09 July 2013

9 July - Anne of Cleves is free

Farming and Gardening – St. Kilian sets the reapers going [i.e., the grain harvest starts today]

Today in 1540, King Henry VIII of England annulled his marriage to Queen Anna von Kleve.  This may have been an unmitigated blessing to Anna, who had spent the previous six months being alternately praised and scorned, feted and ignored, and finally put in the terrifying position of wondering when her head would be forfeit.

Around the 23rd of June, Anna was ordered by her husband to retire to the better air of Richmond, on the grounds that there was plague in London.  Henry then proceeded to consult his Archbishop of Canterbury concerning his doubts about the validity of the marriage undertaken the previous January.  On the 6th of July, six months to the day after the wedding, the King’s doubts were presented to Parliament, which dutifully wagged its tail and petitioned their gracious King to allow the convocation of the clergy to investigate the marriage’s legality.  He was graciously pleased to grant their request “for he had no other object in view but the glory of God, the welfare of the realm, and the triumph of the truth” [and Katherine Howard].  A deputation was sent to Anna in Richmond the same day to express the same doubts and to find out if she would let the English clergy decide the question.  Believing that she was not only helpless but in danger, Anna agreed.  Convocation dutifully wagged its tail and after three days of investigation pronounced the marriage to be null and void on 9 June. 

On 10 June, Cranmer reported this to the House of Lords, and the King’s Commissioners (Suffolk (Lord President of the Council), Southampton (Lord Privy Seal), and Wriothesley, (the King’s Secretary) went to Richmond to convey the news to Anna.  She, understanding little English, but fully aware of the fates of her predecessors, fainted in terror, and it was some time before the commissioners could make her understand that the king proposed to adopt her as his sister, giving her precedence of every lady in the court, except his daughters and his future consort, and endowing her with estates worth £3000 a year and the household of a royal princess.  When she was finally convinced that they were not here to escort her to the Tower, she resigned her position and her husband with an alacrity just short of insulting.  On the following day, she sent a letter to Henry, in which she acquiesced to the decision of Parliament and subscribed herself, “Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anna, of Cleves.” [Of course, the shadow of the Tower might have influenced the quick acquiescence.  Subsequent letters to her family warned them nicely that any attempts on their part to upset the status quo would most likely be visited on her head.]

On July 13th, a mere eight days from the start of this disgraceful business, a bill to invalidate the marriage passed unanimously.  Again she was visited by the commissioners, who brought her a down payment of £500; in return she sent her wedding ring with its inscription “God Send Me Well to Keep” back to Henry.  Her household was broken up on 17 July, those who had sworn to serve her as Queen were dismissed, and a new set of servants chosen by Henry arrived.  Prior to this she had again written to her quondam husband, thanking him for his goodness to her:
“Most excellent and noble prince, and my most benign and good brother, I do most humbly thank you for your great goodness, favor and liberality, which as well by your majesty’s own letters, as by the report and declaration of your councilors, the lord great master, the lord privy seal, and your grace’s secretary, I perceive it hath pleased you to determine towards me.  Whereunto I have no more to answer, but that I shall ever remain your majesty’s most humble sister and servant.”

Henry wrote his own version to his ambassadors, making the whole thing sound simple and reasonable: “As We could no longer entertain her as our Queen, We could nevertheless, for the honour of her house and parentage, and in respect of her truth and conformable behavior, entertain her in our Realm as our sister, and endow her with such a state of honor, as all her friends and allies should have just cause to be contented, pleased and satisfied…. And so she dismissed from her, in a very quiet, genteel and honorable fashion, such as had waited and attended upon her in the state of a Queen, and remained then as in her own house, by our assignment, still at Richmond, where she yet continues, accompanied with her officers and servants, agreeably to her present state… with a good cheer and manner, devising daily the politic order of the state she now has and enjoys….”

Anna was given the palace at Richmond and a house in Chelsea, along with several other properties, many from the estate of the lately executed Earl of Essex, formerly Thomas Cromwell, the architect of her marriage.  All this was given to her on the condition that she not leave the country, and in spite of the constant watchfulness where Henry was concerned, she accepted, was naturalized an English subject, and settled down to enjoy life.  Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth visited her; so also did Henry, now married to Katherine Howard, and the royal pair often invited her to Hampton Court. 

This led to one of those delightful scandals that no novelist could ever use and few people realize: at the same time that rumors of Queen Katherine’s behavior reached the king, rumors also reached him that Lady Anne had given birth to a ‘fair son’ whose father was purported to be Henry himself.  Henry was no end alarmed by this, and for two weeks two commissions sifted the evidence about two wives (one of them an ex, and styled ‘sister’).  The rumor seems to have started when Anna took to her bed with an undisclosed illness at the time of the queen’s downfall.  In Anna’s case, the commission found that it was merely scandalous gossip and committed two of the gossips to the Tower.  Katherine Howard wasn’t so fortunate.

After Katherine’s execution, Anna’s brother of Cleves seems to have broached the subject of the king’s remarriage to his sister, but the suggestion was ignored and quietly died, and I’m sure Anna breathed a sigh of relief.

The rest of her life was spent very comfortably in England.

Madame of Cleves has a more joyous countenance than ever.  She wears a 
great variety of dresses, and passes all her time in sports and recreations.”   
Marillac, Ambassador of France, Sept. 1540.

 Artwork: Anne of Cleves, c. 1540, attributed to Barthel Bruyn the Elder.  Swiped from Wikipedia.