Anne of Cleves: Facts, Children & Death

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  • 0:01 Background
  • 0:15 Personal History
  • 3:17 Literature & Art
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson we will learn who Anne of Cleves was. Together, we will take a closer look at her history and her personal life. Her marriage and eventual annulment with King Henry VIII with be looked at in detail.


Anne of Cleves was the Queen of England from January 1540 until July 1540 and was the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. Their marriage was annulled on a legal technicality, and she was thereafter referred to as the 'King's Beloved Sister.'

Personal History

Anne of Cleves was born in September 1515 in Germany. Several of her siblings were Protestant and her mother was a strict Catholic. Therefore, her family was considered unaligned religiously. King Henry VIII was urged into a marriage with Anne by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. In that era, England was concerned with papal-run countries taking control. Therefore, Cromwell believed that a marriage between the King and Anne would solidify an alliance with a non-papal Protestant Germany and a Catholic England.

Anne had received no formal education but was able to read and write in German. The fact that she was not an intellectual nor had any interest in books or music was a massive disappointment to the King. However, she was considered even-mannered and virtuous, which were qualities the King respected. The King's most trusted painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, was sent to paint a picture of Anne for the King to review. After viewing the painting, a marriage contract was signed by proxy in October 1539.

The King had been told she was pretty and had viewed the painting. The two met in person for the first time on New Year's Day in 1540 when she arrived in England. He dressed up in disguise and went into her bedroom and kissed her. Anne showed little interest in him, due in part to not knowing that it was the King. The two were formally introduced a few days later with a reception outside Greenwich Park, England. After these two visits he claimed he had been misled and found her appearance disappointing. The King tried multiple times to back out of the contract; however, it was believed that this would be illegal and harm an alliance with Germany.

After their wedding, the King refused to consummate the marriage based on his dislike of her appearance and claims that he was unable to believe she was a virgin. However, an annulment based on dislike of appearance was not a valid legal reason. Anne had been briefly promised in marriage to Francis, Duke of Lorraine, when she was in her early teens; despite the fact that the betrothal had been called off, this was used as the basis for saying that the marriage between the King and Anne had been legally invalid from the beginning and should therefore be annulled.

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