...making decisions on the basis of what seems best instead of following some single doctrine or style.
Me in a nutshell!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves "God Send Me Well To Keep"

To coincide with our Historical Fiction Round Table event of the new release Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll I am pleased to contribute my creative post on the marriage of Henry VII and Anne of Cleves.
It wasn't until this past year that I really knew anything about Henry's 4th wife Anne of Cleves. She was only married to Henry for four months. She was a modest, unassuming character and often overlooked in history. Certainly not the celebrities that Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were and are still today.

I first came upon Anne while reading The Boleyn Inheritance by Phillipa Gregory. I became fascinated and began to study more. After Henry's 3rd wife, his beloved Jane Seymour died in 1537 his constant quest for another male heir and new woman in his bed led him to pursue marriage once again. He employed his Chancellor Thomas Cromwell for assistance in finding him a suitable wife, one fit for the King. Cromwell as always put his best efforts into the pursuit and began scouting all over Europe for the next Queen of England. Top of the list of candidates was Christina, the Duchess of Milan. She was 16 years old, and one very smart cookie. When approached about an engagement to the King of England she insisted that if God had given her two heads she would willingly risk one to marry the King of England, but as she only had 160 Notorious Royal Marriages.

It seems that Henry's reputation of disposing of wives created fear in possible prospects for marriage. This being the case and the fact that France and Spain, both Catholic countries were becoming quite chummy and could possibly form an alliance against England created a problem. The possible invasion was a real threat to Henry's Kingdom and Cromwell being a good protestant approached Wilhelm the Duke of Cleves in the western region of Germany. The Duke himself was a protestant and this alliance would further commit England to the new reformed religion and provide an alie in case of war with the Catholic super powers, best of all he had two unmarried sisters.

Henry saw the wisdom in this but being the egotist that he was refused to marry any woman unless he was pleased with her appearance. The King's artist Hans Holbein was commissioned to go to Cleves and paint portraits of the Anne and Amelia, the Duke's two sisters. Holbein was well like and had been commissioned many times by the King himself to paint portraits. He went to Cleves painted the portraits and returned to Henry. Henry liked very much what he saw and agreed to propose a marriage contract with Anne the eldest of the two sisters. She was twenty-four years old and that would be more suitable for a forty-eight year old King.

If you could ever imagine one of Henry's marriages to be froth with humor this would be the case. In all of his other marriages the situations were almost always tragic in someway. The joke really was on him. Ms. Carroll does a marvelous job of portraying this.
The marriage was arranged and Anne left her home and sailed for England. She was to meet the King in London, but the King being the "joker" that he was couldn't wait, arranged a party to ride with him to meet his new bride. Their first meeting was a disaster brought upon by himself. His ego was hurt, and for all of his faults his over expanded ego was his greatest. He never could lay blame to himself and true to form he began plotting ways to get out of the marriage almost immediately. Upon realizing that he could not break the contract he married her and tried to consummate the marriage and failed. Of course this couldn't be his fault he laid the blame on Anne stating that she had a loose belly and flabby breasts. Now I find this very unlikely since Anne was twenty-four and a virgin. Anne was raised in a very sheltered environment and knew very little of what was expected of her in the bedroom. She thought laying down and holding hands would be enough. She certainly wasn't one of the little vixens that the King was used to. I can imagine just how I would feel if a big, fat, hairy man with a stinking ulcerated leg, over twice my age tried to make love to me. I would be sick. She just wasn't jumping his bones.

It was during this time that Henry met Catherine Howard who knew everything about sex. Henry was determined to get rid of Anne and make Catherine his queen. He found a loop hole and Anne was set aside after 4 months of marriage. Bless her heart at first she was hysterical when she heard the news because she thought he was going to kill her. After the relief that she wasn't dying she couldn't sign the divorce settlement fast enough. She knew what a good thing she was getting: an extraordinary annual income, 3 manor houses of her own including the Hever Castle the late Queen Anne Boleyn's childhood home and the title of the "King's Sister". She would be 2nd only to the Queen of England in rank. She was one of the first independently wealthy women of the age. She loved England and never returned to Cleves.

Anne's peers always treated her with tremendous respect, complimenting her "accustomed gentleness" and her religious devotion. It might not have seemed so at first glance, but Henry's high honor of considering her his "good sister" was, in his own way, a mark of genuine esteem in which he held her character, if not, alas, her face and figure. pg 172 Notorious Royal Marriages.
This has just been one teaser post of the 31 royal marriages covered in Ms. Carroll's outstanding book Notorious Royal Marriages.
On the Roundtable Today:


  1. Susie, this is a completly enchanting post. And your inclusion of the famous Holbein portrait of Anne has me thinking, yet again, "Why did Henry find her so unattractive?" It wasn't just her breasts and belly that turned him off in bed. He didn't think she was pretty. And yet, if you compare the famous portraits of Henry's wives against each other, Anne of Cleves comes out as (to my taste, or perhaps to our contemporary taste) the most attractive of the 6, or at least in the top two or three.

    I discuss this issue in NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, wondering what else was going on. Henry never accused his Court Painter, Holbein of unduly flattering his subject (vis-a-vis the Anne of Cleves portrait). And the other Holbeins we know and love (his portraits of Henry, of Thomas More, and of Thomas Cromwell, for example) are reputed to be spot-on.

    So -- was it the fact that, as you mention, Susie, Henry's stupid game backfired and he ended up with egg on his face, the reason he was predisposed to find Anne unattractive?

    Any thoughts on this, folks?

  2. Great post! It's always nice to hear some history besides that of Anne Boleyn. Thank you :)

  3. Love the post Susie! I too am puzzled about his rejectionm of Anne...she couln't have been that bad (flabby at 24??) and what about the Painter, as Leslie points out..hmmm..what was Henry thinking? Well at least no be-heading this time...and come to think of come?

    Great post- thanks!

  4. She wasn't beheaded because Henry had a foreign power to think of. The Duke of Cleves probably would have solicited the help of all his ally's to come against Henry. Besides Henry really did respect her, she wasn't demanding he just needed to find a way out. I really believe if Anne would have shown a hot desire for him, he would have been all over her.

  5. Wonderful post Susie! You should totally read My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes - it is a fabulous read on Anne! Henry really missed out with this lady - she was fascinating! His loss!

    I don't know if you meant to do this, but today is the anniversary of Henry and Anne's marriage.

  6. Susie, this is a really fun guest post! I like that you chose Anne of Cleves, because she is often left out, although her story is easily one of the most humorous. I, too first discovered Anne of Cleves in The Boleyn Inheritance, years ago when I first read all of her stuff.

    Leslie, I think Henry was the type of bloke who liked to feel in control (no surprise there) and like he was the one who was allowed to be choosy. Anne of Cleves dissing him in publicly made her an instant enemy of his from the onset. She snubbed him and he was determined never to like her. Where she may have embarrassed him in front of members of his court, he humiliated her on the world stage.

  7. Amy, you're right!! It's Twelfth Night! Susie, did you deliberately to write a post the Anne of Cleves/Henry marriage that was set to publish on their 470th anniversary?

    Henry didn't behead Anne of Cleves because she was cheerfully willing to accept a divorce. Once she stopped crying, of course. But more to the point about the fact that she realized she was coming away with her head. There was another reason for the crying jag: Anne fell in love with Henry. As fat and stinky as Henry was (and that would only have applied to his ulcerated leg wound; he was fastidious about personal hygiene and the fact that Anne stank and didn't bathe repulsed him in bed), Anne developed a genuine tendre for him, and was very miffed, after the Kathryn Howard debacle, that Henry didn't consider re-marrying her instead of looking elsewhere for wife number 6. Anne even complained that Catherine Parr was older than she (Anne) was, and that she'd not had any children over the course of 2 marriages, so if Henry was really so hungry for an heir, why wed a barren, middle-aged woman?

    Of course Catherine Parr did eventually bear a child -- to her 4th husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, but died of puerperal fever a few days later.

  8. No I didn't realize that it was their anniversary! How funny is that.

    I was in London this past summer and really the highlight of my visit to the "Abbey" was seeing Anne's tomb/memorial. I had seen the other more famous people's tombs on a previous visit and had never even noticed Anne's. Actually at the time before I hadn't heard of her.

    Also one other very interesting highlight of my trip was visiting Hever Castle. In an ante room off of Anne Boleyn's bedroom is a display of Anne B's book of hours and love letters from Henry. While visiting this room I was standing looking at a portrait over the fireplace when I noticed the black ornamental grill in front of the fireplace. It was old and faded but I noticed scrolled into the top portion was the intials A of C 1550. I was amazed, no guide book or attentant had pointed this out. You could barley see it. I got my daughter to come look to verify that what I was seeing wad indeed her initials and year. Probably many of the tourists that go through Hever Castle never even notice it or if they do they don't know who A of C is. It really was goose bumpy to realize that she had been there in that room at Hever Castle and had this screen especially made to memorialize the fact that she owned this Castle in 1550. I wish I could of snuck another picture inside Hever but I was being watched :-).

  9. This is funny...I actually just finished season 3 of The Tudors which is about this very thing.

  10. Anne of Cleves is a very interesting story - she came out of marriage to Henry in a positive way. I love that quote by Christina - about if she had more than one life. Very funny. Susie, that is sooo cool that you spotted that little detail at Hever. If the tour guides knew about it, I'm sure they probably didn't note it because it is all about Anne. Great post.

  11. Actually Heather Anne Boleyn is not the focus of Hever. She and Henry are of course consider note worthy but unfortunately much of the tour centers around the German American who bought the castel in the early 20th century and made some incredible additions.

  12. Anne of Cleves is the most interesting wife to me (even though I adore Anne Boleyn). Her motives and those of Henry are so sketchy, you just have to wonder why it went as it did. My Lady of Cleves is a wonderful novel! Hans Holbein falls in love with Anne in Cleves when he is painting her portrait and he paints her through his rose-colored glasses. Henry forgives him because he feels a painter creates what he sees, though it may not be accurate. The fact that Anne willingly consented to the divorce helped... but this is fiction. A wonderful read though! I liked her okay in The Boleyn Inheritance as well. Leslie's take on the relationship in Notorious Royal Marriages seems spot-on with the known facts. I'd like to think, though, that it was more of his hurt vanity than that she was totally repulsive.

  13. Arleigh I agree with you about the hurt vanity! You know the old biblical saying "By their fruits ye shall know them". By 48 years old Henry had time and time again born the fruit of a tyranical spoiled brat whose ego was beyond reason. Rather than sucking it up and doing what might be good for the kingdom in a marriage arrangement he rather have indulged his lust and ego. He was the kind of man who had to be worshiped to feel secure. Anne was supposedly to have an extra finger, a huge goiter and an ugly mole, um it begs to reason why Henry would be so anamored with a woman with apparent deformites and yet be turned off by a loose belly and flabby boobs. I do not think for a minute that either of the Anne's were repulsive it just soothed Henry's big fat ego to propagate these tales.

  14. Meant to say that Anne Boleyn supposedly had the extra finger, goiter and ugly mole yet Henry just thought she was the cat's meow along with everyone else in court. Of course she didn't have these deformities it just made it easier for the citizens and the King to blieve that execution was justified.

  15. I read a book that was told from the young Mary Tudor's point of view many years ago (can't remember the name of it). All the stories of the wives were told and Anne of Cleves' story in the book was very close to what you said in your post. The author must have done extensive research for it to be so accurate. I have always been fascinated by all the wives of Henry, but I too feel that the Anne of Cleves story is the most fascinating because we really don't know the whole truth...the inner workings of the reasons behind all the drama. Great post Susie!


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