Anne of Cleves

Portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger (1539). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Anne of Cleves was born in 1515 to John III Duke of Cleves and Maria of Jülich-Berg. In her pre-teen years, Anne was betrothed to the heir to the Duke of Lorraine, but this betrothal was broken off by 1535. Growing up, her family was divided religiously, some were Lutheran and followed a reformed faith while others remained Catholic, a microcosm of Continental Europe more broadly.

When Henry VIII began his search for a new wife after the death of his third wife Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves emerged as a leading candidate. Henry VIII’s right-hand man Thomas Cromwell was put in charge of the marriage negotiations. When Henry received a portrait of Anne, she was praised for her beauty and youth. By the time she got to England, though, she was declared to be pockmarked and nothing like her portrait. Henry even famously declared that ‘he liked her not’. Their marriage went ahead anyway in January 1540 but was never consummated. While historians used to claim that this was because of Anne’s ignorance and naivety, this is now seen as not being the case.

Henry and Anne’s marriage was annulled just six months after their wedding. Anne lived the rest of her life as the King’s Sister and had a lifestyle to match. She lived part of the time at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. She died on 16 July 1557 at Chelsea Manor and was buried on 3 August 1557 at Westminster Abbey. She’s remembered in the historical record as one of Henry’s most successful wives in terms of personal gain and longevity.

Recommended Reading

Elizabeth Norton, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride (Stroud, England: Amberley Publishing, 2010).

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