Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anne of Cleves

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ANNE of Cleves (1515–1557), fourth queen of Henry VIII, was the daughter of John, duke of Cleves, surnamed the Pacific. Her mother, Mary, was the only daughter of William, duke of Juliers, and her father was consequently possessed of that duchy also in her mother's right. She herself was born on 22 Sept. 1515. She had an elder sister, Sybilla, who was married in 1527 to John Frederic, duke of Saxony, the leader of the Smalcaldic league; and a younger sister, Amelia, who remained single. She had also a younger brother, William, who, by an arrangement made at Nimeguen, became duke of Gueldres in 1538, and united that duchy after his father's death to those of his inheritance. In 1533 her father established Lutheranism throughout his dominions. He was the most powerful supporter of protestantism in the west of Germany, and it was not unnatural that after Jane Seymour's death she should have been thought of by Cromwell as a match for Henry VIII. There were, however, some drawbacks; and one was intimated pretty distinctly beforehand, even as early as December 1537, before the king had been two months a widower. John Hutton, ambassador in the Low Countries, wrote at that time to Cromwell, mentioning her among other possible ladies. ‘The Duke of Cleves,’ he observes, ‘hath a daughter; but I hear no great praise neither of her personage nor beauty.’ Nevertheless, after the failure of some other negotiations, Henry was induced, in the spring of 1539, to desire her portrait of her brother-in-law, the Duke of Saxony, her father being then lately dead. Christopher Mont, a German himself, was the king's agent at that court, and wrote to Cromwell in a very different vein from what Hutton had done some fifteen months before. Every man, he said, praised the lady's beauty. She as far surpassed her sister, the duchess, ‘as the golden sun did the silver moon.’ The Duke of Saxony, however, put off sending her portrait, alleging that his painter, Lucas Cranach, was ill, till the king commissioned his own artist, Holbein, to do the work, who painted likenesses both of her and of her sister Amelia, which seem to have given great satisfaction.

It is one of the extraordinary features of the case that so little seems to have been thought of any possible objections except plain looks. Nicholas Wotton, afterwards dean of York and Canterbury, wrote at this time from Germany, that the lady had been very strictly educated by her mother, the duchess, ‘and in manner never from her elbow;’ that she was very meek and gentle, but that she could neither read nor write any language but her own. She might, no doubt, learn English soon, for she was very intelligent; but at that time (within five months of her marriage) she knew not a word of it, and, worse still, she could not sing or play upon an instrument. Henry was devotedly fond of music; but in Germany it was thought unworthy of a great lady to have any knowledge of the art. The only thing in which she was at all proficient was needlework, and with that she occupied most of her time. The prospect of her union with Henry was certainly far from satisfactory. Nevertheless everything was arranged. Frederic of Bavaria, count palatine of the Rhine, came to England accompanied by the vice-chancellor of her brother, the Duke of Cleves, to conclude the match, and the treaty was signed at Windsor 24 Sept. 1539. Anne left Düsseldorf and proceeded by easy stages to Calais, where she was met, 11 Dec., by Fitzwilliam, earl of Southampton, lord high admiral, and a great array of English lords and gentlemen. She was received with immense firing of guns both from the town and from the ships in Calais haven. She remained at Calais fifteen days for lack of favourable wind, but crossed on 27 Dec., and landed at Deal. Thence she proceeded, by Dover, Canterbury, and Sittingbourne, to Rochester. She was met on Barham down and conducted into Canterbury by the archbishop and four of his suffragans with a great company of gentlemen. Again she was met on Rainham down and conducted into Rochester by the Duke of Norfolk and a great company of lords, knights, and esquires. She reached Rochester on New Year's eve, where Henry himself came upon her next day by surprise, having informed Cromwell beforehand that he intended to visit her privily ‘to nourish love.’ He found her looking out of a window at a bull-baiting, and showed her a token from himself, still preserving his incognito. She thanked him with commonplace civility, and still kept looking out of window, till the king, after putting off his cloak in another chamber, returned in a coat of purple velvet, and the reverence shown him by the lords and knights about him convinced her that he was her destined husband.

To outward appearance the interview passed off well. The king spent the evening in her company, and was with her again next morning till past midday, when he took his leave and returned to Greenwich. It is perhaps an exaggeration that he was disgusted with her at the first glance. But he confessed to Cromwell next day that though she was ‘well and seemly,’ he considered her ‘nothing so fair as had been reported.’ The tedious effort to converse with her could not have helped to alleviate any disappointment which he felt at her personal appearance, and he asked in dismay if there was no means by which he could avoid fulfilling the engagement. Had she not made a contract once with the Marquis of Lorraine? This impediment was discussed by the council, but the precontract had been annulled. ‘Is there no remedy, then,’ said the king, ‘but that I must needs put my neck in the yoke?’ There appeared to be none, and the victim resigned himself to his fate, giving no external evidence of his extreme mortification. Anne meanwhile completed her journey up to London. A rich tent of cloth of gold had been set up for her on Blackheath, where the city companies and a great array of knights and gentlemen came to meet her, and there Henry himself again met her and gave her a public greeting, riding with her by his side in procession to Greenwich. The following Tuesday, being Twelfth day, was appointed for the marriage. That morning the king said to Cromwell, ‘My lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that which I must do this day for none earthly thing.’ The rite, however, was duly performed by Cranmer at Greenwich, and the pair showed themselves in procession that same day afterwards. Chroniclers report, with their usual delight in pageants, the jousts which took place on the following Sunday, and a procession up the river to Westminster on 4 Feb. Parliament met on 12 April, and among other matters settled the dower of the new queen; and nothing occurred for some time to show the world at large that there was the least disposition to call in question the validity of the marriage.

But a great change took place during the next three months. On 17 April Cromwell was created earl of Essex, as if his services in the matter of the king's marriage had marked him for peculiar honour. In June he was arrested and sent to the Tower. His fall was connected with a great political change and a reaction in favour of catholic doctrines. At the time of the marriage Henry stood in no small fear of the emperor, and indeed of a European combination against him, owing to the policy of which Cromwell had been the instrument. The marriage was calculated to give the emperor some trouble at home by the encouragement it gave to the German protestants. But now Henry was rather inclined to seek reconciliation with the emperor, and to drop the alliance with the German princes. He accordingly had the less difficulty in seeking to release himself from a distasteful union. An act of attainder was passed against Cromwell in parliament, and while he lay in prison expecting his inevitable fate, the king compelled him to reveal a number of shameful conversations with himself, tending to show that he had so disliked the lady all along that he had never consummated the marriage, and that if she was a maid when she came to him (which his majesty was pleased to doubt) he had left her just as good a one as before. On this, both houses of parliament having requested that the validity of the marriage should be inquired into, the question was laid before convocation, which, on 9 July, unanimously declared it to be null and void. An act of parliament was immediately passed in accordance with this determination, and very soon afterwards—though on what precise day is uncertain—Henry married Katharine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, in whom he had evidently for some time taken a very strong interest.

It must be owned that Anne herself consented to the dissolution of her marriage with the king. On 25 June the king had formally notified his intentions to her by a deputation whom he sent to her at Richmond. At first she fainted at the intimation, but she agreed to refer the matter to the clergy, and seemed satisfied with an arrangement by which lands to the value of 3,000l. a year were settled upon her on her renouncing the name of queen for that of the king's ‘sister.’ A further condition was attached to the grant, that she should not cross the sea again but remain the rest of her days in England.

There is not much to record of her afterlife. There was a scandalous report at one time, which proved to be unfounded, that she had given birth to a child. After the fall of Katharine Howard her brother, the Duke of Cleves, vainly hoped that the king would take her back again as his wife. Under Edward VI she was put to some inconvenience by the pensions which ought to have been paid by the crown to some of her servants falling into arrear, and also by some exchange of land with the king which were forced upon her by the council. At the coronation of Queen Mary she rode in the procession along with the Princess Elizabeth, with whom she was also seated at the banquet at the end of the table. She died on 16 July 1557, and was buried with considerable ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 3 Aug. following. Her will is dated on 12 and 15 July immediately before her death.

[Hall's Chronicle; Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camden Soc.); Chronicle of Calais; Machyn's Diary (Camden Soc.); State Papers; Ellis's Original Letters; Kempe's Loseley MSS.; Excerpta Historica (S. Bentley); Herbert's History of Henry VIII. Miss Strickland's life of this queen contains also some particulars derived from original researches.]

J. G.