The Tudor Society

16 July – The death of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII

On this day in Tudor history, 16th July 1557, forty-one-year-old Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of King Henry VIII, died at her home, Chelsea Old Manor. She'd been ill for a few months.

Anne of Cleves was a warm and generous lady, something which is shown in her last wishes with the bequests to her household, friends and stepdaughters.

Find out more about her bequests and her funeral arrangements in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 16th July 1546, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Protestant martyrs Anne Askew, John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian were burned at the stake at Smithfield in London for heresy. Poor Anne had been illegally racked, so special provision had to be made for her execution. Find out more about their executions in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:


On this day in Tudor history, 16th July 1557, forty-one-year-old Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of King Henry VIII, died at her home, Chelsea Old Manor.

Anne had been ill for a few months but by the 12th July she was bedridden and drafting her will. Her biographer, Elizabeth Norton, writes of how her will “demonstrates her kindness and the fondness which she felt for her household”, because she left money to her ladies , gentlemen, yeomen, grooms and the children of the house, listing every member of her household by name, and also asked her step-daughter, Mary I, to make sure that the rents received from her lands at Michaelmas, would be used to meet the expenses of her household. Anne also bequeathed jewellery to her family, a ring to Catherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, another ring to the Countess of Arundel and jewels to her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth. In recompense for these jewels, she asked Mary to make sure that her servants were rewarded for their long service to her and she asked Elizabeth to take one of her maids into service.

On the same day that she died, Anne’s body was embalmed and placed in a coffin covered with a cloth bearing her arms. Tapers were lit around her coffin and prayers said on a daily basis.

On 3rd August, according to diarist Henry Machyn, her coffin was moved from Chelsea to Westminster in preparation for her burial the next day. Machyn records:

“The 3rd day of August my lady Anne of Cleve, sometime wife unto King Henry the 8th came from Chelsea to be [buried] unto Westminster, with all the children of Westminster and [many] [priests] and clerks, and then the grey [amice] of Paul’s and 3 crosses, and the monks of Westminster; and my lord bishop of Lo[ndon] and my lord abbott of Westminster rode together, next the monks, and then the 2 [executors] Sir Edmond Peckham and Sir (Robert) Freston, cofferer to the queen of England; and then my lord admiral, my (lord) Darcy of Essex, and many knights and gentlemen; and afore her servants, and after her banner of arms; and then her gentlemen and her head officers; and then her chariot with 8 banners of arms of diverse armes, and 4 banners of images of white taffeta, wrought with fine gold and her arms; and so by saint James, and so to Charing Cross, with a 100 torches burning, her servants bearing them, and the 12 bed-men of Westminster had new black gowns; and they had 12 torches burning, and 4 white branches with arms; and then ladies and gentlewomen all in black, and horses; and 8 heralds of arms in black, and their horses; and arms [set] about the hearse behind and before; and 4 heralds bearing the 4 white banners; and at (the) church door all did alight and there did receive the good lady, my lord of London and my lord abbott in their mitres and copes, sensyng her, and their men did bear her with a canopy of black velvet, with 4 black staffs, and so brought into the hearse and there tarried dirge, and so there all night with light burning.”

Then, on the 4th of August, there was a requiem mass for Anne with a “godly sermon” by the Lord Abbot of Westminster. Her coffin was then taken to her tomb and her body interred with the cloth-of-gold laid over her. Then, her head officers broke their staves and her ushers broke their rods and cast them into her tomb. After another mass, there was a dinner led by the chief mourner, Elizabeth, Marchioness of Winchester, the Lord Admiral and Lord Darcy.

Anne of Cleves is the only one of Henry VIII’s wives to be buried at Westminster Abbey and her tomb is on the south side of the High Altar. It is decorated with carvings of a crown and her initials, AC, skulls and crossed bones, and a lion’s head.

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