Anne of Cleves, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1539

How The King’s Wife Became His “Sister”

I have to admit I have never paid much attention to Anne of Cleves. Sure, I knew she was one of Henry VIII’s six wives, and I was familiar with the portrait Hans Holbein painted of her in 1539. Henry VIII commissioned it to help him decide if she might be of interest as a wife. He liked it, too. But when he met her in person, he was disappointed in how she looked and exclaimed, “I like her not! I like her not!”

So what if she was a little more plain than Holbein had painted her. Holbein had also flattered Henry when he painted him a couple of years before. By this time, corpulent Henry was no prize. Their never consummated marriage was later annulled.

Cornelis Massys’ portrait of Henry VIII. National Portrait Gallery, London
Cornelis Massys’ portrait of Henry VIII. National Portrait Gallery, London

Even if Henry didn’t like Anne the first time he saw her, he gave her several houses, furnishings, an annual income, jewels and rewarded her with the title, “the kings sister.” I learned to like her a lot.  She was a pragmatic survivor who made the best of her situation. I like that Anne of Cleves was good at needlework. I like that she was a good friend to Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I.  Maybe she was fortunate her marriage was annulled. She survived Henry, his son Edward and the rest of his five wives. Take a look at this article to see if you like her too.

And here’s a little more for those who are interested.




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