On This Day

henry viii, king henry viii, henry viii portrait
National Portrait Gallery, London

On This Day: King Henry VIII Marries Fourth Wife

January 06, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 6, 1540, King Henry VIII of England wed Anne of Cleves, the fourth of his six wives. The marriage ended in divorce just six months later.

Henry VIII Weds Anne of Cleves

Henry had been married thrice before; his third wife, Jane Seymour, had died of post-natal complications after delivering Henry’s first son, Edward, in 1537. Henry’s fourth marriage would be to Anne of Cleves, a German noblewoman.

The marriage was proposed by Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, to help form a defensive pact with Germany. Henry and Cromwell feared that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France would join forces and attack England.

When Henry first met her, he was in disguise, hoping to charm her in his unprepossessing attire. Unfortunately, the lady completely ignored her shabby future husband until he returned as a recognizable royal in his robes.

By the day of their wedding, the proposed alliance between Charles and Francis had fallen through and the political alliance formed by the marriage was no longer essential. Still, against his better judgment, a reluctant Henry proceeded.

Henry was unable to consummate his marriage on his wedding night and almost immediately regretted his decision to marry. He told Cromwell, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.” He began to plan how to rid himself of the woman he nicknamed his “Flanders Mare.”

Anne cooperated with Henry desire to have the marriage annulled, accepting a severance package to remain in England under the title of the king's “good sister.” Their marriage officially ended on July 9, 1540, just over six months they wed.

Cromwell was not as fortunate. Henry was unhappy with him for arranging the marriage and he had many enemies at court. He was accused of treason in June, taken to the Tower of London and beheaded on July 28, 1540.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

King Henry VIII
Henry VIII was a talented but difficult man, famous for his seemingly insatiable appetite for women, war, hunting and food.

His most famous act as king was splitting from the Catholic Church after the pope did not annul the marriage to his first wife, Catherine. Henry declared himself as spiritual head of the church, and Parliament gradually gave him power over the church between 1533 and 1540. Under Henry, the English church changed little; it was not until his son Edward VI took control in 1547 that the English church developed into a truly Protestant church.

Henry’s Wives
His first wife was Catherine of Aragon, former wife of his deceased brother. When she bore no male heirs, Henry sought an annulment and broke with the Catholic Church to divorce her.

Anne Boleyn, mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was Henry’s second wife. She was beheaded, having, like Catherine before her, failed to give her husband a male heir. A son, Edward, was born to the king’s third consort, Jane Seymour, who died of post-natal complications.

The marriage to Anne of Cleves lasted only six months in the end. She was succeeded by Jane Howard, another victim to the axeman, and Catherine Parr.

The fate of Henry VIII's six wives has been immortalized in a mnemonic passed down through generations of British schoolchildren: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

Historical Context: The Tudors

Henry VIII was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, which ruled England from 1485 to 1603. The Tudor period produce some of European history’s most intriguing rulers, and encompassed significant cultural and religious transformations.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines