Anne of Cleves was born September 22, 1515 in Düsseldorf, as the second daughter of John III of the House of La Marck, Duke of Cleves.
She grew up living in Schloss Burg on the edge of Solingen.
In 1526, Anne’s 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 11 (in 1527), Anne was betrothed to Francis, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine while he was only 10.
The betrothal soon became considered unofficial and was canceled 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”.
At this time, King Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour died October 24, 1537.
Then Anne’s father died in 1538 and her brother William became the Duke of Cleves.
Her bother the Duke of Cleves, had an ongoing dispute over Gelderland with Emperor Charles V which made his family suitable allies for England’s King Henry VIII in the wake of the Truce of Nice.
This led the freshly widowed King Henry VIII of England’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell to urge a marriage to Anne or her younger sister Amalia as his fourth wife to assure the succession.
As a result, the artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to paint portraits of Anne and Amalia, both of whom King Henry VIII 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 Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
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 fair haired and was said to have had a lovely face.
In the words of the chronicler Edward Hall ‘her hair hanging down, which was fair, yellow and long … she was apparelled after the English fashion, with a French hood, which so set forth her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her.’
Anne appeared rather solemn by English standards, and looked old for her age. Holbein painted her with high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and a pointed chin.
After seeing both paintings (above), King Henry VIII chose Anne and negotiations were in full swing by March of 1539.
Despite speculation that Holbein painted Anne in an overly flattering light, it is more likely that the portrait was accurate; Holbein remained in favor at court.
Thomas Cromwell oversaw the talks, and a marriage treaty was signed on October 4, 1539.
King Henry VIII met Anne for the first time privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester on her journey from Dover.
King Henry VIII and some of his courtiers, following a courtly-love tradition, went disguised into the room where Anne was staying, and Henry boldly kissed her.
According to the testimony of his companions, he was disappointed with Anne, feeling she was not as described.
According to the chronicler Charles Wriothesley, Anne “regarded him little”, though it is unknown if she knew if it was actually King Henry.
In fact, King Henry did then reveal his true identity to Anne, although he is said to have been put off by the marriage from then on.
King Henry VIII and Anne then met officially on January 3, 1540 on Blackheath outside the gates of Greenwich Park, where a grand reception was laid out.
Most historians believe that King Henry VIII later used Anne’s ‘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,” the king complained.
King Henry urged Thomas 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.
Despite King Henry VIII’s very vocal misgivings, the two were married on January 6, 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 successful one.
It was reported that King Henry confided to Thomas Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.”
In February of 1540, Queen Anne praised King Henry VIII as a kind husband to the Countess of Rutland, saying: “When he comes to bed he kisseth me, and he taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me ‘Good night, sweetheart’; and in the morning kisseth me and biddeth ‘Farewell, darling.'” Lady Rutland reportedly responded: “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a duke of York, which all this realm most desireth.”
Queen Anne was commanded to leave the Royal Court on June 24, 1540, and on July 6th Anne 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.
King Henry VIII had also commented to Thomas Heneage and Anthony Denny that he could not believe she was a virgin.
Soon the subject of Anne’s previous marriage arrangements with the Duke of Lorraine’s son eventually provided a solution for the king, one complicated enough that the remaining impediments to an annulment were thus removed.
Shortly thereafter, Anne was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed.
The marriage was annulled on July 9, 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine (even though both had been children at the time).
King Henry VIII’s physician stated that after the wedding night, the king said he was not impotent because he experienced “duas pollutiones nocturnas in somno” (two nocturnal pollutions while in sleep; i.e., two wet dreams).
Anne, now the former queen received a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace, and Hever Castle, home of Henry’s former in-laws, the Boleyns.
Anne of Cleves House, in Lewes, Sussex, is just one of many properties she owned; even though she never lived there.
Eventually, King Henry VIII and Anne became good friends — she was even an honorary member of the King’s family and was referred to as “the King’s Beloved Sister”.
Anne was invited to court often and, out of gratitude for her not contesting the annulment, King Henry decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England save his own wife and daughters.
Then after Catherine Howard was beheaded on February 13, 1542, Anne and her brother William the Duke of Cleves, pressed the king to remarry Anne.
King Henry VIII quickly refused to do so.
Anne seems to have disliked King Henry VIII’s next wife Catherine Parr, and reportedly reacted to the news of King Henry’s sixth marriage with the remark “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.”
Then King Henry VIII died January 28, 1547 at the age of 55 leaving the throne to his nine year old son Edward.
In March of 1547, Edward VI’s Privy Council asked Anne to move out of Bletchingley Palace, her usual residence, to Penshurst Place to make way for Thomas Cawarden, Master of Revels.
They pointed out that Penshurst was nearer to Hever and the move had been King Henry VIII’s will.
Anne then lost royal favor in 1554, following Wyatt’s rebellion. According to Simon Renard, the imperial ambassador, Anne’s close association with Elizabeth had convinced Queen Mary (daughter of Henry VIII) that “the Lady [Anne] of Cleves was of the plot and intrigued with the Duke of Cleves to obtain help for Elizabeth: matters in which the king of France was the prime mover”.
There is no evidence that Anne was invited back to court after 1554.
Anne was compelled to live a quiet and obscure life on her estates.
Since her arrival as the King’s bride, Anne never left England. Despite occasional feelings of homesickness, Anne was generally content in England and was described by Holinshed as “a ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to hir seruants.”
Then when Anne’s health began to fail, Queen Mary 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 Suffolk, and the Countess of Arundel.
She left some money to her servants and asked Queen Mary and Elizabeth to employ them in their households.
Anne then died at Chelsea Old Manor on July 16, 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 August 3rd, 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).
Now WE know em