Anne of Cleves
Anne was born on September 22, 1515, at Düsseldorf, the daughter of John III, ruler of the German duchy of Cleves. As a leader of the Protestant faith, he was deemed a suitable ally for Henry in the aftermath of the Reformation, and the match was urged on the king by his chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to paint a portrait of Anne, and Henry was pleased with the result. Nowadays we know that it was usual for court painters to be complimentary in their portrayal of important people, and it is thought likely that Holbein covered up the evidence of Anne's smallpox scars.
Whatever the reason, Henry was not happy with Anne when she arrived in England but went ahead with the marriage on January 6 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London. In view of his record as a husband, it was not appropriate for him to deal violently or unjustly with Anne, and a pretext was quickly found for divorce. The marriage was annulled on July 9, 1540, on the grounds that their marriage had never been consummated, and she was given a generous settlement, including Hever Castle, home of Henry's former in-laws the Boleyns. Made a Princess of England and called "sister" by her former husband, Anne remained in England for the rest of her life. She was the last of Henry's six wives to die, in London, on July 16, 1557. By then, she had converted to Roman Catholicism, and remained on good terms with one-time stepdaughter Princess Mary (also known as "Bloody Mary") Tudor.
Elsa Lanchester appeared as Queen Anne in the 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII opposite Charles Laughton as Henry VIII. In this fanciful comedy of manners, Anne deliberately portrays herself as unattractive and naïve in order to persuade Henry to divorce her, thus enabling her to find love elsewhere.
In 1970, actress Elvi Hale played the title role in the 90-minute BBC television drama "Anne of Cleves" opposite Keith Michell's Henry VIII and Molly Sudgen as Anne's German lady-in-waiting. In this, relatively accurate piece, Anne comes to England full of youthful naïveté and joyous hope, only to be horrified upon meeting her hideous future husband. She quickly befriends her young stepdaughter, Elizabeth I, (true to history) and encourages Henry in his infatuation with the young Catherine Howard (played by Angela Pleasance).
Three years later, Keith Michell again played Henry in "Henry VIII and His Six Wives" opposite Jenny Bos as Anne of Cleves. Here, Anne was portrayed as legend as often (inaccurately) described her - ugly and ungainly. In 2001, she was played by Catherine Siggins in Dr. David Starkey's documentary "The Six Wives of Henry VIII." Two years later, she made the briefest of appearances in the 2-part television drama "Henry VIII" played by Pia Gerard. She did not even speak - appearing only once in bed awaiting Henry and once, glowing with quiet joy, at the king's funeral seven years later.
It was Sir Horace Walpole, writing in the 18th-century, who resurrected the myth which described Anne as "the Flanders Mare" - a monument to ugliness. This view persisted, and it is still a popular stereotype. Most historians, however, disagree with it. The most accurate, sympathetic and logical study of Anne's life comes from American feminist, activist and writer, Karen Lindsey, in her 1995 book "Divorced, Beheaded, Survived".
- A quick overview of Anne's life This site has a very good portrait gallery, as well
- A more in-depth examination of Anne's political career
- More information on Anne's life after her divorce
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