Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Anne of Cleves, the "King's Beloved Sister"?

Anne of Cleves (born 22 September 1515)

I am sure I am not alone in thinking that Anne of Cleves was probably the luckiest of Henry VIII's six wives. 

Anne of Cleves, portait by
Hans Holbein, the Younger, c. 1539
Married to the king on 6 January 1540, Anne was dismissed from court on 24 June, and by 6 July, six months after her marriage, she was informed that her husband was seeking an annulment--which was forthcoming in short order, on 9 July. 

A generous settlement was made for Anne's compliance with the king's wishes. She received Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (the family home of Anne Boleyn, which had come into the king's possession in 1539 after Thomas Boleyn's death). Rather than queen of England, she became "the King's beloved sister."

She outlived all of Henry's wives, the king himself, and his son, Edward VI. She was at court and took part in Mary Tudor's coronation on 28 September 1553, though the queen grew suspicious that Anne was plotting on Elizabeth Tudor's behalf. After 1554, Anne of Cleves did not return to court.

She died on 16 July 1557, only forty-one years old. But her life, though quiet, seems to have been a satisfying one. 

(By the way, Anne of Cleves's brother, William of Cleves, was the young man to whom Jeanne d'Albret was first married, much against her wishes. That marriage, too, was annulled.)

Although it is now out-of-print, I recommend Mary Saaler's biography, Anne of Cleves: Fourth Wife of Henry VIII--there are a few factual errors, but it is focused on a woman who receives relatively little attention from historians. I also highly recommend Retha M. Warnicke's The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Tudor England, which focuses on the making--and unmaking--of royal marriages.
Hans Holbein's miniature of
Anne of Cleves