BBC History Magazine
Henry VIII marries wife number four
Anne of Cleves fails to impress in the royal bedchamber
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’.”