Better Luck Next Time

The fourth time was not a charm for Henry VIII, who annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves on July 9, 1540 on the grounds of non-consummation.

Even as royal arranged marriages go, this one is famous for being a disaster. Henry agreed to the marriage before even meeting Anne face-to-face, instead relying on a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. Although popularly thought to have been hideously ugly (Henry cruelly referred to her as his “Flanders mare”), it’s more likely that her lack of education and sophistication was what turned Henry off. Plus, there may have been some personal hygiene issues. Although Henry reluctantly went through with the marriage on January 6, 1540, he was unable to consummate it. By June the marriage was over, and Anne was commanded to leave court on the 24. On July 6, she was told her husband was “reconsidering” the marriage.

Anne received a generous settlement that included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (creepily, the childhood home of her doomed predecessor, Anne Boleyn). She accepted her situation docily, and her good behavior earned her a place in Henry’s esteem. They became very good friends and she was honored at court as a member of the royal family, being referred to as “the King’s beloved sister”. She visited often and had good relationships with Henry’s children as well.

Less fortunate was the man who brokered the marriage: Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s Chancellor, who wanted to ally England with one of the German protestant powers. Henry was so enraged at being forced by Cromwell to marry Anne that he had him arrested on trumped-up charges of treason on June 10, 1540. He was beheaded on Tower Hill in a hideously botched execution on July 28, the same day Henry married Katherine Howard.

 



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