Anne of Cleves: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Henry Seeks a Remedy

Despite Henry’s misgivings, Anne was at his side throughout most of April, and they celebrated Easter together. In May, she was still firmly on her royal throne.  For the first time for several years a May Day tournament was held, consisting of five days of jousting and feasting, with the general public being admitted to Durham House. Henry, always eager to show himself to his people in flattering circumstances, presided over the prize-giving.

Cromwell observed the royal couple and came to the conclusion that the marriage was doomed.  He confided in Sir Thomas Wriothesley – ‘The king liketh not the queen, nor ever has from the beginning. I think assuredly she is as good a maid for him as she was when she came to England’.  A concerned Wriothesley urged on Cromwell the necessity of them finding a way to release poor Henry from his torment. Both men were worried about their own positions – they had urged the Cleves marriage on the king, and knew that he was unlikely to be forgiving if he were stuck with it much longer.  ‘For God’s sake,’ Wriothesley said to his friend, ‘devise relief for the king, or we shall both smart for it.’  At the next council meeting, Wriothesley repeated his urgings to his colleagues, who all agreed they must find a resolution.

Anne was well aware that there was something deeply amiss.  Henry no longer even attempted to consummate their union, and he was no longer as pleasant and courteous as he had been, while his pursuit of Katheryn was blatant. Anne responded badly – hardly surprising, given that she was probably suffering a mixture of fear, humiliation and disappointment.  Henry continued his complaints to Cromwell. The queen had even, he said, ‘waxed wilful’ in a conversation the couple had had about his daughter Mary

Cromwell urged her to ‘render herself more agreeable’, but Anne, although she was willing, was quite unable to create physical attraction where it did not exist, and nor could Cromwell rekindle Henry’s trust in him.  The minister’s enemies, seeing that Henry blamed Cromwell, at least in part, for the matrimonial disaster, especially once the prime motive for it, the alliance between Charles and François, melted away, pounced.  On 10th June, Cromwell was arrested when he arrived for a council meeting.

Henry now implemented his plan for the annulment of his marriage to Anne. It began with her being sent to Richmond on 24th June, with the explanation that plague in London posed a risk to her health. Given Henry’s own notorious fear of plague, had there been any truth in the story he would have left London himself, but he did not. It was now an open secret that he was courting Mistress Howard, dining regularly at the dowager-duchess of Norfolk’s house at Lambeth.

Anne, too, knew of the rumours. She summoned Wilhelm’s ambassador to complain of her treatment. He tried to reassure her, but she responded that she believed she was about to be cast off, as Katharine of Aragon had been, and replaced, just as that queen had been, by her own maid-of-honour.

On 29th June, Cromwell was condemned for treason by Parliament, the necessity for a trial having been dispensed with. In an attempt to re-ingratiate himself with his ungrateful master, he explained all of the circumstances of Henry’s inability to consummate his marriage, and the king’s certainty that this was a symptom of the match’s innate illegality.

In the background, Henry’s ministers had been searching for more evidence about the Lorraine betrothal. The only documents Cleves had come up with to prove the match had been properly broken off were not persuasive - consisting only of a notarised document, dating from 1535, in which Wilhelm’s predecessor as duke of Guelders, Charles of Egmond, had noted that the marriage was not going to go ahead. This was hardly resounding proof that the betrothal had been properly terminated. In a new atmosphere of rapprochement with France, the king also approached Francis of Lorraine’s uncle, Cardinal Jean de Lorraine, for information.

On 6th July, a suitably prompted Parliament made a formal request to the king for an ecclesiastical investigation of the validity of the royal marriage. The reason, they claimed, was concerns about the pre-contract to Lorraine – risking a disputed succession should Henry and Anne have children.  Since the pre-contract was a complex issue, Parliament suggested that the church court consider the option of annulment for non-consummation, a much less difficult ground of challenge.

Henry, observing that his only desires were ‘the glory of God, the welfare of the realm and the triumph of truth’, graciously consented to Parliament’s humble request.  Anne, too, needed to give her consent, so Henry sent a messenger with the information that he had concerns over the validity of their marriage.  Anne, shocked and worried, sent for Wilhelm’s ambassador, with whom she was closeted for some time. She then spoke to her chamberlain, the Earl of Rutland, using Wymond Carew as interpreter – although her English was improving daily, it was not up to the complex conversation she now needed to have.

Rutland thought that she took the matter ‘heavily’ – hardly surprising, given what she knew of the miserable ends of two of her predecessors. He assured her of the king’s good intentions – that Henry’s only concern was to do that which ‘stood with the law of God’, and that for the discharge of both their consciences, wished to put the matter before the ecclesiastical court.

To this, Anne made no immediate answer, but, after some deliberation, she responded that she was content for those who could best judge – ie, the clergy - to review the matter.  The Clevian ambassador, Herr Harst, was angry. He refused to condone Henry’s action, rejecting any suggestion that he should inform Henry of Anne’s consent to the investigation.  The next day, he demanded to meet Henry’s councillors – he was informed by Bishop Tunstall of Durham, that the investigation was to allay public fears over the validity of the marriage, and that it was likely that Henry and Anne would remain married – in all events, the king had nothing but friendly feelings, and Anne would continue to be treated as queen for the present.

The ambassador requested a stay in proceedings until envoys could be sent from Cleves and Saxony, but his requests were rejected.

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves

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