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Anne of Cleves (1515)

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  Summary  

Anne of Cleves (22 September 1515 – 16 July 1557) was a German noblewoman and the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England and as such she was Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540. The marriage was never consummated, and she was not crowned queen consort. Following the annulment of their marriage, Anne was given a generous settlement by the King, and thereafter referred to as the King's Beloved Sister. She lived to see the coronation of Mary I of England, outlasting the rest of Henry's wives.

Anne was the subject of two portraits by Hans Holbein who painted her in 1539.

  Biography  

 early life
Anne was born in 1515 in Düsseldorf, the second daughter of John III of the House of La Marck, Duke of Jülich jure uxoris, Cleves, Berg jure uxoris, Count of Mark aka de la Marck and Ravensberg jure uxoris who died in 1538, and his wife Maria, Duchess of Julich-Berg (1491–1543). She grew up living in Schloss Burg on the edge of Solingen. Anne's father was influenced by Erasmus and followed a moderate path within the Reformation. He sided with the Schmalkaldic League and opposed Emperor Charles V. After John's death, Anne's brother William became Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, bearing the promising epithet "The Rich." In 1526, her elder sister Sybille was married to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and considered the "Champion of the Reformation."

At the age of 12 , Anne was betrothed to Francis, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine while he was only 10. Thus the betrothal was considered 'unofficial' and was cancelled in 1535. Her brother William was a Lutheran but the family was unaligned religiously, with her mother, the Duchess Maria described as a "strict Catholic." The Duke's ongoing dispute over Gelderland with Emperor Charles V made them suitable allies for England's King Henry VIII in the wake of the Truce of Nice. The match with Anne was urged on the King by his chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.

 Wedding preparations
The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia, both of whom Henry was considering as his fourth wife. Henry required the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter the sisters. The two versions of Holbein's portrait are in the Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Negotiations with Cleves were in full swing by March 1539. Cromwell oversaw the talks, and a marriage treaty was signed on 4 October of that year.

Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these: she had received no formal education but was skilled in needlework and liked playing card games. She could read and write, but only in German. Nevertheless, Anne was considered gentle, virtuous, and docile, qualities that made her a suitable candidate for Henry.

Anne was described by the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim, "of middling beauty, and of very assured and resolute countenance". She was dark haired, with a rather swarthy complexion, appeared solemn by English standards, and looked old for her age. Holbein painted her with high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and a pointed chin.


Anne first travelled to Calais where a large number of English noblemen and women had been ordered to attend her in a magnificent pageant. Henry planned to meet her at Greenwich Palace, However, the King was impatient to see his future bride and went to meet her at Rochester on her journey from Dover. According to the sworn testimony of his companions, he was promptly disappointed with her appearance, although there are many documents from the time which describe how Henry and some of his courtiers sneaked into the room where Anne was watching bull-fighting, wearing masks and cloaks, when Henry boldly kissed her. Henry, being of tall stature and well-built in his youth, had been instantly recognised by his past wives when acting out this courtly-love tradition, although Anne had never met her husband-to-be before, and pushed him away startled, cursing in German. Henry did then reveal his true identity to Anne, although he is said to have been put-off the marriage from then on. Most historians believe that he later used her 'bad' appearance and incapability in bed as excuses, saying how he felt he had been misled, for everyone had praised Anne's attractions: "She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported," he complained. Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, doing so was impossible without endangering the vital alliance with the Germans.

 A doomed marriage
Despite Henry's very vocal misgivings, the two were married on 6 January 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The phrase "God send me well to keep" was engraved around Anne’s wedding ring. Immediately after arriving in England, Anne conformed to the Anglican form of worship, which Henry expected. The couple's first night as husband and wife was not a happy one. Henry confided to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse".

Anne was commanded to leave the Court on 24 June, and on 6 July she was informed of her husband's decision to reconsider the marriage. Witness statements were taken from a number of courtiers and two physicians which register the king's disappointment at her appearance. Henry had also commented to Thomas Heneage and Anthony Denny that he could not believe she was a virgin. Shortly afterwards, Anne was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine. Henry VIII's doctor, Dr Butts stated that after the wedding night Henry said he was not impotent since he experienced "duas pollutiones nocturnas in somno".

 death
When Anne's health began to fail, Mary I allowed her to live at Chelsea Old Manor, where Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr, had lived after her remarriage. Here, in the middle of July 1557, Anne dictated her last will. In it, she mentions her brother, sister and sister-in-law, as well as the future Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Countess of Arundel. She left some money to her servants and asked Mary and Elizabeth to employ them in their households.

Anne died at Chelsea Old Manor on 16 July 1557, eight weeks before her forty-second birthday. The cause of her death was most likely to have been cancer. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, on 3 August, in what has been described as a "somewhat hard to find tomb" - on the opposite side of Edward the Confessor's shrine and slightly above eye level for a person of average height. She is the only wife of Henry VIII to be buried in the Abbey.

She also has the distinction of being the last of Henry VIII's wives to die (she outlived Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr, by 9 years). She was not the longest-lived, however, since Catherine of Aragon was 50 at the time of her death and Anne was only 41.

It is widely believed that Henry VIII often spoke to Anne as a friend, and that she advised him on many matters during their friendship and his reign, especially where matters of trust were raised amongst his council. This coincides with the extensive wealth Anne was given upon the ending of their short lived marriage and her title as beloved sister, someone he loved but not for a wife.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Anne of Cleves", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.