July 9, 2015

It Happened on July 9th

Henry VIII Divorces Anne of Cleves, 1540

Anne of Cleves: Henry called her "the Flanders mare."
Anne of Cleves was the fourth wife of King Henry VIII of England. She was only married to Henry for six months, and she not only survived her marriage -- no small feat in itself -- but she became the King's "Beloved Sister", and outlived Henry and all his other wives.

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
the match.
The women approached to wed Henry were mostly Catholic princesses, or women of high standing and political importance. Although England had broken with the Catholic Church, this was almost wholly on the issue of papal authority. Henry was determined that he, not the Pope, was to be the head of the Church of England. On other matters, he was at heart a Catholic. After all, he had been raised and educated for the clergy -- no one expected that he would ever be king.

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.

The Contenders

Mary of Guise: "I may be a big woman, but I have
a very little neck."
One of the women courted by the ambassadors was Mary of Guise. She was a daughter of Claude of Lorraine, the Duke of Guise, and his wife, Antoinette de Bourbon. At the age of 18 she had married the Duke of Longueville, and had been widowed less than three years later. Mary had already captured the eye of the widowed James V of Scotland, who was seeking another French bride to further his alliance with Scotland.

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."
In truth, Henry's reputation as a bad husband was known throughout Europe. He had humiliated and abused his first wife, Katherine. Some thought he had hounded her into an early grave. His next wife he had beheaded. His reputation was so bad that rumors hinted that he had even caused the death of Jane Seymour, ordering the doctors to cut her open to secure a healthy heir. It wasn't true, of course. Jane had died of an infection 12 days after her son's birth.

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.
Henry had never seen either of the ladies and was taking no chances. He sent his trusted court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to paint their portraits. He was told to be as accurate as possible -- Henry didn't want to find out later that he had flattered the ladies.

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.
Anne of Cleves, however, was no Anne Boleyn. She didn't speak English, she didn't know the king, and she had no idea of the customs of the English court, let alone its monarch's foibles. She had no idea who the fat, pushy stranger was. When he tried to kiss her, she pushed him away, and cursed in German. He presented a token to her, "from the King", which she accepted with thanks. She then spent the rest of his visit looking out the window at the bear-baiting taking place outside.

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,
Catherine Howard.
Once freed of Anne, Henry could afford to be generous. He gave her several properties (including Hever Castle, formerly the home of the Boleyn family) and a generous allowance of 4,000 a year. Henry called her his "Beloved Sister," and she had precedence over all the ladies of England, excepting only his wife and daughters.

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.

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