Part 5: Anne of Cleves
At forty-six and after managing to win and lose three
wives, Henry was not an attractive proposition. He commented that he
needed a 'big wife', but when put forward to Mary de Guise she replied
that she might be a big woman but she had a very little neck.
A young princess of the West German duchy of Kleve
was attractive to Thomas Cromwell because of her religious connections.
To Henry she was attractive for her family relations, but he would
commit himself only if he could be persuaded that he would also find
her physically attractive.
Court painter Hans Holbein made a portrait of Anne
of Cleves (as the English knew her) and Henry's ambassadors raved
about the beauty of her face and body. Cromwell worked hard on Henry
to encourage him to choose Anne. The marriage would protect England
from the Catholic threat of Spain and France and it would enable
Cromwell to attack his Catholic enemies at home.
Anne could not sing or dance, or speak foreign
languages, but the Holbein portrait left her face as a dreamy mask.
Henry saw what he wanted – an ideal wife. She was the original mail
When the two met it was a different story. He is
quoted as saying: 'I see no such thing in her as hath been showed me.
I like her not.' Henry, in private, raged against Cromwell, thinking
he had tricked him into the match for political reasons, while he
desperately searched for a way out.
In public, Henry behaved politely and twenty-four
year-old Anne had no idea of his opinion of her. Reluctantly Henry
submitted to the marriage for the sake of the country. But he found
her so repugnant that lovemaking was impossible.
Anne still knew nothing of Henry's feelings. The
people of London, however, saw the truth: that the king had been
visiting Catherine Howard, one of Anne's ladies in waiting.
By the time Anne had arrived in England the original
political reason for the union had diminished, and the lack of any
immediate chemistry between Henry and Anne certainly had not helped.
When Cromwell was arrested and taken to the Tower and Anne was
asked to leave the palace all became clear. The court soon decreed
that since the marriage had never been consummated, it had never
No longer queen, Anne was told that from now on
she would be known as the sister of the king. She would be given
precedence above everybody apart from the queen and the king's
children. She would be given Richmond and Bletchingley palaces
and an income of £2,600 a year. Realising she had no choice, she