New Decade, New Bride: Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves

by Heather R. Darsie, J. D.

Anna von der Mark, Hereditary Duchess of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, had been on English terra firma for about a week when she married her husband, Henry VIII of England. Henry was exactly twice Anna’s age, her being twenty-four and he, forty-eight. Perhaps the couple thought about celebrating their joint 28 June birthday together. According to the German account, Anna and Henry got along just fine, so perhaps Anna was feeling optimistic about the match.

The couple were originally supposed to wed at Canterbury Cathedral, but that became impossible after a series of delays. Anna’s enormous train, which dispatched in three different branches, moved more slowly across the Continent than expected. After her grand reception at Calais, Anna was delayed there by several weeks because of dangerous weather which made crossing the Channel impossible. Who would want to be responsible for endangering the new queen by bringing her over the water from Calais when the water was anything but smooth? Any grand plans for Canterbury were scrapped.

Anna of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1539

Whatever Anna was feeling on her wedding day at Greenwich Palace, it seems she was concerned about looking her best. Who could blame the new bride? Henry, however, was displeased. Anna was taking far too long to meet him. It was eight o’clock in the morning on 6 January 1540, and Henry was ready for his wedding ceremony to his fourth bride to start.

Thankfully, Anna did not keep Henry waiting long. She was escorted by Heinrich Barr, known as Olisleger, and Wernerus von Hoghenstein. Olisleger held the important position of Chancellor of Cleves. Anna,

“‘was appareled in a gown of rich cloth of gold set full of large flowers and orient pearl, made after the Dutch fashion round’. The gleaming gold dress must have set off Anna’s hair magnificently, worn ‘hanging down, which was fair, yellow, and long’. Anna had taken after her mother Maria, who was also blonde.

On Anna’s head was, ‘a coronal of gold replenished with great stone, and set about full of branches of rosemary, about her neck and middle, jewels of great value and estimation’. Anna was escorted by Olisleger and Hoghestein, who ‘had the conduct and performance of her marriage’. Anna showed a ‘most demure countenance and sad behavior’ as she walked through Henry’s chamber. Here ‘sad’ retains the original Middle English meaning of ‘steadfast’, ‘serious’ or ‘sober’.

At last Anna and her escorts, ‘came to the gallery where the King was, to whom she made three low obeisances and curtsies’. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, performed the marriage ceremony. Anna was given away to Henry by Olisleger. About Anna’s wedding ring was engraved, ‘God send me well to keep.’”

Excerpt from Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister, pp.119—120

After the wedding ceremony was completed, Anna and Henry went to hear a private mass in his closet. They had a drink together flavored with costly spices. Henry then went back to his chamber for a time and Anna, with her ladies, to hers. The wedding ceremony and hearing of mass was a fairly quick affair. The new royal couple came together again not long after nine o’clock in the morning, an hour after their wedding.

Henry VIII

Henry changed out of the clothes he wore for the ceremony, but Anna was still in her wedding gown. When Anna came into Henry’s presence, her German and English officers walked in front of her, a reflection of Anna’s new queenly status. The young woman must have felt a sense of victory, especially because she was raised even above her elder sister Sybylla, Electress Consort of Saxony, and brother Wilhelm, who was merely a petty German duke. While still in Germany, Anna liked to gloat to her younger brother Duke Wilhelm about her comparably elevated status as the future Queen Consort of England.

After Anna’s entry, Henry and Anna walked together their first official procession as King and Queen of England. They enjoyed dinner, which to the modern person correlates with lunch, together. Perhaps because of a stomach stuffed with fine food, Anna finally decided to change out of her cloth-of-gold gown into something more comfortable. She came back wearing a German fashion, which English onlookers thought resembled a man’s robe. A simple garment, though made of good fabric and decorated with sable furs. She wore on her head a cap embroidered with pearls. She and her ladies wore heavy gold chains, after the fashion of homeland.

That evening, Henry and Anna enjoyed a costly supper, and then were entertained afterwards until Henry decided it was time to get on with the business of being married. All was well for Anna on her wedding day.

Please note this article originally appeared on Freelance History Writer.

You Might Also Like

  1. How did Anna of Cleves Celebrate Christmas?
  2. Henry VIII Orders Medicine for Anna of Cleves
  3. The First Cracks in Anna of Cleves’ Marriage to Henry VIII
  4. When Henry Met Anna: The German Account
  5. Anna of Cleves’ Maternal Grandparents: Wilhelm IV and III of Jülich-Berg and Sibylle of Brandenburg

Love learning about the 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!

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Sources & Suggested Reading

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

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