Marriage undone

The marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was never a happy union. Already before the wedding itself took Anne_of_Cleves,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Youngerplace, Henry aired his misgivings, stating that she did not in her looks correspond to the apparently flattering painting Hans Holbein had painted before the marriage negotiations took place.

It may very well be that their relationship got off on the wrong foot to begin with, when Henry in the tradition of courtly love showed up in disguise that Rochester where she was lodging on her way from Dover to London. Henry had obviously not kept track on the physical change he himself had undergone over the recent years, and when a big man, both in height and girth came over to Anne, attempting to kiss her, she did not react in a good way.

From then on, Henry stated that he was no longer interested in the marriage and put pressure on Thomas Cromwell that he should find a way to get out of the agreement, something which proved impossible as it would have aggravated the Germans.

This however opened up for the enemies of Cromwell to turn on him and air their discontent, and the Anne of Cleves business would be at least the spark that started the process which in the end led to the, on Henry´s part later much regretted, downfall of Cromwell.

Recent x-rays have revealed a longer nose under the top layer of paint. Now at St. John's College Oxford

Recent x-rays have revealed a longer nose under the top layer of paint.
Now at St. John’s College Oxford

The marriage between Henry and Anne was never consummated, according to him due to an unpleasant body odour on Anne´s part as well as her sagging breast to mention but a few of his complaints. Maybe it´s not too farfetched to speculate that there was maybe other problems which Henry took the opportunity to conceal by pointing out his wife´s unattractive features; if he indeed at this point had diabetes, which isn´t unlikely, it may have been that he also had difficulties to “perform”.

It seems that Anne didn´t quite know what to expect in the marital bed, as she told the Countess of Rutland what a kind husband Henry was, kissing her every evening before going to sleep and every morning before leaving her. The Countess pointed out to her that a bit more than that would be required to achieve the much wanted spare to the throne. This didn´t much matter though, because on June 24th 1540, less than six months after the wedding, Anne was informed that she should leave the court and two weeks later that the king was reconsidering the marriage. When Anne was approached about an annulment she agreed, and this went through on July 9th 1540.

Anne of Cleves received a most generous settlement which included Anne Boleyn´s presumed childhood home, Hever Castle and Richmond Palace. She also built a deep friendship with Henry, who referred to her as his most beloved sister. Anne stayed in England for the remainder of her life, but never remarried. That Henry did, however, only weeks after his marriage to Anne had been annulled, this time to Katherine Howard.

Sources:

The six wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

Anne of Cleves : Henry VIII’s discarded bride – Elizabeth Norton

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