Anne of Cleves

She’s been the butt of a thou­sand jokes but the ‘Flan­ders Mare’ was a canny sur­vivor

BBC Earth (Asia) - - History -

Henry went shop­ping for a new wife, fell in love with Hol­bein’s flat­ter­ing por­trait of Anne, and was thrown into a rage by the re­al­ity. The mar­riage (last­ing just seven months in 1540) was a dis­as­ter.

In re­al­ity, Henry’s fail­ure to find Anne at­trac­tive – and con­sum­mate the mar­riage – had a po­lit­i­cal el­e­ment. An al­liance with her Ger­man brother, a re­formed Catholic, held po­lit­i­cal at­trac­tions that faded as the sit­u­a­tion in Europe shifted.

Anne’s bi­og­ra­pher Retha War­nicke ar­gues that her full fig­ure made Henry be­lieve her to be sex­u­ally ex­pe­ri­enced, tainted, and thus un­wor­thy of him. But his­to­ri­ans also point out that their sex­ual in­com­pat­i­bil­ity could have stemmed from Henry – was the fat old king now im­po­tent?

Ei­ther way, the ‘fault’ for the fail­ure of this mar­riage did not lie with Anne, and she made a dig­ni­fied exit by agree­ing to a di­vorce. Her sur­vival skills have been un­der­es­ti­mated.

She lived un­til 1557 – the last of the six wives to die – and has a grander rest­ing place, too, right by the high al­tar of West­min­ster Abbey.

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