Friday, July 11, 2014

The Wives of King Henry VIII - Chapter IV: Queen Anne of Cleves

King Henry VIII and his ministers were searching for an alliance with another Protestant country that went against the Pope. What better way to do that than marriage? Thomas Cromwell, chief minister for the King, heavily approved of Amalia and Anne of Cleves, two sisters of a duke. But he did not know what either of them looked like, and he did not want an unattractive wife, so he sent his portrait painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to Cleves to paint the two young women.

Amalia and Anne were both young and beautiful. Anne especially had a reputation for being a great beauty. Christopher Mont said of her:
Everyone praises the lady’s beauty, both of face and body. One said that she excelled the Duchess [of Milan] as the golden sun did the silver moon.”  
Hans Holbein returned with his two portraits. He presented them to him, and the King chose Anne.

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger

Anne of Cleves, although very appealing visually, was not very well educated. Anne knew domestic skills such as cooking and needlework, but not musical skills or literature. Henry loved music and literature was popular at court. (Little known fact: he wrote a LOT of music!) She could not read or write in English. The future Queen and King already did not share a lot of hobbies.

When the Queen-to-be arrived in 1540, on New Year's Day, Henry decided to be romantic, but the whole thing went wrong. The incident is described here, by Eustace Chapuys:
And on New Years Day in the afternoon the king's grace with five of his privy chamber, being disguised with mottled cloaks with hoods so that they should not be recognized, came secretly to Rochester, and so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed here a token which the king had sent her for New Year's gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window.... and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet. And when the lords and knights saw his grace they did him reverence.... and then her grace humbled herself lowly to the king's majesty, and his grace saluted her again, and they talked together lovingly, and afterwards he took her by the hand and led her to another chamber where their graces amused themselves that night and on Friday until the afternoon.” 
Thomas Cromwell, Hans Holbein the Younger
I'm sure you can imagine his mortification of his failed attempt at being romantic. “I like her not,” the King famously remarked. “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported,” he said. He referred to her as a “Flanders Mare.” Although known for being pretty, the King did not agree with the rumors at all. Maybe if that incident never occurred, he would be content with her. But what was done was done. He was now so embarrassed by this ridiculous folly that he did not want to marry her.

He tried to put the marriage off, but it had to happen some time. On the day of the wedding, Janurary 6th, 1540, he told Cromwell, “My Lord, if it were not to satisfy the world, and my Realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing.” His relationship with Cromwell was very sour by this point. After all, he was the one who set the King up with this so-called “Flanders Mare.”

The wedding night, likewise, was an awkward failure. He could not bring himself to consummate the marriage. He openly spoke of her in a very vulgar and ungentlemanly manner. Cromwell asked him how he liked her. The King said, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.” Yikes.

The Queen was completely ignorant of all this, however. She said:
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 this not enough?” 
At least the King was nice enough to do that!

The marriage was easily and simply annulled after four loveless months of marriage. Anne even confirmed that the marriage was not consummated. The couple parted on good terms. Anne took the title of the “the King's Beloved Sister,” and was given Anne Boleyn's old home, Hever Castle. After the annulment she lived a quiet life away from court. She out-lived both her ex-husband and his son, and attended the coronation of Mary I.

Thus came and went Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. Her motto was “God Send Me Well To Keep.” Her story is quite an entertaining one.

And as for Cromwell? He was executed on the very day of the King's marriage to another girl, Kathryn Howard. Henry came to regret this decision, but it is quite certain that Anne of Cleves indirectly caused it.


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