A Kentish Scrapbook

Ann of Cleeves portrait at Hever Castle

Ann of Cleeves portrait at Hever Castle - Credit: Archant

Our history sleuth unearths the stories behind Kent’s rich heritage from Januarys past, from Anne of Cleves at Hever to time dropping in Deal

Following the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII found himself yet again in want of a wife.

Never one to overlook the possibility of turning a situation to his advantage, Henry sought to strengthen England’s alliance with Germany and, with a little persuasion from Thomas Cromwell, his eye fell on the two daughters of the Duke of Cleves.

Both Anne and her sister Amelia were deemed potential candidates so Henry sent the acclaimed portraitist Hans Holbein to paint their miniatures. Based on Henry’s preference for Anne’s likeness, Thomas Cromwell duly arranged the match.

In a plan that backfired dramatically, Henry decided to have a little sport with his future wife when she arrived in England and travelled to her lodgings at Rochester, where he entered in disguise and kissed her. How Anne responded is unknown but, from that moment, events did not go to plan.

Henry decided that his future queen wasn’t quite as polished nor as beautiful as he’d expected and tried desperately to get out of the marriage. This couldn’t be done without putting the political alliance at risk so, on 6 January 1540, they were married.

Just six months later, however, when the political alliance had coincidentally lost importance, their union was annulled on the basis that Henry had been unable to consummate his marriage with ‘the Flanders mare’. Anne’s thoughts on being married to Henry, living in an unfamiliar land and being surrounded by unflattering gossip are not recorded, but she wisely agreed. In recognition of her acceptance, Henry awarded her the honorary title of ‘The King’s Sister’, £500 a year, a staffed household and two houses.

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To increase her status and income she was also allowed to lease a number of manors, including Hever Castle, which Anne owned until her death in 1557. How much time she spent there is a mystery and, apart from a couple of stunning portraits, her presence is invisible.

The only evidence that she actually visited her castle comes in the form of two letters, one written to her brother, thanking him for some hunting birds, and the other written to Mary Tudor in 1554, signed ‘from my poore house of Hever’.

The castle is, of course, the childhood home of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. For Anne of Cleves, perhaps, the surroundings and the fact that, even now, Anne Boleyn is supposed to haunt the property, proved a little too much to bear.

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