The First Cracks in Anna of Cleves’ Marriage to Henry VIII

By late February 1540, it was already obvious to Henry VIII that the political situation between Anna of Cleves brother, the young Duke Wilhelm, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was serious. Most members of Anna’s German party who came with her across Imperial and French territory to England had left for the United Duchies of Juelich-Cleves-Berg. Henry faced the very real concern that his new, inexperienced brother-in-law might drag Henry into a war against Charles V, a war which Henry did not want.


A month earlier, in January 1540, the spat between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Anna’s brother Duke Wilhelm V of Cleves was becoming apparent, and Anna’s German party were afraid to wait any longer lest they were caught out during a skirmish between Charles V and Wilhelm. Reports were starting to filter in that Wilhelm had gone behind Henry’s back and was courting the French king Francis I for a marriage into the royal family, as well. These serious issues and threats, amongst others, made the marriage between Henry and Anna politically dangerous to England. Henry had to undo his marriage to Anna as quickly as possible, and had to avoid divorce.

A Secret Council was quickly created to come up with grounds for the annulment. One of the alleged grounds for the annulment of Anna’s marriage to Henry VIII was her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine, Duke of Bar. The contract was created around 1525 to 1526, and included that Anna’s father pay a dowry amount to Francis of Lorraine’s father. This condition made the engagement de futuro, meaning that if Anna’s father did not pay the dowry, then the engagement would be broken off and the contract void. Long story short, the dowry was not paid, and a court official sent Anna’s father a letter in 1535 calling off the engagement.

On 26 February 1540, a copy of the letter ending Anna’s engagement to Francis of Lorraine was delivered to Henry. Specifically,

“The argument concerning Anna’s pre-contract was based on a letter dated 15 February 1535…. the letter was from the Guelders ambassador… [and said that] the betrothal was terminated by Karl of Guelders because Anna’s father Johann could not make the necessary payments.”

Francis of Lorraine was Karl of Guelders’ great-nephew, and a claimant to the Duchy of Guelders because Karl had no heirs. 

When trying to manufacture grounds for the annulment, Henry’s men latched onto the copy of the letter for using only the word sponsolia  or betrothal, and not stating whether Anna was effectively married already to Francis of Lorraine. Coupled with other grounds in Anna’s marriage contract to Henry, it was easy enough for the alleged pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine to be used as a way for Henry to wriggle out of the politically inconvenient marriage.

Do you want to know the truth behind why Anna’s marriage to Henry VIII was doomed?Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

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You Might Also Like

  1. When Henry Met Anna: The German Account
  2. What’s in a Name: Latin Titles
  3. Is Today Really Anna of Cleves’ Birthday?
  4. Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England
  5. Death of Johann III of Cleves and Ascension of Wilhelm V: Anna of Cleves’ Future Changes


Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister. Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).

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