Anne of Cleves
Today is the 490th anniversary of the birth of Anne of Cleves, the fourth of Henry VIII's six wives.
After the death of Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour (not the TV doctor), days after she had given birth to his first legitimate son, it was inevitable that Henry would be looking for a new wife.
Executive dating was in many ways as thorny a chore in the 16th century as it is in the 21st century. Anne of Cleves might have been the top search result for an Internet dating query by the king, had the Internet been around in 1538 and had the king asked for "a pretty European noblewoman of child-bearing age whose state has not turned its back on England after its secession from Catholic jurisdiction."
England had, indeed, become isolated from the rest of Europe after Henry's break from Rome, so Henry's chief minister Thomas Cromwell was anxious for Henry to form an alliance with the principality of Cleves in Germany, a Protestant state allied to Saxony and the league of Lutheran princes. Still, Henry worried about whether Anne was pretty enough, so he sent his court portraitist Hans Holbein to Cleves to paint her. Holbein's portrait of Anne (see above), said by many to be a superior likeness, showed her to be a delicate and demure fraulein. Satisfied, Henry had Cromwell proceed with the marriage negotiations.
Anne traveled from Cleves to Richmond in the middle of the harsh winter of 1539, and Henry was so impatient to see his new bride that he rode through bad weather from Greenwich to Richmond, catching her, no doubt, at the end of an arduous journey, and perhaps not on her best hair day. Henry took one look at her and said, "I like her not," later referring to her as a "Flanders mare." On top of Henry's disappointment in her appearance, Anne did not otherwise seem to be cut out for English court life: she spoke only German, and did not possess the talents of the typical lady-at-court -- i.e., she did not sing nor play an instrument nor read -- although she apparently knew how to sew very well.
With his statesman's cap on, however, Henry knew it was too late to stop the wedding, but he couldn't bring himself to consummate the marriage, and arranged for a divorce six months later. Anne accepted the title "King's sister," and Henry provided for her most generously for the rest of her life, giving her the royal palace at Richmond and Hever Castle (where Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, had grown up). Henry blamed Cromwell for the whole fiasco, and before the year was out, had him executed.
There are many possible morals to this story; in particular, I like "Beware of single European women who take a good picture," and "Be careful about setting your boss up on a blind date -- especially if he's the king."
Labels: Kings and Queens