Letters of Anne of Cleves
Letter of Anne of Cleves to her husband, King Henry VIII 11 July 1540
Background The following letter was Anne of Cleves’s very diplomatic response to Henry VIII’s request for an annulment of their brief marriage. Though her brother pressed her to return home to the duchy of Cleves, Anne was content to remain in England. There were two reasons for this – first, Henry was so grateful for her easy submission and gracious manners, he rewarded her with a very comfortable lifestyle. She was able to live as a wealthy dowager and enjoyed a close relationship with the king (now termed her ‘brother’) and his three children. Secondly, she did not want to face an ignominious return to Cleves. After Henry’s public rejection of their union, she would not have found another husband and would have been forced to rely on her brother’s generosity.
Henry was very impressed by this letter. Its tone of respectful subservience to his wishes inspired his gratitude. Despite his reputation for tyranny, the great king could be kind and generous. Anne had little cause to think ill of him. After all, most historians focus on Henry’s feelings in this matter – but perhaps the lady from Cleves was less than enamored with her husband and was equally desperate to escape the marriage. According to all reports, she learned to love English beer and grew plump and happy in her adopted country.
My letter to his excellent majesty King Henry VIII
Pleaseth your most excellent majesty to understand that, whereas, at sundry times heretofore, I have been informed and perceived by certain lords and others your grace’s council, of the doubts and questions which have been moved and found in our marriage; and how hath petition thereupon been made to your highness by your nobles and commons, that the same might be examined and determined by the holy clergy of this realm; to testify to your highness by my writing, that which I have before promised by my word and will, that is to say, that the matter should be examined and determined by the said clergy; it may please your majesty to know that, though this case must needs be most hard and sorrowful unto me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person, yet, having more regard to God and his truth than to any worldly affection, as it beseemed me, at the beginning, to submit me to such examination and determination of the said clergy, whom I have and do accept for judges competent in that behalf. So now being ascertained how the same clergy hath therein given their judgment and sentence, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same, wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your highness’ goodness and pleasure; most humbly beseeching your majesty that, though it be determined that the pretended matrimony between us is void and of none effect, whereby I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace’s wife, considering this sentence (whereunto I stand) and your majesty’s clean and pure living with me, yet it will please you to take me for one of your humble servants, and so determine of me, as I may sometimes have the fruition of your most noble presence; which as I shall esteem for a great benefit, so, my lords and others of your majesty’s council, now being with me, have put me in comfort thereof; and that your highness will take me for your sister; for the which I most humbly thank you accordingly. Thus, most gracious prince, I beseech our Lord God to send your majesty long life and good health, to God’s glory, your own honor, and the wealth of this noble realm. From Richmond, the 11th day of July, the 32nd year of your majesty’s most noble reign. Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne the daughter of Cleves.