Anne of Cleves

Summary for Six Wives with Lucy Worsley


Anne of Cleves is often described as Henry’s luckiest wife, because their marriage was annulled, but she lived a comfortable life as his ‘sister’ and as friend to all his children. Anne’s pragmatic sense is very appealing to us, but it was not, perhaps, as simple a story as has been portrayed.

The purpose of royal marriages was to form alliances between nations, and to bear children. Anne, by failing to captivate Henry physically, failed, in terms of the objectives of her marriage. Her personality allowed her to turn the situation to her advantage, but the reality is that she had little choice. Unlike Henry’s previous discarded wife, Anne’s relatives were minnows in the European pool, and there was never any prospect of her being allowed to return to Cleves. Henry had all the advantages of an alliance with the German princes, without having to remain married to a woman he had not chosen personally.

Anne is the 'favourite' wife of:

Tracy Borman
Anne of Cleves has traditionally been dismissed as ‘the ugly wife’, but I think she was the most successful.  A shrewd and pragmatic woman, she had learned from the example of her predecessors and was not about to sacrifice her future in the interests of principle.  She gave Henry an annulment with minimum fuss and was rewarded with a handsome endowment, several fine properties and was welcomed back to court as ‘the king’s sister’.  She, more than any other wife, knew how to handle Henry.

Heather Teysko, Renaissance English History Podcast
I think my favourite has to be Anne of Cleves. To me she had this charming combination of being both naive, but also intelligent enough to survive a foreign court where her presence was becoming less desired each day. She had the air of someone who made lemonade out of lemons, and was resourceful enough to find happiness where she could. I admire that.