Guest Post by Heather R. Darsie: When Anne Met Henry

I’m delighted to be one of the stops on Heather R. Darsie’s blog tour for her new biography of Anne of Cleves, one of the least-studied of Henry VIII’s six wives. Over to Heather:

Anna of Cleves Meets Henry VIII: An Excerpt

By Heather R. Darsie

I have always been intrigued by the claims that Anna was horribly disappointing to Henry at their first meeting. I knew that most information about their relationship came out during the annulment proceedings in late June to early July 1540. Given the timing, I thought it was suspicious. Imagine my delight when a German account, written a few days after Anna and Henry’s first meeting and not six months later and for nefarious purpose, had significantly different facts in it. The letter was sent to Anna’s brother Wilhelm. He and their mother the widowed Duchess Maria were likely eager to hear how the new Queen Consort of England was doing.

“Anna was resting at Rochester on 1 January 1540 when she was informed of a visitor. Anna had met many of her new subjects and was surely exhausted by the time she arrived in Rochester, and less attentive than usual due to her fatigue. Anna encountered hundreds of English people who were appointed to meet her, including numerous peers of the realm and their personal entourages. Perhaps she was spending some of her time at Rochester daydreaming about meeting Henry or going over how she would greet Henry in the English language. She would not have the opportunity to follow through with any of those plans.

Anna received that unexpected visitor on 1 January 1540, and the German and English accounts of the first meeting between Anna and Henry differ from each other. Olisleger, an eyewitness, dispatched a letter to Duke Wilhelm within a few days following the meeting. According to Olisleger, while Anna was at Rochester watching a bull-baiting with her German lords, Henry came to call on her after lunch with ten or twelve of his gentlemen. This presumably included Sir Anthony Browne, Henry’s Master of Horse, who was deposed at the annulment trial later on that year. It was New Year’s Day 1540, and the excited groom could not wait to meet his bride. Henry and his men were dressed as private persons. Henry entered the room and greeted Anna, which may have unsettled her. After all, Anna was used to the culture of the Frauenzimmer, so having strange men come into her presence without proper preparation could have caught her off guard.

Anna invited this private person, a representative of the King, to dine with her. Afterward, he presented Anna with a gorgeous gift ‘from the King’ for New Year: a crystal goblet, the lid and foot of which were completely gilded and inlaid with diamonds and rubies. Another golden band encircled the goblet, also with inlaid rubies and diamonds. Afterward, Henry and Anna enjoyed banqueting together. Henry stayed over to the next day, 2 January 1540, though at a separate location so as not to offend Anna’s virtue. He and his men broke their fast with Anna and her gentlemen. Henry then returned to Greenwich. Anna herself departed for Dartford with her train later that day. It is unclear at what point Henry made his identity known to Anna. Hall’s Chronicle described the meeting:

‘the king which sore desired to see her Grace accompanied with no more then [sic] 8 persons of his privy chamber, and both he and they all appareled in marble coats privily came to Rochester, and suddenly came to her presence, which therewith was somewhat astonied: but after he had spoken and welcomed her, she was most gracious and loving countenance and behavior him received and welcomed on her knees, whom he gently took up and kissed: and all that afternoon, communed and devised with her, and that night supped with her, and the next day he departed to Greenwich, and she came to Dartford.’”

Excerpt from Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, by Heather R. Darsie, copyright Amberley Publishing 2019; pgs. 110-112. All rights reserved.

1 thought on “Guest Post by Heather R. Darsie: When Anne Met Henry”

  1. Doesn’t sound like the usual version of the story we hear, does it?! Thanks for sharing this new work on someone I’ve found interesting for many years!

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