by Heather R. Darsie
On 24 June 1540, Henry VIII of England sent his new wife to his palace of Richmond. 24 June was a Monday, and the couple’s joint birthday that Friday, 28 June. Henry, who was terrified of illnesses, told Anna the move was for her safety. The Plague and the dreaded English Sweat surged in the summertime. Anna, having no reason to suspect anything was amiss, complied. Perhaps Henry promised Anna they would celebrate their birthday together at Richmond later that week. Either way, she had no reason to think anything was amiss. Anna trusted Henry and the validity of their marriage to the very end.
Richmond Palace was an impressive structure. Only a whisper of it remains today. It was located roughly midway between St. James’s Palace and Hampton Court Palace, on the eastern bank of the River Thames. The new palace was created by Henry VII. It replaced Sheen Palace, which was badly damaged by a fire during Christmastide 1497. The new palace was built of brick and stone, and sat upon ten acres of land. The Great Hall was 100 feet by 40 feet, and the chapel almost the same size. It featured octagonal towers, and had many turrets encased in decorative lead. The palace, then in the countryside, was visible from far away because of its ornamentation.
Put another way, this was not a simple manor house in the country. Richmond Palace was a full-blown royal residence on the River Thames.
The current Parliament was called 1 March 1539, and assembled on 28 April. The Parliament was not dissolved until 24 July 1540. During its three sessions, this Parliament in part contemplated both the marriage and annulment for Anna and Henry. During this time, a Secret Council was established to determine basis for the annulment of Anna and Henry’s marriage, with a two very specific goals in mind: “The annulment proceedings were meant to preserve Anna’s honour and extricate England from the political mess Cromwell created”.
Following is an extract from Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister, which describes some of what the Secret Council was doing to make sure the annulment went smoothly:
“Henry says that he dislike Anna from the time he first laid eyes on her at Rochester. This, of course, conflicts with the German reports from around January 1540, which relayed that he stayed overnight not far from Anna, then came again in the morning to dine with her and spend time with her. It is true that Henry was concerned about the state of the Anglo-Cleves alliance, and of his standing with the Schmalkaldic League, when Anna arrived in England. The requisite documents had yet to be executed, and [Saxon Elector] Johann Friedrich’s attitude toward Henry being allowed into the Schmalkaldic League had cooled. He was considering breaking it off right when Anna arrived, or shortly after, because the pledged alliances and military support were not forthcoming.”Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister, p. 176.
Anna, ignorant of what Henry and his council were doing, had no representation at the Convocation called to determine the validity of her marriage.
It is not known how Anna spent her twenty-fifth birthday on 28 June 1540. She was at Richmond, but there is not a specific mention of whether Henry visited her that day. Henry may even have drafted is deposition for the annulment on their birthday; it appears he did write it during the week of 24 June.
Back home in the United Duchies, Anna’s birthday was the first of the summer. Next came her elder sister Sybylla in mid-July, then brother Wilhelm at the end of July. Their mother Maria had her birthday in early August. One can imagine that Anna was reminiscing about her last moments at the court of her brother, where her mother and younger sister still lived. If the family did anything in the past to mark the group of summer birthdays, Anna could have occupied her mind with that. Either way, the summer of 1540 became wildly different for Anna than summer 1539.
Love learning about the Reformation or Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? 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!
You Might Also Like
- When Henry Met Anna: The German Account
- The First Cracks in Anna of Cleves’ Marriage to Henry VIII
- Is Today Really Anna of Cleves’ Birthday?
- Anna of Cleves Learns her Marriage is Annulled
- Elector Johann Friedrich: Anna of Cleves’ Powerful Brother-in-Law
Sources & Suggested Reading
- Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister. Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).