The Tudor Period’s Anne of Cleves Tragic Tale

Once upon a time in the 1500s, there was a German noblewoman known as Anne of Cleves who eventually became the fourth wife of King Henry VIII of England.  The story you are about to hear is not exactly what you would call a love story, but it is an interesting one.  Married on January 6, 1540, one would think that Anne, now being the Queen of England, had found her white knight and that it was a match made in heaven.  Quite the contrary: this marriage was brief lasting until only July 9, 1540.  The marriage was never consummated because Henry found Anne so unattractive that he told his subjects that he could not perform his husbandly duties and poor Anne went down in history as a “flanders mare”.  Anne’s reaction to Henry’s shallow talk is unknown, but the blow couldn’t have been that bad, as she was quickly agreeable to an annulment and remained in England for the rest of her life.

Anne of Cleves Chemise:

Anne of Cleves Chemise

So, it may not have been “happily ever after” for Anne and Henry, but at least she did not walk away empty handed.  Being thankful for her congenial nature, Henry kindly gifted her with a generous income and several homes, including Hever Castle.  I suppose that’s the least he could do after seriously insulting this woman’s physical appearance and dumping her!  Fortunately, Anne bounced back from this potentially scarring marriage and was able to enjoy an independent and luxurious lifestyle, full of English ale and gambling.  In fact, she still kept good relations with Henry, visiting his courts often as an honored guest.  After their marriage, Anne was referred to as Henry’s “beloved sister” and actually outlasted the rest of the king’s wives.  This just goes to show that exes can still be friends.

While Anne may not have been the model that Henry was hoping for, she was described by French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as being “of middling beauty, and very assured and resolute countenance.”  She was also said to be fair haired, tall and slim, and with a lovely face.  However, she had a solemn look, according to English standards, and appeared old for her age.  Yet, she was also known to be gentle, virtuous, and docile, making her excellent wife material.  A strike against her, though, was her lack of formal education.  Henry held education and cultural sophistication in high esteem and sadly, Anne didn’t quite fit this mold.  She was skilled at needlework and could read and write, but only in German.

Courtly Green Brocade Dress:

Courtly Green Brocade Dress

When Henry first met Anne in Rochester, it wasn’t love at first sight.  As a matter of fact, it was the opposite.  Documents talk of Henry’s disappointment in Anne’s appearance from the start, even though I did sneak up and boldly kiss her.  When Anne realized who it was that had done this, she was startled and began cursing in German.  Both parties here were not fans of the marriage which should have been the red light of a doomed union.  Consequently, though, Anne and Henry had little choice in the matter, as the wedding would keep peaceful relations between England and Germany since a treaty had been signed.

While this story is not as depressing as a Shakespearean tragedy, it is not as happy as a Disney fairy tale.  Still, it makes for an intriguing historical account.  To see our line of clothing from the time of Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII, known as the Tudor Period, visit:

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