ANNE OF CLEVES

Anne of Cleves is remembered as Henry VIII's "ugly" wife as he was disappointed with her appearance upon their meeting. However, there's more to Anne than her apparently unsatisfactory looks. In fact, not only did she outlive the King, but she was also named "The King's Sister." Anne of Cleves is a survivor.

anne of cleves portrait

ANNE OF CLEVES EARLY LIFE

Anne of Cleves was born in Dusseldorf in 1515 to John III, Duke of Cleves, and Maria of Julich-Berg. As a German, her upbringing was different to that of Henry VIII's other wives. Anne did not learn to dance or play, but her education was focused on household management skills such as cooking and needlework. She could read and write in German but spent no time learning foreign languages like French or Latin. As a Lutheran Protestant, this is not unsurprising as the French and Latin worlds were aligned with the Catholic church.   

HANS HOLBEIN'S PORTRAIT OF ANNE

Now politically and religiously isolated due to the English Reformation, Henry VIII needed pro-reformation allies. As such a marriage was proposed between Cleves and England, so Thomas Cromwell was sent to secure a marriage deal. Only, Henry didn't trust Cromwell's judgement of a woman's physical beauty, so sent his painter Hans Holbein the Younger to capture a portrait of Anne. Her image in Holbein's painting was enough for King Henry to agree to the marriage.

anne of cleves portrait
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henry viii portrait

HENRY GREETS ANNE WITH DISAPPOINTMENT

Anne of Cleves arrived in England in December of 1539. Upon hearing of her arrival, Henry VIII decided to travel to Dover to surprise her. He dressed in a disguise - a playful romantic gesture popularised in France - but as he entered Anne's room, she failed to recognise the king. In fact, some accounts suggest she ignored Henry and even pushed passed him, insulting the King. To make matters worse, Henry was displeased with her appearance, believing that Holbein's portrait was more than generous. 

HENRY DIVORCES ANNE OF CLEVES

At their first meeting, Henry VIII had told Thomas Cromwell that he didn't want to marry Anne. Whilst he hoped a previous engagement of Anne's would be enough to prevent the marriage, it was not; and the couple married in 1540. Cromwell was asked to break the marriage off as quickly as possible. So, after only six months, the marriage was annulled with Anne accepting the annulment without a fight. 

Henry VIII portrait
henry viii, anne of cleves and her sister

WHY DID THE MARRIAGE FAIL?

Popular history puts all the blame for their failed marriage on Anne of Cleve's unattractive appearance. However, Henry's ambassador in Cleves had said that Holbein's painting "expressed [Anne's] image very lively," so it was not necessarily as inaccurate as many believe. More likely, it was cultural differences that drew a wedge between the couple. Anne did not speak fluent English - though she did quickly learn - and she was not "inclined to the great cheer of this country."

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ANNE NAMED "THE KING'S SISTER"

Unlike Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves showed no resistance to their annulment to which Henry VIII was grateful. As a result, Henry presented Anne with a generous settlement, bestowing her with vast amounts of property, a high annual income, and the honourable title of "The King's Sister." She became a popular figure amongst the English court, enjoying freedoms she would otherwise have lost had she returned to Cleves, though her servants were tasked with monitoring her movements. Speaking to her graceful nature, Anne remained friends with Henry, his children, and his new wife Catherine Howard.

anne of cleves portrait
the beheading of anne boleyn

LIFE AFTER HENRY VIII'S DEATH

Upon Henry VIII's death on 28 January 1547, Anne of Cleves ceased to hold the title of "The King's Sister." Without the King's support, Anne found herself in financial trouble, forced to sell off some of her gifted properties. Largely, Anne lived a quiet domestic life until her death in 1557. However, she once came close to accusations of treason when rumours of her involvement in a plot to depose Queen Mary surfaced, due to her friendship with Princess Elizabeth.     

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

HOW OLD WAS ANNE OF CLEVES WHEN SHE MARRIED HENRY?

Born in 1515, Anne of Cleves was 24 when she married Henry VIII. He was literally twice her age.

HOW DID ANNE OF CLEVES DIE?

After suffering several years of poor health, Anne died in 1557 aged 41. It's probable that she died of cancer. 

WHAT DID ANNE OF CLEVES LOOK LIKE?

Anne of Cleves was probably not as unattractive as Henry VIII believed. It's more likely that he had unrealistic standards and was not used to the appearance of Germanic women. She was tall, slim, and fair-haired.  

WHY DID HENRY DIVORCE ANNE OF CLEVES?

Whilst it's popularly considered that Henry VIII divorced Anne of Cleves because of her appearance, it's was more likely due to cultural differences. 

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