Anne of Cleves: From the Rhine to Richmond

Anne spent her childhood in the ducal castles of Cleves, including the romantically-named Swan Castle, from which she took her personal badge. She travelled overland to Calais, before sailing to England, where she spent most of her time in the palaces that bordered London to the south.

The numbers against the places correspond to those on the map here and at the end of this article.

Anne’s birthplace is not certain, but a likely location is the ducal palace of Düsseldorf (1), in Jülich-Berg, the territories which had been inherited by her mother, Maria. The palace had been severely damaged by fire five years before Anne’s birth, but renovation works began soon after, and continued throughout Anne’s childhood, not being complete until after her departure for England. This was only one of the castles or ‘schlossen’ available to the ducal family, and Anne would have travelled to others, usually by boat along the Rhine. It was from Düsseldorf in 1539 that Anne would depart on her long journey to her new kingdom, after the marriage treaty with Henry VIII had been signed. After Anne left her native land, the palace continued to be used by the ducal family until it died out in 1609, and was replaced in Jülich-Berg by Anne’s great-nephew, Philipp Ludwig, Count of Palatinate-Neuberg. This province was subsumed into the kingdom of Prussia. The castle at Düsseldorf was more or less destroyed by fire in 1872, and only one tower remains today.

Anne’s journey to England was taken in very slow stages, beginning on 26th November 1539. On some days, the cavalcade managed no more than five miles. Anne did not ride, but was carried in a chariot, decorated with the arms of her brother’s duchies, and covered with a cloth of gold. Five miles of being jolted in an unsprung vehicle was probably as much as the human frame could stand.

After a week or so on the road, stopping at Kleve, Ravenstein, Burtingburg, Tilburg and Hoogstraaten, Anne and her entourage of some 263 people, arrived at Antwerp (2), in the county of Flanders. She had been granted a safe-conduct to travel through Imperial territories by the Regent of the Low Countries, Mary of Hungary. Imperial nobles, the Count of Buren and the Emperor’s Master of Ordinance, Ferry de Melen greeted her, and were assigned to escort her through Charles’s lands. Antwerp was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe and had a large English expatriate community, mostly amongst the wool-merchants. A splendid reception had been planned, for Anne’s first public recognition outside her home country, as Queen of England.

Four miles outside the town, fifty merchants, dressed in velvet, with chains of gold, and lit by eighty torches met her. She was escorted to the English House on the north side of Woolstraat, near the old Bourse. The impressive property, granted by the city to the English merchants in 1474, extended the whole depth of the block, to Zirkstraat at the rear. Anne’s entourage was entertained by the Count of Buren, whilst she was the guest of the Company of Merchant Adventurers, whose governor, Stephen Vaughan, was a close associate of Thomas Cromwell, chief promoter of Anne’s marriage in England. Antwerp was a stronghold of the Reformed religion, hosting William Tyndale, the English exile who had translated the bible in the 1520s. It was whilst Tyndale was in Antwerp that he was seized by the authorities and burnt in nearby Vilvoorde. This support for Protestantism caused Antwerp to suffer badly during the Eighty Years War with Spain. The Treaty of Münster which finally ended the conflict in 1648 closed Antwerp’s chief river, the Scheldt, to navigation reducing its opportunities for trade.

Leaving Antwerp, Anne travelled on to Bever, Stecken, Tokkyn and Bruges. Bad weather caused a slight delay, meaning she only arrived at Bruges on Sunday, 7th December. The next locations were Dambrugh, Newport and Dunkirk, before Anne finally crossed into English-held territory in France, at Calais (3) on 11th December. Calais had been held by England since its capture by Edward III in the mid-fourteenth century. Throughout the Hundred Years’ War, it had been one of the key fortresses from which English troops had emerged to try to extend the Crown’s territory, in the long-held dream of reconquering at least those parts of France once ruled by Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. During Henry VII’s reign, he and Elizabeth of York had met Philip of Burgundy there in 1501, and in Henry VIII’s reign, he and Katharine of Aragon had landed there before meeting François I and Queen Claude at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Twelve years later, it was probably the place where Henry and Anne Boleyn had consummated their relationship physically.

In 1539, the king’s Lieutenant at Calais was his uncle, Arthur, Lord Lisle, an illegitimate son of Edward IV. He and his wife, Honor Grenville, were responsible for the reception their new queen received. Henry had also sent other councillors to meet his bride and transport her across the Channel – this delegation was led by the Earl of Southampton, and the brother of the late queen Jane, Sir Thomas Seymour. Southampton met Anne at the Lantern Gate, the main entry point into the citadel, which was surrounded with huge walls. Her first action, which endeared her to her new subjects, was to admire the two English ships, the Lion and the Sweepstake, which were decked with gold and silk banners. 200 master gunners fired off 150 rounds of shot in her honour.

Passing through the gates, Anne’s chariot processed between 500 soldiers of the Calais garrison, lined up on either side of the street, along with the mayor and alderman, and the merchants of the Staple. She was conveyed to the house known as the King’s Exchequer. This was, of course, the finest building in the city, and was divided, as was traditional into the ‘King’s Side’ and the ‘Queen’s Side’, with corresponding chambers. Sadly, the depredations of time and war have wiped out mediaeval and Tudor Calais with the exception of the Tour de Guet and the Church of Our Lady.

The original plan was for Anne to sail on the morning tide within a couple of days of arrival, but foul weather kept her there for two weeks. To while away the time, Anne set herself to finding out more about the English court, and to learning one of Henry’s favourite card games, Cent. Christmas was celebrated in the town, but shortly after, the weather finally improved, and Anne sailed for England, arriving on the Kent coast, near Deal. On hearing of her arrival, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk rode out to meet her and escort her to Deal Castle (4). Deal was one of the castles that Henry was building to increase England’s ability to withstand invasion on its southern coast – a threat that had been growing since the break with Rome.

Deal Castle – A Plan From 1539 © British Library
Deal Castle - a plan from 1539 © British Library

Deal covered nearly an acre of ground, and was built with a central keep positioned within an outer fortification consisting of a series of curved artillery platforms. It was still under construction when Anne arrived, so she entered only for a brief rest, before travelling on to Dover Castle (5). Deal, fortunately, never had to be deployed during the sixteenth century, but it became an important Royalist post during the English Civil War. It continued as part of the military establishment until, in 1904, it was deemed unnecessary as a fortification, and was opened to the public, although there was still a captain appointed. During the Second World War, it was damaged by enemy aircraft, with the goal of disrupting its use as an observation post. It is now operated by English Heritage, and is open to the public.

Dover Castle, Anne’s next port of call, was a far larger fortification. The area immediately surrounding the castle has been an important location for the defence of Britain since the before the Roman invasion, first being occupied by an Iron Age hill fort. The remains of these were later incorporated into the current structure. In the early years of the Roman occupation, a lighthouse was constructed to guide shipping, as trade between Britain and the continent of Europe increased. By the 7th century, the south-east of the island of Great Britain had been invaded and subjugated to the incoming Angles, Jutes and Saxons. An early Saxon king, Eadbald of Kent, who was a Christian convert, built a church and monastery for twenty-two monks near the old fort. In 1066, with the Norman conquest of England, the site was again recognised as a key defensive location. William the Conqueror hastily constructed a motte and bailey defence immediately after the battle of Hastings. The garrison he introduced continued without interruption for nearly 1,000 years, being finally dismissed in 1958.

Rather closer in time to William, was his great-grandson, Henry II, who remodelled the Norman fortification in stone, beginning in 1168. Henry spent much of his time dashing between England and his vast French territories, and consequently spent a lot of his life passing through Dover. To enhance both his comfort and his majesty, he built not just a fortification, but a grand mediaeval palace within the 83 foot (25.3m) high walls. As part of Henry’s demonstration of remorse for the murder of his archbishop, Thomas Becket, a chapel dedicated to the swiftly canonised Becket was created within the Great Tower, begun in 1180. Henry’s successors, King John and Henry III continued with the expansion of Dover, and it was in the period of almost civil war at the end of the reign of John, that Dover was besieged by Prince Louis of France, who had been invited by the barons to replace the unpopular English monarch.

The castle withstood a ten-month siege. Hostilities ceased when John died, and the barons turned to his son, crowned as Henry III, rather than Louis, who returned to France. During his tenure, Henry III created a magnificent suite of royal lodgings, for himself and his queen, Eleanor of Provence. Whilst Henry III was not the tyrant John had been, he had his own troubles with his barons, and his sister, Eleanor, held the castle against the royal forces, on behalf of her husband, Simon de Montfort.

In Edward IV’s reign (1461 – 1470, 1471 – 1483), the royal lodgings were refurbished, and in the reign of his grandson, Henry VIII, the castle was frequently used by the royal family. His sister, Mary, embarked from there in 1514 on her journey to France to marry Louis XII, Henry and Katharine stayed there before sailing to the Field of Cloth of Gold, and in both 1520 and 1522, the Emperor Charles V arrived at Dover for meetings with Henry. By the late 1530s, Dover, like Deal, was being manned and fortified against possible invasion. Anne could not fail to have been impressed by its strength and splendour. Today, although the royal lodgings have disappeared, the Great Tower has been refurbished to look as it did in the time of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine – well-worth a visit.

Anne left Dover, heading for Canterbury. En route, she was met by Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop. He accompanied her to St Augustine’s Priory, where she stayed for further welcoming parties, before moving on to Rochester. There, she stayed, not at the castle, but (probably – the sources are not entirely clear) in the Bishop’s Palace – which had, until 1535, been the chief residence of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. It was here that Wolsey had first broached the matter of an annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon, and, in a strange working of fate, it was here that Henry first set eyes on Anne of Cleves. The palace was not in particularly good order during Fisher’s incumbency. His friend, Erasmus, complained of the damp and its proximity to the muddy shores of the Thames. It was in reference to Fisher’s library at Rochester that Erasmus wrote ‘Your library is your paradise’, indicating the bishop’s lack of interest in anything not related to scholarship. It was during her stay in Rochester that Anne came face-to-face with her husband-to-be. A meeting that proved disastrous as she failed to recognise him in disguise, so did not pretend to have fallen instantly in love with him, which he expected her to do.

Anne, completely unaware of Henry’s instant desire to repudiate the match, continued her progress, having her first official meeting with the king at Shooter’s Hill, above Blackheath. The royal couple then rode down to Henry’s favourite palace at Greenwich (7) where they were married in the Queen’s Closet. Greenwich was originally named ‘Placentia’ and was constructed in the early fifteenth century by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Henry V. It was in the old palace that both Henry VIII and his sister, Mary, the French Queen, had been born, before it was comprehensively rebuilt in 1501 by Henry VII, in the modern, red-brick style. Henry VIII married his first wife, Katharine of Aragon, in the adjoining Chapel of the Friars Observant (suppressed in 1535), and both his daughters had been christened there. Today, there are traces of the Tudor palace, although most of it was built over during the seventeenth century – with the Queen’s House, planned for Anne of Denmark, but completed for Henrietta Maria, and then with the Old Royal Naval College. Although not Tudor, the fabulous baroque ceiling of the Old Royal Naval College is worth a visit. Painted by Sir James Thornhill, it is the largest painted hall in Europe, and depicts the accession of William III and Mary II, the military triumphs of Queen Anne’s reign, and the Hanoverian succession – a great paean to Protestantism and the Whig supremacy. A three-year restoration programme took place 2016-2019, which you can read about here.

About a month after her wedding, Anne of Cleves made her official entrance into London, travelling upriver by barge, to Westminster. The court remained there for some time, and it was at Westminster that she presided over the May Day tournament of 1540. It was not long, however, before Henry decided that he wanted to avoid his new wife, whilst he pursued her maid-of-honour. Anne was despatched to Richmond (8) on 24th June, on the pretext of plague in London. Henry, although he had used it frequently in the early days of his reign, did not now often use Richmond. Like Greenwich, Richmond had been entirely rebuilt by Henry VII, after the disastrous fire of 1497 that destroyed the old manor of Sheen. Sheen had been the favourite home of Richard II, who had it torn down, following the death of his beloved consort, Anne of Bohemia. Some twenty years later, it was rebuilt by Henry V in the years after Agincourt and continued to be occupied by Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou, and later by Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Henry VII’s new palace, built in the most fashionable style, red brick with turrets and extensive fenestration, was the scene of the proxy marriage of his elder daughter, Margaret, to James IV of Scotland. Henry VII died at Richmond, and it was also the location of the birth and death of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon’s short-lived son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall. The palace had been named for Henry VII’s earlier title of Earl of Richmond, and was liberally festooned with Tudor and Beaufort symbols. During the second half of Henry VIII’s reign, he did not often use the palace. His elder daughter, later Mary I, was frequently in residence in the 1530s, but in 1540 it was granted to Anne of Cleves as part of the annulment settlement. It became Anne’s chief residence – convenient for London and close to Hampton Court, where Henry spent most of his later years. More bad news came to Anne there – she was visited by Henry in July 1543 with the unwelcome news that he had married again, this time to Katherine Parr – an action that Anne felt as something of an insult, given that she did not believe Katherine to be any more attractive than she herself.

Anne did not think that she was required to maintain Richmond, and when she was obliged to surrender it in 1548, after Henry’s death, Edward VI’s government was angry at the poor state of repair. Richmond was one of Elizabeth I’s favourite palaces, preferring it to Hampton Court after her brush there with small-pox in 1560, and it was at Richmond that she died on 24th March 1603, bringing the Tudor era to a close.

After the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England, Richmond became the chief residence of his sons, first, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, then, after his death in 1612, of Charles, later Charles I. He gave the palace to his wife, Henrietta Maria, and their children spent much of their time there. During the Commonwealth, the palace was partially demolished to raise funds, but was regranted to Henrietta Maria, after her son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660. Over the following centuries, the palace gradually disappeared - all that is left is the Tudor gateway, and part of one of the ranges, granted to a private occupant on a long lease by the Crown estate. The surrounding park is open to the public and is one of the great public spaces of London, enjoyed by walkers and cyclists who share the enormous green expanse with the descendants of the royal deer that Henry VIII and Elizabeth I hunted with such gusto.

Another property in which Anne received a life interest from Henry VIII was Hever Castle (9) which had come into Crown possession on the death of Mary Boleyn. She also received Bletchingley (10), Bisham (11) and Dartford (14) as well as a host of other properties, not intended for her own residence, but for the income they would provide.

Hever Castle Reduced 2 Mb
Hever Castle © Tudor Times Ltd

The village of Bletchingley is on an old thoroughfare, now the A25 Guildford to Maidstone road. There was a Norman castle, destroyed after the battle of Lewes, and a later manor, owned by the Stafford dukes of Buckingham, by inheritance from the de Clares. After the rebellion of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, against Richard III in 1483, it was confiscated, along with the rest of his enormous holdings. On Henry VII’s accession, he regranted the properties to the 3rd duke, although his mother, Katherine Woodville, aunt of Queen Elizabeth of York, and wife of Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, held Bletchingley in dower until her death in 1497.

The 3rd Duke of Buckingham undertook extensive renovations until, in 1521, he met the same fate as his father, and once again, all the Buckingham lands were forfeit to the Crown. It was granted briefly to Henry VIII’s friend, Sir Nicholas Carew, but their friendship ran aground on Henry’s marital career, and Carew, too, was executed in the wake of the Exeter Conspiracy. Anne of Cleves held the manor from 1540, until she was forced by Edward VI’s council to surrender it to Sir Thomas Carwarden. Carwarden was the Keeper of the Manors of Bletchingley and Nonsuch, Master of Tents and Revels to Henry VIII and Edward VI, a Privy Councillor, Knight of the Shire for Surrey, and a prominent Reformer, although he was also a member of Anne’s household. He became entangled in Wyatt’s Rebellion, but survived, dying in 1559. The property reverted to the Crown, and by 1655 had been dismantled. Only the gatehouse remained, which was extended into a farmhouse, still standing today, under the name of Place Farm.

Bisham Priory (11) was another of the properties that Anne had use of – either for herself, or as a source of income. Bisham was in Buckinghamshire and had been the mausoleum of the Montacute earls of Salisbury. Thus, it came into the possession of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and then was forfeit to the Crown after the countess was attainted and executed in 1541. During Edward VI’s reign, this was another property that Anne was obliged to surrender, although she received compensation, in the form of Westhorpe Manor (13). Today, the site of Bisham is occupied by a sports centre – what must the ghosts of the monks make of that?

The Original Bisham Priory
The original Bisham Priory

Westhorpe (12), in Suffolk, had once been the home of Mary, the French Queen. Almost nothing remains today, and what does remain is within a private Residential Home. Anne agreed to the exchange, although she had little choice, but was disconcerted to discover that her stepdaughter, Mary, had requested the house – presumably to complement her other landholdings in East Anglia. On this occasion, Anne’s claims were preferred.

There is no record of Anne using Westhorpe - unlike her frequent occupation of the King’s Manor at Dartford. Dartford is on the main London to Dover road, and so Anne’s first experience of it was in 1540, when she passed through on her way to the official reception at Blackheath. She stopped briefly to refresh herself at the Dominican priory. This was the only Dominican house for women in England. Amongst the nuns professed there was Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Bridget, who was interred in the priory church. It surrendered to the king in 1539.

With the first dissolution of the priory, the mediaeval structure was remodelled as a royal manor. Sir Thomas Seymour was its Keeper from 1547, and it was granted to Anne in 1548, who spent much of her time there in the remaining years of her life. Meanwhile, Dartford was one of the convents re-founded by Mary I. The nuns had reassembled at King’s Langley, in Hertfordshire, but, on Anne’s death, the Dartford property was given to them. The nuns refused the oath of Supremacy in 1559, and the house was once again dissolved. At that time, one nun was the sister of the Sebastian Newdigate, hanged, drawn and quartered in 1535 for refusing to accept royal supremacy over the church, and another was Agnes Roper, sister-in-law of Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas More. The nuns joined with those of the re-founded Syon Abbey, and left England for the Netherlands.

Elizabeth I used the manor from time to time, including in 1559 and 1573. Under James VI and I, it was granted to Sir Robert Cecil, in part exchange for Theobalds, to which James and his wife, Anne of Denmark, had taken a great fancy. Cecil sold the property to Sir Robert Darcy. Today, part of the gatehouse and the Keeper’s Hall remains, incorporated into other buildings.

In the spring of 1557, Anne was in declining health. She returned to London, and took up residence at Chelsea Manor (14). Chelsea, in the mid-sixteenth century, was a village to the west of London and Westminster. Sir Thomas More had settled there in the 1510s and it was considered a pleasant and healthy location, away from the dangers of infection in the capital. Henry VIII acquired Chelsea Manor, which had been owned by Sir William Sandys, in 1536 and it was granted to Queen Katherine Parr as a dower property – it was the scene of her courtship by Sir Thomas Seymour, and Seymour’s later blatant flirtation with the Lady Elizabeth. After Katherine’s death, it reverted to the Crown. It does not appear ever to have been granted formally to Anne of Cleves, but presumably Mary I allowed her to stay there in 1557, perhaps to give access to London doctors. It was at Chelsea that Anne died on 16th July, and lay there in state until her sumptuous funeral at Westminster Abbey (15) where her tomb may still be seen. Chelsea was demolished in the mid eighteenth century, and lives on only in the name of Chelsea Manor street.

The map below shows the location of places associated with Anne of Cleves discussed in this article.


Blue: in current use
Purple: later replacement
Green: ruins
Grey: no trace