Anne of Cleves: Life Story

Chapter 12 : The New Reign

As well as personal humiliation, the news Anne was receiving from Cleves was not good.  Charles, buoyed by success against his enemies during the summer of 1543, advanced into Wilhelm’s own territories. Anne’s mother, her health impacted by the invasion of her own duchy of Jülich-Berg, died on 29th August, and within a week, Wilhelm was obliged to accept the Treaty of Venio.  Guelders was confiscated and brought into Charles’ personal fiefdoms in the Low Countries and Wilhelm had to agree to help Charles in suppressing the Reformation. 

It cannot have helped Anne’s emotional state to know that her brother had reacted so badly to their mother’s death that he had quarrelled loudly, not just with his councillors, but with the French ambassador – blaming François for betraying him. Within three years, he abandoned his marriage to Jeanne of Navarre, in favour of a match with Charles’s niece, the Archduchess Maria of Austria. It is from this marriage that nearly all the modern crowned heads of Europe are descended, including HM The Queen.  Anne’s wedding gift to the couple consisted of two horses and two leashes of greyhounds.

With Henry married to Katherine Parr, Anne’s life settled into a pleasant routine. She was on excellent terms with Henry, and managed to get over her resentment of Katherine to the extent that she was welcome at court – even attending on the occasion of a reception for the Admiral of France. She also developed her friendship with both her stepdaughters. She and Mary were more-or-less of an age, whilst Elizabeth was considerably younger. Prince Edward was not often at court, being kept safely in the country, away from any chance of infection.

During these years, Henry made Anne and her household frequent gifts of money, which supplemented her comfortable income – although inflation was eating away at the English economy. In January 1547, this enjoyable routine was turned upside down when Henry died.  Anne was probably informed on 30th January, after the new king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, had taken control of the levers of power – rather in defiance, than support, of Henry’s will. Soon after, nine-year-old King Edward thought Anne might make a suitable wife for his younger uncle, Sir Thomas Seymour, but even there Katherine Parr was preferred.

Anne was a rather expensive luxury for the Tudor government – with Katherine Parr’s dower to pay as well, and a treasury that was almost empty. In April 1547, she realised that her income was not keeping pace with her expenditure, and petitioned the council for an increase in her allowance. Unwilling to break a promise to a foreign ruler’s sister, and perhaps eager to build bridges with the Protestants of Germany, the council agreed.

It was not all plain sailing financially – the council required her to rent Bletchingly to Sir Thomas Cawarden, one of the gentlemen of Edward VI’s Privy Chamber. In exchange, she was to be permitted the use of Penshurst, close to her other property at Hever.  It appears, too, that Anne was rather extravagant in her tastes.  The detailed list of requirements she sent to Cawarden to prepare for a visit she intended him to make indicate that she felt her status as the late king’s ‘sister’ should be maintained.

That summer, Anne had more bad news. Charles was on the warpath against the Schmalkaldic League.  The League was soundly defeated at the battle of Mühlberg on 24th April, and Anne’s brother-in-law, Johann Friedrich of Saxony, was captured by Charles, whilst Sibylle maintained resistance at Wittenberg.

In return for his life, Johann Friedrich resigned his electorate of Saxony, in favour of his relative, Maurice, and instructed Sibylle to surrender Wittenberg. Distressed by this news, Anne asked the council to intervene with the emperor to free her brother-in-law.  As the new rulers of England were of a distinctly Protestant bent, this request was in line with their own policies, and they wrote as Anne requested.  Charles was oblivious – he had never paid more than lip-service to Henry’s requests, so he certainly was not going to put himself out for a Protestant regency government.

Maurice later changed sides, and Johann Friedrich was freed, although he did not regain his territories.

There were further assaults on Anne’s properties, too, from the council. In 1548, she was obliged to surrender Richmond, which the king and his council were incensed to discover was in a shocking state of repair. Anne did not consider maintenance of the palaces, in which she had only a life interest, to be her responsibility.  In 1552, she was obliged to exchange Bisham for Westhorpe, once the home of Mary the French Queen.  Although she would have preferred to keep Bisham, she had no alternative but to agree, and had made all the arrangements, and was expecting to receive the confirmation of the grant of Westhorpe when the matter was delayed, apparently because her stepdaughter, Mary, had asked for Westhorpe.  Its location in Suffolk fitted well with Mary’s other estates in East Anglia.

Anne wrote to the princess, informing her of the lengths she had had to go to with reference to Westhorpe, assuming, for the purposes of the letter at least, that Mary did not know Anne was supposed to have it, and asking what the princess wished to do.  She did not, she affirmed, wish to quarrel over the matter. There is no extant record of Mary’s response, but as Anne owned Westhorpe in 1556, we may suppose the matter went as she desired.

Her inability to manage her finances led Anne to make further petitions to the council for additional funds, and also to moot a return to Cleves, with her allowance to be paid to her there.  The council returned fine words, but evaded any further financial aid – not unreasonably, given the parlous state of the country’s finances, although that had not stopped the councillors slipping their own snouts into the royal trough.  

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves

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