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Anne of Cleves ( 1515 - 1557 )  Category ( women_in_history ) [suggest a correction]

Anne of ClevesAnne of Cleves, or Anna von Julich-Klev-Bert,is best known for being the only divorced wife of England's King Henry VIII to keep her head on her shoulders.Born in Dusseldorf, the daughter of John III of the Duchy of Cleves, she was betrothed at age twelve to Francis, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine, but the engagement fell through. Her father's ongoing dispute with Emperor Charles V made the family allies with Henry VIII, and it was Henry's chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, who encouraged the match between Anne and Henry.

Anne was Henry VIII's fourth wife. He divorced his first wife, beheaded the second, and the third died following childbirth. The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was sent to paint portraits of Anne and her sister, Amelia. Importantly, Henry hired the artist to be as accurate as possible, and not to flatter either sister. The portrait is now in The Louvre in Paris. By 1539, marriage negotiations were going well and a marriage treaty was signed in October of that year. Henry favored a sophisticated woman with culture and learning. Anne, however, lacked these qualities. She received no formal education as a child, and could not play a musical instrument, which was important to Henry VIII, who was a musician himself. She could speak, read, and write only German. However, she was considered gentle, virtuous, and docile, all qualities desirous in a queen consort. Henry was pleased with what he saw in the painting and rushed off incognito to see his future bride. However, their first meeting was disastrous. Within a few hours, Henry left the room and announced: "I like her not." He tried to find way to avoid the marriage, but could not afford to offend the Germans. They went ahead with the marriage soon after, in early January 1540. Before six months had elapsed Anne was commanded to leave the court, and shortly after she learned that her husband had reconsidered the marriage. She was asked for her consent to annul the marriage, to which she agreed. Interestingly, Anne received perhaps the best settlement of any of Henry's wives. She received Hever Castle, other properties, and was made a Princess of England. Her former husband called her “the King’s Beloved Sister”, and he was a frequent visitor to her home, where they played cards together.

Anne died at Hever Castle in 1557. According to her wishes, she was buried in what is described as a "somewhat hard to find tomb in Westminster Abbey." Historians have long puzzled over what brought about the end of the marriage between Henry and Anne. The view, perpetrated by Sir Horace Walpole, that Anne was ugly became and remains a popular stereotype. However, most historians disagree and point to the pleasant visage portrayed in the Holbein portrait. Another theory is that Anne found Henry repulsive because of his age and obesity, and intentionally set out to make him dislike her. Another theory suggests that they came to a mutual agreement that they just did not get along well. They shared no personal tastes, which lends credence to that theory. It may well be that the marriage was politically inconvenient at the time. Whatever the reason, the two parted amicably, which was truly an anomaly in Henry's love life.

Image: "Anne of Cleves," probably a copy of the portrait painted by Hans Holbein the Younger.

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