Anna of Kleve

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Picture by Hans Holbein : Anna von Kleve
Redrawn signature of Anna von Kleve: “Anna the dowghter of Cleves”

Anna von Kleve (born September 22 / June 28, 1515 in Düsseldorf ; † July 16, 1557 in Chelsea Manor , London ) was the fourth wife of the English King Henry VIII and was therefore from January 6, 1540 to July 9, 1540 Queen of England.

She was the second eldest of the three daughters of Johann III. , Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg († 1539), and Maria von Jülich († 1543) and grew up in a conservative family environment in Burg an der Wupper . Heinrich planned another marriage for political reasons after the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour . He chose Anna von Kleve because he liked her portrait painted by Hans Holbein and signed the marriage contract without having met her personally. After their first meeting, however, he was disappointed in his expectations and had the marriage concluded in Greenwich on January 6, 1540 , annulled six months later because it had never been consummated . Anna continued to enjoy financial privileges, but was not allowed to leave England until her death. She died of cancer in 1557 and was buried in Westminster Abbey .

Childhood and youth

Little is known about Anna's early years. She grew up in the Burg Castle near Solingen near Düsseldorf under the care of her mother. Her father was a supporter of Erasmus of Rotterdam and pursued a moderate Reformation course . He was close to the Schmalkaldic League and thus went into opposition to the Catholic Charles V , the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire . Maria von Jülich was considered conservative, strong-willed and dominant, her daughter Anna as shy and subordinate. She and her two sisters Amalia and Sibylle received an old-fashioned upbringing. Embroidery and sewing were important, but not learning foreign languages, singing or playing a musical instrument. Neither did people dress according to the Italian fashion at the small German royal court, as had become customary in aristocratic circles during the Renaissance . A marriage contract with Francis I of Lorraine was signed for Anna as a child, but it was not implemented. After the death of her father in February 1539, her brother Wilhelm the Rich took over the rule in Jülich-Kleve-Berg and continued his father's policy.

Marriage to Henry VIII.

Heinrich's bridal search in Europe

Portrait of Anna in a hand-carved ivory box, painted by Hans Holbein

After the death of his third wife Jane Seymour , the twelve days after the birth of his son Eduard on puerperal fever died, fell King Henry VIII. Into a depression. However, a new marriage was planned for him. The Lord Seal Keeper , Thomas Cromwell , sought a strong alliance and endeavored to arrange a politically meaningful marriage for the king. He wrote letters to his ambassadors within Europe. Since Heinrich had his second wife executed, the search was also difficult. Besides, the reluctant king would only consent to the marriage if his bride was attractive. So he had his court painter Hans Holbein the Younger portray several candidates for marriage. His favorite was Christina of Denmark , but Charles V's niece was against the marriage because this alliance with France's archenemy England would have put a heavy strain on the tense relationship between the Holy Roman Empire and France. Christina, who allegedly had the quote “If I had two necks, one of them would be available to the King of England”, also didn't want to know about a marriage to Heinrich.

In William the Rich , Cromwell found a possible ally against Emperors Charles V and Francis I of France. Wilhelm ruled the Duchy of Geldern from 1538 against the will of the emperor . With this he controlled the largest territory in northern Germany. Hans Holbein portrayed Anna von Kleve and her younger, also unmarried sister Amalia von Kleve (1517–1586). Heinrich chose the second oldest sister, because he liked the portrait of Anna painted by Holbein. In addition, the English ambassadors praised Anna to the king in the highest tones. So he signed the marriage contract on October 6, 1539. Anna received a sizeable dowry of 100,000 gold guilders, 40,000 of which on the wedding day. The remaining 60,000 should be paid out within the next year. When Anna left for England, she was accompanied by 263 people and 283 horses.

Trip to england

After the marriage contract was signed, a way was sought to get Anna safely from Düsseldorf to London. There was a high risk that Heinrich's bride would be intercepted by one of his opponents. Heinrich initially planned Anna's quick sea voyage to London. However, the Klever ambassadors refused a longer boat trip in winter. So the long land route was chosen, on which Anna was brought to Calais , where she arrived on December 11, 1539. Due to bad weather, she was not able to cross over to Dover until December 27th , which increased the impatience of the king waiting in Greenwich . From Dover Castle Anna was accompanied by the Dukes of Suffolk via Canterbury to Rochester . On the long trip to London she was taught court etiquette and the most important English card games. English observers described their clothing and behavior as "very unusual". After a week-long drive, Anna reached the city of Rochester on December 31st. The king, who could hardly wait to meet his new wife for the first time, traveled to meet her. On January 1, 1540, he visited Anna in the palace of the Bishop of Rochester.

First meeting with Heinrich

Image by Hans Holbein: Heinrich VIII.

The Spanish ambassador reported on Heinrich's first meeting with Anna von Kleve. Anna was watching a bull chase through a window when the king arrived and presented her with a present. Since the king was in disguise, Anna did not recognize him. She accepted the gift and then continued to watch the fight. She took no further notice of Heinrich. Heinrich left the room, only to return a short time later without disguise. Only now did Anna recognize the king and knelt down.

After the first meeting, Heinrich was immensely disappointed in his new bride. He found Anna humorless and boring. She looked inconspicuous in her German costume, behaved shyly and spoke no English. Allegedly, he is said to have already said to Cromwell after this first meeting: “I don't like her.” The insult as “Flemish mare” is a claim made up by Heinrich much later and has not been passed down. The French envoy Charles de Marillac described Anna as a tall, thin woman who looked more like a 30-year-old. She be

"... of medium beauty, with a determined and resolute countenance."

First, Heinrich postponed the wedding ceremony for two days and expressed the wish to withdraw from the marriage contract. Heinrich ordered Cromwell to find a way to prevent the wedding. It should be checked whether the marriage contract from her childhood with Francis I would still be valid. However, the envoy reported that this contract had been terminated years earlier. On January 5, 1540, Anna also had to sign a formal declaration that she was not otherwise bound. Finally, on January 6, 1540, the wedding took place in Greenwich.

Life at the English court

Thomas Cromwell hoped the wedding night would bring the couple closer together. Heinrich commented on the morning after the first night: "I didn't love her before and love her even less now [...] my heart has turned away from her, so I don't want to continue with this deal." The king tried during the first few nights around Anna, before he announced that it was not possible for him to "know his wife in the flesh". He complained to his court doctors about the “limpness of their flesh”. Anna did not take the advice of the ladies-in-waiting, which worried his discontent; she showed herself to be completely inexperienced in sexual processes. She is said to have said to her ladies-in-waiting:

“When he [the King] goes to bed, he kisses me and takes my hand and says goodnight , darling, and in the morning he kisses me and says goodbye, darling . Isn't that enough? "

Since the marriage was not consummated, according to Heinrich, the king planned to annul it. For the English court, the king and Anna appeared at public events, where she made a good impression due to her modesty, and treated her courteously. She kept a household of 126 people at court. During the short marriage to Anna, Heinrich began a passionate affair with Anna's own lady-in-waiting Catherine Howard , which accelerated the dissolution of the marriage. The enmity between Franz I and Charles V broke out again openly, and the political reasons for the marriage no longer existed for Heinrich. Under the pretext of an outbreak of the plague, Queen Anna was sent from London to Richmond on June 24, 1540, where the next day she received news of the planned dissolution of their marriage.

Marriage annulment and living in England

When dissolving the marriage, it was important not to annoy Anna's brother Wilhelm the rich too much. Therefore, Heinrich needed Anna's help, who, in memory of the fate of Katharina von Aragón and Anne Boleyn , added herself to everything and signed her formal abdication . After an initial refusal, she also accepted to send a prepared, conciliatory letter to her brother, in which she informed him of the divorce. The king, pleased with this behavior, made her his "good sister". Thus she took a rank above the other state ladies, apart from the queen and the daughters of Henry. She was also awarded a generous income and two royal residences in Richmond and Bletchingley .

Six months and three days after their wedding, Heinrich had the marriage declared invalid on July 9, 1540. Anna von Kleve returned her wedding ring to the king and agreed to the dissolution. She confirmed that she and the king had never become intimate .

Thomas Cromwell was charged with treason and heresy after an intrigue by the Duke of Norfolk, sentenced to death and executed on July 28, 1540. Anna's brother Wilhelm asserted himself against Emperor Charles V until 1543, when he had to surrender the Duchy of Geldern to the Empire in the Treaty of Venlo . The painter Hans Holbein fell out of favor with the king. Although he remained court painter, he was never to paint a member of the royal family again.

Two weeks after the marriage was annulled and on the day of Cromwell's execution, the King married Catherine Howard . However, the young woman did not find her role as Queen of England and was beheaded on February 13, 1542 for an affair with her valet. For a short time Anna made hope that the king would now turn to her again. These efforts were stopped at an early stage by Cromwell's successor, Stephan Gardiner . Heinrich also categorically refused a reconciliation, which was just as disappointing for Anna as his next marriage to Catherine Parr , who she judged to be "not nearly as pretty" as herself.

Although Anna's mother and brother wanted her return to Germany, she stayed in England, allegedly of her own free will. On January 9, 1541, she was committed to fiefdom to the English king, and her income was reorganized. She retired to Hever Castle and, like a wealthy widow, led a relatively independent life. The "daughter of Kleve" became famous in England for her generosity and charity, but also for extravagance. Anna von Kleve is said to have had a cheerful private relationship with her successor Catherine Howard. She was often at court. The relationship with Heinrich also improved with her increasing self-confidence and fluency.

Anna von Kleve survived Heinrich and all his wives. After the king's death in 1547, their situation worsened. So decreased from 1552 under the rule of his son Edward VI. her income and she lost her residence in Bletchingley. Although she wanted to go to Kleve, she was still not allowed to leave England. Anna made her last public appearance when her stepdaughter Maria ascended the throne . As the third lady she rode next to Maria's sister Elisabeth behind the new queen. Under the rule of Mary, her financial situation improved again, even if she was denied treatment as a queen widow. She had residences at Richmond Palace , Penshurst , Hever Castle and Chelsea Manor . In the spring of 1557 she fell ill and finally died on July 16, 1557 of cancer in Chelsea Manor. Anna was buried at great expense in a chapel in Westminster Abbey in London. Maria had a tomb made of black and white marble for her. The people around her revered the former queen primarily because of her generosity as a “benevolent lady”. In her will, she not only considered her ladies-in-waiting and younger sister, but also the poor and orphans of the area. The portrait of Anna von Kleve, painted by Hans Holbein, is one of his most famous works and can be seen in the Louvre in Paris .

coat of arms

The left half of the shield shows the coat of arms of the Duchy of Kleve. The right half of the shield shows the four-part coat of arms of Heinrich.

Attributions to her person

Legend "Flemish mare"

Nowadays it is doubted whether Anna von Kleve was really as ugly as Henry VIII described. A contemporary reports how Anna wore a modern French bonnet during a jost in her short marriage to Heinrich , which “emphasized her beauty and fresh face so that everyone was delighted at her sight.” So maybe her unfamiliar, unfavorable clothing is a factor.

The term “Flemish mare” may not have been invented until the 18th century by Horace Walpole . This could also explain the false statement about her Flemish origin, because Anna did not come from Flanders, nor did her family, Haus von der Mark , have any property in Flanders; their possessions were all in Westphalia and the Rhineland . Only the Duchy of Geldern - today part of the Netherlands, Province of Gelderland in the south-east of the Netherlands - lies to the west, but was also not part of Flanders (today south-west Netherlands and Belgium). The King of England, who constantly had to navigate between the other European powers, must have been aware of this, especially since the county of Flanders was part of the Burgundian legacy of the House of Habsburg and was also claimed by France.

Other statements about Anna could have been made up to make the quick separation from Heinrich possible and to protect the reputation of the king.

"First German Queen of England"

Anna von Kleve is often referred to in literature as the "first German Queen of England" (or queen of German descent ). This is true if the term German , which was not clearly geographically assigned during her lifetime, refers to the area of ​​today's Federal Republic of Germany or to the German Empire from 1871 at the earliest . From the Holy Roman Empire and also from its Regnum Teutonicum (which for the time cannot be precisely delimited, but which perhaps best fits the term German ) there had already been several English queens, for example Adelheid von Löwen (around 1103 –1151), or Anne von Böhmen (1366–1394) from the House of Luxembourg , whose homeland, like the homeland of her gender, belonged to the German Confederation until 1866 .


Film adaptations

The life of Henry VIII and his court was often filmed, with the role of Anna von Kleve taking up different sizes. Among other things, the fourth part of the BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII, broadcast in 1970, portrays in detail Anna von Kleve, played by Elvi Hale . 2001 Channel 4 broadcast under the same title a documentary series moderated by David Starkey , in the third part of which Anna (played by Catherine Siggins ) is presented together with Jane Seymour. In the television series The Tudors , Joss Stone played this role in 2009/10 during the third and fourth seasons.


British keyboardist Rick Wakeman dedicated the second track of his 1973 instrumental concept album The Six Wives of Henry VIII to Anna von Kleve. It has a relatively fast, complex rhythm and, according to Jörg Schumann, editor of the German-language progressive rock encyclopedia Baby Blue Pages , expresses life and passion in a form that does not seem to fit Anna's historically authenticated character.


  • Antonia Fraser: The six wives of Henry VIII. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1992, ISBN 0-297-81242-4 .
  • Antje Kahnt: Düsseldorf's strong women - 30 portraits Droste, Düsseldorf 2016, ISBN 978-3-7700-1577-1 , pp. 15-20.
  • Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. Piper Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-492-23682-0 , pp. 47-54.
  • David Starkey: Six wives, The Queens of Henry VIII. Chatto & Windus, London 2001, ISBN 0-7011-7298-3
  • Helga Thoma: Unloved Queen. Piper Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-492-23526-3 , pp. 38-53.
  • Retha M. Warnicke: The marrying of Anne of Cleves, royal protocol in early modern England. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2000, ISBN 0-521-77037-8 .

Web links

Commons : Anna von Kleve  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Arend Mihm: The Chronicle of Johann Wassenberch: Records of a Duisburg clergyman on local and worldwide events 500 years ago . Mercator-Verlag, [Duisburg] 1981, ISBN 3-87463-095-1 , p. 136 .
  2. Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. 2003, p. 48.
  3. Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. 2003, p. 47.
  4. ^ A b Marita A. Panzer: England's queens. 2003, p. 49.
  5. Helga Thoma: Unloved Queen. 2003, p. 38.
  6. a b c d e Marita A. Panzer: England's queens. 2003, p. 50.
  7. Helga Thoma: Unloved Queen. 2003, p. 39.
  8. Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. 2003, p. 51.
  9. ^ A b Marita A. Panzer: England's queens. 2003, p. 52.
  10. a b Helga Thoma: Unloved Queen. 2003, p. 44.
  11. Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. 2003, p. 53.
  12. Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens. 2003, p. 54.
  13. Elizabeth Norton: Bessie Blount. Mistress to Henry VIII. Amberley Publishing 2011, p. 66
  14. Compare the authority data set of the German National Library GND 120031027
  15. Review of the album The Six Wives Of Henry VIII by Jörg Schumann, accessed on December 16, 2012.
predecessor Office Successor
Jane Seymour Queen Consort of England
Catherine Howard
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on May 20, 2006 .