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A photograph of a British postage stamp showing Anne of Cleves, one of King Henry 8th's many Wives

Anne of Cleves: Biography

Anne of Cleves was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. They divorced in 1540 after seven months of marriage.

Image Credit: Andy Lidstone / | Above: A British postage stamp commemorating King Henry 8th, showing Anne of Cleves, one of his many Wives

Anne of Cleves was born in Cleves, a principality in the lower Rhinelands of what is now Germany, in 1515.

She was educated in the restricted circle of the ducal court at Dusseldorf and, although highly competent at domestic duties, she was unfamiliar with the ways of the English Court, and Henry VIII's passions, books and music.

Her personal interests were of no importance to Henry VIII, however, since the marriage, his fourth, was purely a diplomatic manoeuvre, arranged by Thomas Cromwell, the King's Minister.

Due to Henry's break with Rome in 1533, England was in danger of being completely isolated from Europe. By 1538, the King of France and the Emperor had agreed a truce, and Henry feared attack.

It made perfect sense to form an alliance with the Duchy of Gelderland as they were Lutherans, and an easy and convenient way to do so was for Henry to marry a daughter of the Duke. The King hoped to create an alliance between England and other non-catholic states in case the country was attacked.

After consulting portraits of the two sisters, produced by Holbein, who was the most famous painter at the Tudor court, Henry chose Anne, and the marriage contract was immediately drawn up.

It was not long before the truce between France and the Holy Roman Empire collapsed, however, and Anne's marriage seemed less necessary than before. Still, Henry and Anne married on 6 January 1540 - Henry had been without a wife for over two years since the death of Jane Seymour.

Soon after the wedding, war between the Emperor and the Duke of Cleves appeared inevitable, and Henry realised his marriage could place his Kingdom in danger again, and so set about nullifying the marriage, on the grounds of non-consummation. Anne of Cleves became known as the 'Flander's Mare' - rumoured to be so unattractive the King could not bear to touch her. Henry had also become attracted to a lady in waiting of the Queen's - Katherine Howard - who would become his fifth wife.

Despite her unfair treatment, Anne co-operated with the King throughout the shabby affair, as she would only be causing trouble for herself as seen in the past when Henry abandoned his first wife Catherine of Aragon after she refused to divorce him.

Anne testified that the marriage had never been consummated and a previous engagement to the Duke of Lorraine had not been properly ended, meaning she was never free to marry the King in the first place.

After the divorce, Henry awarded her the honorary title, 'The King's Sister', and gave her houses and land as compensation. She was given Hever Castle in Kent, which had once belonged to Anne Boleyn. Anne of Cleves lived in comfortable obscurity until her death in 1557, although she did make some appearances at the court including at the coronation of her step-daughter Mary I in 1553.

She is buried in a hard to find tomb at Westminster Abbey. Anne of Cleves was recently portrayed in the hit TV show 'The Tudors' by Joss Stone.