Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Anne was from the small north German state of Cleves. Her brother, William, ruled Cleves but realised that his sister’s marriage to the king of England would greatly enhance his status.
After the divorce of Catherine, the execution of Anne and the early death of Jane, few noble women in England were willing to marry Henry. To many he appeared tainted and marriage to him seemed to come with a price.
After a period of mourning, Henry sent men around western Europe to seek out a new wife for him. They were instructed to bring back portraits of the women they believed Henry would be interested in. Anne of Cleves was chosen from one such portrait.
Anne was born in 1515. She was not well educated and knew little about the world outside of Cleves. She had been brought up to obey and when her brother signed a marriage treaty with Henry she duly sailed for England – having never met Henry VIII.
He was not at Dover to meet her ship when it docked, but he did go to see her at Greenwich Palace. Their first meeting did not go well. Anne was staring out of a window at Greenwich when Henry burst into her room. She did not recognise him and continued to stare out of the window. For a man who expected to be instantly recognised and bowed to, this was a serious snub. Henry announced to those present that “I like her not”.
He also found her ugly commenting that she had the face of “a Flanders mare”. Communication between the two was difficult as she did not speak English and Henry had a very limited knowledge of German – and expected to speak English in his own country! Any communication had to be done between Henry and Anne’s maids of honour who could act as translators. Henry swiftly came to a decision that he did not want to marry her.
However, he could not get out of the marriage treaty and the marriage took place on January 6th 1540 – despite the protests of Henry. Their marriage was a farce if only for the language difficulties. Anne was so naïve that when Henry kissed her goodnight before leaving her with her maids of honour, she was convinced that she would become pregnant because of this.
Anne came to realise that Henry had no wish to be married to her. She quickly realised that her life may well have been in danger if she put up any opposition to a divorce. She agreed to an annulment – much to Henry’s delight. This was granted in July 1540.
After the divorce, Anne remained in England but never remarried. Ironically, she stayed on good terms with Henry who referred to her as his sister and often invited her to court. Henry already had his eye on someone else – Catherine Howard who he married less than 20 days after the annulment came through.