Alice’s Restaurant

June 19, 2007

Tudor Follies: Anne of Cleves and the Royal Willie

Filed under: Henry VIII, History with Mr. Al, Research — aliceaudrey @ 12:39 am

Those of us who are not well versed in history are no-doubt very concerned about Anne of Cleves’ future.  Being an unwanted bride to Henry VIII could get you killed.  And Cromwell?  Better set aside your breakfast, Anastasia.

And now for History according to Mr. Al.

They had the same uncle. The gruff, lovable old Duke of Norfolk. He who had gone so far out of his way to make sure that his niece, Anne Boleyn, was slaughtered like a sheep. Getting on Henry’s extremely profitable good side worked with Anne…for a while. Why shouldn’t it work with Katherine? Not only was she younger and much prettier than Anne, she was a few bricks shy of a load! She would do anything she was told to do! She didn’t have Anne’s dynamic personality, but she didn’t need it. Katherine was fourteen or fifteen, Henry was forty-nine. The perfect age difference.

Henry wasn’t the only older guy to notice Katherine. By the time she caught Henry’s eye she had already had plenty of experience with other men. She would have reason to regret this. There is evidence that she already did. For now, the Katherine/Henry train was moving in the right direction. But what to do about Anne? Everyone involved was worried to distraction about the mess that would result from yet another royal divorce. They had reason to worry. As with Katherine of Aragon, putting Anne aside the wrong way could start a war. Accuse her of adultery? She was too well known now. No one would believe it and Henry would look really bad accusing her of such a thing. Henry was not public opinion proof.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Unfortunately for Anne, Henry was doing what Henry did best. Blaming her for the fact that he wasn’t attracted to her. Given Henry’s deadly reputation, Anne was getting stressed. She tried avoiding him, which cheesed him off even more. As if HE were the problem! While he was unhappy with Anne, Henry was saving his righteous indignation for someone else.

On June 10th 1540, Cromwell was arrested in the Council chamber by, who else, the Duke of Norfolk. Not wasting a moment, Henry had him chucked into a barge and taken to the Tower. That same day a Bill of Attainder against Cromwell was drawn up. The charges were treason and heresy. Charges Cromwell himself had used many times in the past against Henry’s enemies. More irony.

On the 19th the Bill passed the upper house and was sent down to the Commons. While all this was going on, Henry’s plans for annulment were moving full steam ahead. On the 24th Henry sent Anne to Richmond Palace, claiming that plague had broken out in London and he wanted her safe. He would join her in a few days. He didn’t, of course. This put Anne in very bad frame of mind. She had no idea how things stood between her and her husband, no one was telling her and she didn’t even know how the whole thing had started. She had an ugly suspicion how it might end.

With Anne out of town Henry decided to play the footloose bachelor. Since the fastest, and safest, way through 16TH century London was by boat, everyone who was anyone wanted a palace by the river. This allowed anyone and everyone, including nobodies loafing on the wharves, to view the comings and goings of all and sundry. Including the king. It was soon the talk of London that Henry was visiting Katherine Howard. Nearly every bloody night! He even visited her in broad daylight! If anyone was going to be accused of adultery…

Members of Katherine’s family were telling her to take a page from her cousin’s playbook. Keep him at arm’s length. Make him WANT it. Don’t give in till you’ve got the ring on your finger. They thought she was still a virgin. There was no point in spoiling Henry’s illusion. Katherine heeded her family’s advice. She did as she was told. This not only enflamed Henry’s passion, it roused him to swift action against Cromwell and the annulment of his marriage.

By the end of June Anne was still at Richmond and Henry had yet to join her. She was getting seriously frightened. Her ladies were old court hands and knew the signs. All the signs were bad. Anne knew she was totally at Henry’s mercy. That Henry not only didn’t love her, but seemed to hate her. What had she ever done to deserve this? All she could do was wait and hope for the best. For Cromwell, however, the waiting was over.

On June 29th the Bill of Attainder against Cromwell passed through the Commons. He was a dead man. Worse than that, he was informed that he would suffer the FULL penalty for treason. Ouchie!!! He begged Henry for mercy. “Forgeddaboutit!” Came the reply. In early July Anne began to hear stories about what was happening in London. More bad news. Anne’s chamberlain, the Earl of Rutland, was ordered by Henry to reassure Anne that all was well; That Henry would never do ANYTHING mean or nasty or violent like drag her off to the Tower and chop her head off. He had only done that to one wife…so far. And everyone agreed with Henry that that wife had probably deserved it. Anne was not reassured.

On July 7th Henry wrote out a declaration that the clergy should look into his marriage. He claimed he had no ulterior motives for seeking an annulment. That he had been lied to about Anne’s beauty, although her virtue was everything a good husband could wish for in a wife. Then there was the business of the pre-marriage agreement. Merciful Heavens! Worrying about that was keeping him up nights.

As if that were not enough, Henry claimed that he had, quote, “Lack enough of the will and the power” to consummate his marriage. His doctors were happy to confirm that they had urged Henry “not to enforce himself.” God forbid he should damage the Royal Willie before he produced more princes. On July 9th the convocations of York and Canterbury found the marriage of Anne and Henry Null and Void.

That same day a deputation rode out to Richmond to inform Anne. She was told that, henceforth, she should refer to herself as His Majesties Honorary Sister. No hard feelings. No Tower or chopping block either. Oh… One last thing… She was informed that His Majesty wished her to have 4,000 pounds per annum, the manor houses of Bletchingly and Richmond and… Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s old house. The titles to these places were to be in her name, any rents or profits from these properties were hers to keep. But only if she stayed in England. Should she return to Cleves, where she was not allowed to own property, where she would be under the total control of her brother and would be lucky to claim the clothes on her back as her own, all these properties would revert to the Crown.

For reasons inexplicable, she decided to stay in England. She liked England! She loved England! She wrote letters to her brother, King Francis and Charles attesting to this fact. Francis and Charles approved of the annulment. I wonder why. Anne declared to the Lords that Henry’s will was her command. Did he want her to sign anything? You betcha! Make declarations? Okey-dokey! Take oaths? No problem! Anne of Cleves was also free to marry whomever she wished. Under the law at that time, all her property would have become her husbands. She stayed single. And… As the king’s sister, she took precedence over all the other women at court, bar the Queen. Speaking of which…


Thank you Mr. Al.  It’s nice to see someone escape Henry’s clutches.



  1. Aaaw Mr. Al, you didn’t have to hold back on my account. I was prepared.;-)

    Anne of Cleves was a very pragmatic and intelligent gal wasn’t she? Is not hard to imagine why she never remarried. Why tempt fate?
    As for Cromwell, he asked for it, didn’t he? He of all people should have known Henry’s wrath and conniving against Henry was not wise.
    I bet Anne Boleyn would have enjoyed a stroll past Cromwell’s head on London Bridge.
    Thank Mr. Al for another refreshing episode. Till next week then!

    Comment by Anastasia — June 19, 2007 @ 1:50 am

  2. Henry claimed that he had, quote, “Lack enough of the will and the power” to consummate his marriage. His doctors were happy to confirm that they had urged Henry “not to enforce himself

    LOL. Man, you just can’t make this stuff up!

    Comment by TessaD — June 19, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  3. AHHHHH! What a cliff hanger. Thanks Mr. Al! And it’s good to know that although everyone thought Ann a bit dim, she definitely knew which way her bread was buttered!!

    Comment by Ericka Scott — June 19, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  4. Anne’s single biggest problem was that she spoke only German.When she came over from Cleves she had a pretty large group of German speaking servants. As Queen of England she was expected to ditch most of these folks and hire English servants. Which she did, to her great disadvantage.
    No one ever accused her of lacking common sense,however. And she remained controversy-free for the rest of her life. This was not an easy thing to do when certain people in Germany wanted to use her to stir up trouble for the Protestant cause. On several occasions she was questioned closely about her possible involvment with “subversive elements”. Nothing ever came of it because she was smart enough to keep those people far, far away from her household. I do wonder what she really looked like though.Just because she wasn’t good enough for Henry doesn’t mean she was all that unattractive.
    Thank you once again, loyal fans! There’s more to come, so stay tuned!
    Mr Al

    Comment by Mr Al — June 20, 2007 @ 1:16 am

  5. She was SO lucky that he didn’t consummate the marriage! The Royal Willie would’ve been seriously skeevy by then!

    Comment by Lynne — June 20, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  6. Wonderful reading, Mr. Al! After the day I’ve had, I needed a good chuckle and the doings (or lack thereof) of Henry’s Royal Willie was just the trick! Thanks!!


    Comment by Laurie — June 22, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  7. Cool! It sounds like Anne came out smelling like a rose. Good for her.

    Comment by Donna — July 18, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  8. Worth noting that today is the birthdate of this wife of Henry VIII – wife No. 4.
    Anne of Cleeves – 22 September 1515 – 16 July 1557
    Luckily, she died a natural death.
    David Berghouse
    Author: Today’s Creators

    Comment by museum-tracker — September 21, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

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