Anne of Cleves – a much misunderstood woman

The fourth wife of Henry VIII of England, the second divorcee and the ‘Flanders Mare’ … or so we are led to believe. In actual fact it can be said that she was the luckiest of all Henry’s 6 wives – most of whom died.

Anne was selected as one of the Protestant European princesses that Henry considered an eligible match. She was much younger than him and reportedly very demure – perfect after the tumults of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.

Hans Holbein the younger was sent to paint her and send the completed portrait back to the King – the Duchy of Cleves ( in the Holy Roman Empire) being too far to travel to. Henry fell in love at first sight with the portrait and Anne was sent for.

There was however, a hitch – Anne spoke no English and so, on arrival mistook Henry, dressed as a peasant, for a real peasant: when he kissed her she was horrified. Anne had not been schooled in the ways of the English King’s follies and besides, he was by 1540 an ageing, gout ridden syphilitic – not handsome whatsoever. He was horrified by her rudeness but nonetheless they still married to save themselves the public humiliation and scandal – the marriage was never consummated.

It is at this point that the commonly taught history ends – he called her ‘the Flanders’ Mare’ and divorced her – end of story. Not.

The divorce was in fact amicable and Anne remained a member of court – often being referred to as the king’s sister: they had a friendly relationship and furthermore Anne was granted a large amount of land, her own household brigade and palatially fitted house in which too live.

Not bad for a Young German woman in the 1540s and she outlived all of Henry’s other wives.

As for her beauty – the myths surrounding the fact that she was ugly cannot be trusted: many foreign ambassadors thought she was pretty and said as much in contemporary letters from the time.



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