Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves, 1540
|Anne of Cleves: Henry called her "the Flanders mare."|
The Search for a Wife
After the death of Jane Seymour in 1537, Henry found himself once again in need of a wife. This time, he didn't have one waiting in the wings -- he appears to have been relatively faithful to Jane, of whom he seemed to be quite devoted. True, he now had a son, but sons are tricky business for royalty, and it's best to have at least one spare. No one understood this better than Henry, who had himself been a younger son. His older brother Arthur had not lived to take the throne.
Henry's first marriage had been a matter of foreign policy, but his next two marriages had been affairs of the heart. Henry was not in the habit of letting others decide his fate. He sent his ambassadors out to make overtures to various royal families, but instructed them to make no offers of marriage until he had approved of his potential bride's appearance. "The thing touches me too dear," he said.
|Thomas Cromwell arranged|
Henry's Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, had other ideas. Cromwell was more sympathetic to the rising influence of the middle class in these times, and was ideologically aligned with the growing Protestant movement. He preferred for Henry to align himself with one of the Lutheran duchies.
|Mary of Guise: "I may be a big woman, but I have|
a very little neck."
Part of Mary's appeal to Henry was undoubtedly his wish to stop the Scottish-French alliance. When speaking with the French ambassador, Henry said that he was a big man and needed a big wife. (Mary was a tall woman.) Mary is said to have responded, "I may be a big woman, but I have a very little neck." Mary was soon wed to the King of Scotland. Henry then pursued Mary's younger sister, but she soon married someone else, as well.
|Christina of Milan: "If I had two heads, one should be|
at the disposal of the King of England."
Henry was also interested in Christina of Milan, a 16 year old widow famed for her beauty. Christina was the daughter of the King of Denmark, and had been married to the Duke of Milan, who had made her a widow when she was only 13. Christina was not much interested in Henry, but consented to have her portrait done for him. She told the English ambassador, "If I had two heads, one should be at the disposal of the King of England."
The Royal Courting next turned its attention to Anne and Amalie of Cleves, two German noblewomen. Anne had previously been betrothed to Francis, the Duke of Lorraine. Since the boy was only 10 when the betrothal was performed, it was considered "unofficial" and was later broken off. (Francis ended up marrying Christina of Milan.) Although the girls' older brother was a staunch Lutheran, their mother was a strict Catholic and they themselves were thought to be flexible in religious matter. Thomas Cromwell pressed strongly for an alliance with Cleves.
|Amalie of Cleves -- Anne's sister.|
Of the two, Henry decided that he preferred Anne. An offer was made, and the marriage treaty was signed on October 4, 1539. It had taken nearly two years to arrange a marriage.
Off to a Bad Start
Anne came to England with an English court. It was planned that she would meet the king at Greenwich Palace. However, Henry being Henry, he decided to catch an early look at his wife-to-be. Henry and five of his men "disguised themselves" and paid an unexpected visit to Rochester, where Anne had stopped on the journey. Bear in mind that Henry was over six feet tall and nearly as wide, and had flaming auburn hair. It really wasn't possible for him to disguise himself effectively. It was also the type of thing that Henry was always doing, and most of his other women had had the wisdom to see through the ploy and be swept of their feet by the handsome, dashing "stranger."
|Henry really couldn't disguise himself very much.|
Despite their rocky first meeting Henry and Anne were married on January 6, 1540. It was a reluctant union on the part of the king. He told Cromwell, "If it were not to satisfy the world, and my Realm, I would not do that I must do for none earthly thing."
The End of the Marriage
Henry never really warmed up to his marriage with Anne. The morning following his wedding night he told Cromwell, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse." He called her the "Flanders mare." And, he made it very, very clear to everyone that he had not consummated their marriage.
The naive Anne, for her part, may not have been aware that anything was wrong. She told her ladies, "When he comes to bed, he kisses me and takes me by the hand, and biddeth me, 'Good night, sweetheart,' and in the morning, kisses me, and biddeth me, 'Farewell, darling.' Is this not enough?" Her embarrassed attendants had to explain to her that that was not the way to produce an heir.
The marriage was over in six months. She agreed willingly to an annulment. Perhaps she feared a fate like Anne Boleyn's; perhaps she was as repulsed by Henry as he was by her. In the meantime, Henry had begun a relationship with Catherine Howard and was in some hurry to be free to marry her. The marriage was officially annulled on July 9, 1540. The grounds: non-consummation and Anne's previous contract to Francis of Lorraine.
|A speedy divorce cleared the way for wife #5, |
Anne chose to remain in England, an independent and wealthy woman, rather than return to Cleves where she would be under her brother's control. She learned to love English ale and gambling, and spent a considerable fortune on her gowns. She visited the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth often, and King Henry from time to time. Her last public appearance took place at Mary's coronation, when she rode to the ceremony at the side of Princess Elizabeth. She died in 1557, just a few weeks short of the age of 42. She had outlived Henry, Henry's male heir, and all Henry's other wives.