Henry VIII mar­ries wife num­ber four

Anne of Cleves fails to im­press in the royal bed­cham­ber

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

E6 Jan­uary 1540 ven though Henry VIII had al­ready mar­ried three times, his wed­ding with Anne of Cleves on 6 Jan­uary 1540 was a day to re­mem­ber, though per­haps not for the right rea­sons. The bride and groom had met just five days ear­lier, when Anne’s mod­est ap­pear­ance had left the king fa­mously unim­pressed. But still the mar­riage went ahead, as to not pro­ceed would jeop­ar­dise an im­por­tant al­liance with the duchy of Cleves.

The ser­vice it­self, held in Green­wich by Arch­bishop Cran­mer, was a suc­cess, and Anne’s golden wed­ding gown, long fair hair and glit­ter­ing jewels made a great im­pres­sion on the on­look­ers. The wed­ding feast was pre­dictably lav­ish, and af­ter­wards the happy cou­ple re­tired to bed to con­sum­mate the mar­riage. Alas, this part of the pro­ceed­ings was a com­plete dis­as­ter. When Henry sur­faced the next morn­ing, he was not in a good mood.

When Henry’s chief min­is­ter, Thomas Cromwell, asked how it had gone, the king snapped: “I liked her be­fore not well, but now I like her much worse.” Later, he told friends that he had been put off by the “hang­ing of her breasts and loose­ness of her flesh”, which he said made him doubt whether she was re­ally a vir­gin.

Al­most cer­tainly this was an ex­cuse. At al­most 50, heav­ily over­weight with a painful leg ul­cer, Henry him­self was no oil paint­ing. In any case, the mar­riage was never con­sum­mated and was over in just a few months.

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, though, the king had al­ways treated his wife with marked kind­ness. “When he comes to bed,” she told a con­fi­dante, “he kisses me and taketh me by the hand and bid­deth me, ‘good­night sweet­heart’.”

Henry was less than im­pressed with his new bride (as shown in our il­lus­tra­tion) and the mar­riage ended within four months with­out ever be­ing con­sum­mated

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