Anna of Cleves was born on 22 September 1515, and would be Queen of England for 1/2 of 1440 before becoming King Henry VIII’s “sister” until her death on 16 July 1557.
Although she was well liked by Henry’s court, she got off on the wrong foot with the king himself. He came in “disguise” to woo her and she wasn’t impressed; he never forgave her for her honest reception of a bumbling middle-aged suitor because in his own mind Henry was still a young, handsome, and vital man. Since he couldn’t be wrong about his self-worth, she must have been impossible to romance.
It may have cost her a crown but her blunder worked out well in her favor, nonetheless. Henry annulled their marriage and made her his “sister”, giving her freedom and status and riches unlike anything enjoyed by any other woman in England. She not only got to keep her dower goods, she also a hefty annual income from the king and got several gifts of royal jewelry, gold plate, furnishings, and expensive clothes. Better yet, she was given Richmond Palace and Bletchingly Manor, plus several other manors and estates from a king grateful to her for her compliance to the annulment.
Anna is my favorite of Henry’s queens because she is the only one who got anything remotely resembling a Happily Ever After. His first queen, Katherina of Aragon, died broken hearted after her stopped loving her. He murdered Anne Boleyn. Jane Seymour bled to death 12 days after giving birth to his son. Katheryn Howard was murdered for having not been a virgin on her wedding night. Even Kateryn Parr – who outlived him – died miserably from childbirth complications after catching her husband trying to make the moves on the 14 year old Princess Elizabeth. Anna, however, laughed and danced and gambled and partied until the day she shuffled off her mortal coil. Her only “misfortune” was to be unwed … but in exchanged for her probable life-long virginity she didn’t have to answer to a tyrannical husband, endure his bulk in bed, smell the rancid skin ulcers on his legs, or die birthing his children. If she had any regrets about not having children of her own, she kept them private and she certainly didn’t let it dampen her enthusiasm for frolics.
She too often gets overlooked in because she was easy-going, compromising, gentle-tempered, and friendly – traits which make a great friend but don’t lend themselves to making history – but she was remarkable for her affability and pragmatism. Those who knew her seemed to have genuinely loved her. Servants, companions, her stepchildren, and courtiers had nothing but good things to say about her. Even Henry grew fond of her after their marriage was annulled. Yet for all her sweetness, she was not only survived — she thrived. She had a wonderful life in spite of having wed Henry VIII, and made a place for herself in the halls of power without having to become a power broker or power player. That takes amazing strength of character and a complete rejection of greedy ambition.
Happy Birthday, Anna. You weren’t queen for long, but I think you totally ruled.