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 one...pg 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:
- Leslie Carroll's Guest Post on Catherine de Medici: Passages to the Past
- Notorious Royal Marriages Book Review: Hist-FlicChick