by saying, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse."
On 24th June Anne of Cleves was ordered to leave the Court, and told on 6th July, of the King's decision to reconsider the marriage.
She was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she readily agreed. On 9th July 1540, the marriage was annulled, citing non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine.
After the annulment, Henry showed his gratitude by giving Anne of Cleves an extremely generous settlement, which included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. They became very good friends with her being referred to by everyone as "the kings beloved sister."
Henry also decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England, save for his own wife and two daughters. She was a most welcome visitor to Court on numerous occasions.
After arriving in England to marry the King, Anne of Cleves stayed, never to leave the country again. Her mother and father were dead and her brother, a very strict Lutheran, had not approved of her becoming an Anglican.
This situation was certainly not mitigated, by her later conversion to Roman Catholicism upon the accession to the throne of Queen Mary, who herself was a staunch Roman Catholic.
Instead, she remained here most of her life and devoted her time to managing and enjoying the substantial estates Henry had bestowed on her.
She attended the coronation of Henry VIII's eldest daughter, Queen Mary I of England, having been there to greet her and her sister the princess Elizabeth Tudor, as they enterred London for that purpose. Queen Mary's coronation was the last public appearance made by Anne of Cleves.
Anne's health was beginning to fail. Queen Mary allowed her to live in the house where Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII's last wife had lived,Chelsea Old Manor.
Anne of Cleves was the house's last royal resident.
Anne of Cleves died in the Old Manor on 16th July 1557, about two months before her forty second birthday, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
She is the only one of Henry VIII wives to have been afforded that distinction and was also the last of them to die, outliving Henry's last wife, Katherine Parr by nine years. It is thought that it was cancer which killed her.
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