The Tudor Society

22 September 1515 – Birth of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife

Anne_of_Cleves,_miniature_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerOn this day in history, 22nd September 1515, Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg, or Anne of Cleves as we know her, was born near Düsseldorf. She was the second daughter of John III, Duke of Jülich, Cleves and Berg, an important German ruler, and his wife, Maria of Jülich-Berg.

In 1539, Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's chief adviser, was looking to broker an alliance between England and the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Lutheran Princes established by Anne's brother-in-law, John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. A marriage treaty between England and Cleves was agreed upon in the autumn of 1539 and Anne of Cleves arrived in England on 27th December 1539 in preparation for marrying Henry VIII. Henry and Anne married on 6th January 1540, Epiphany, at Greenwich Palace, but the marriage was short-lived, ending in an annulment just over six months later. Henry claimed that he had been unable to consummate the marriage due to Anne's appearance. He married one of her maids-of-honour, the young Catherine Howard, shortly after the annulment had gone through.

Anne did not fight the annulment proceedings and she was rewarded for her acquiescence with grants of money, property, plate and jewels. She became a very wealthy woman. She never remarried and was able to maintain a friendly relationship with the King and his children. She outlived Henry VIII and all of his other wives, and died on 15th July 1557.

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  1. R

    I find Anne of Cleves one of the most fascinating ladies of history, one of my top three of Henry VIII wives, the most sensible lady that I have never met but would love to travel back and have a cup of tea with, although I would need to provide the tea, much better educated and intelligent than she is often given credit for and the one who got the better of Henry VIII. The Swan Castle in Cleves where she is born has some very lovely personal reminders of Anne and I remember a beautiful article over on the Anne Boleyn files a couple of years ago that Claire did from a visit there, it was wonderful to see this interesting place. I have never been but it is on my list soon. Elizabeth Norton’s biography of Anne brings to life a woman who was intelligent, charismatic, at the heart of English court life, in spite of her shakey start with Henry, was shrewd, generous, loved fun, learned to play musical instruments in England, had a good relationship with Henry and his children after the divorce; had a good legal mind as she examined the original contracts of her marriage to find a way to twart Henry, believed herself to be his true wife and showed displeasure when he married Katherine Parr, remained on good terms with Queen Mary even when some small sucspicion fell on her about her support for some or other conspiracy of which she was innocent, a lady who was smart enough to know when she was beaten and to make a generous divorce settlement, a lady with deep religious feelings and a woman who was described as a merciful queen and a gracious and kind Princess. I doubt very much that she looked like a Flanders Mare, although to be fair Henry never said she did; I doubt that she had funny teeth or even an ugly appearence or bad odour. She may not have been the beautiful 16 year old Christina of Milan that Henry had hoped for, but her mother and sister were beautiful. It is hardly likely that Holbein got her that wrong. She may not have looked quite as her portrait but I think it was more to do with her total lack of sexual expectation which put Henry off. He could not get aroused and they did not have a repour, maybe something else was not quite as expected and Henry being disappointed made any excuse to escape from an unhappy situation. Both Anne and Henry did well to end this marriage, they remained friends and Anne was called His Sister. Anne had the honour, unlike other wives to be properly buried with full Queenly honours, paid for by Mary in Westminster Abbey. She also attended her coronation in style. Only Jane Seymour got this honour before her, although Katherine Parr and Catherine of Aragon had proper burials in style, they did not get the full Queenly honours of Anne.

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22 September 1515 – Birth of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife