Anne of Cleves was Mary’s third stepmother, and later a good friend. Anne, who is always perceived to have been Henry VIII’s ‘lucky wife’ for she kept her head, was also the last of his wives to die. When she died in 1557 Mary, who was then queen, ensured that she was buried with full honours at Westminster Abbey. Yet their relationship got off to a rocky start.
(Detail of a miniature of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger)
Anne arrived in England on 27 December 1539 and married Henry on the 6th January 1540. David Loades in Mary Tudor: The Tragical history of the first Queen of England (2006) asserts that Mary was present at her father’s wedding and cites from Retha Warnicke’s work on the Cleves marriage to back this point. However he has cited this information incorrectly as Warnicke points out that we don’t know when Anne and Mary first met. She even notes that plans to have both Mary and her half-sister Elizabeth amongst those to greet the new queen were cancelled. Although the idea that Mary was present at her father’s wedding to Anne of Cleves as been affirmed in a recent biography – Linda Porter’s Mary Tudor: the First Queen (2007) – again no primary source is used to back up this story.
So we do not know when the two women first met, but the subject of their meeting proved to a point of controversy.
Why a disagreement occurred is still relatively unknown. But the dispute occurred in Easter 1540 (holidays are always a popular time for family quarrels!) It seems that Henry VIII asked Anne to call upon Mary to attend her and stay in her household. There was nothing amiss in this request – we know, for example, that Henry asked his subsequent wife, Katherine Howard, to do the same thing in May 1541. By this point Henry and his daughter Mary were reunited and he appears to have found her company pleasing. It therefore seems likely that Henry, who was rather disappointed with his marriage to Anne, wanted to have his daughter back at court to keep him company. Anne was none too pleased and she made this known.
(Painted oak bed-head probably made for Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII)
Why did Anne not want Mary at court? Was it perhaps jealousy that her husband showed more interest in his daughter than in her? Was this worsened by the fact that her new-stepdaughter was only a year younger than herself and also pretty, thus could have overshadowed Anne? Was she offended by Mary’s faith? Mary has always been presented as staunch Catholic whereas Anne of Cleves has been regarded as a Lutheran. However Anne, who was raised by her Catholic mother, worshiped in the same manner as her husband who was certainly not a Lutheran and in turn would have worshipped in the manner Mary did. It seems hard to assert that Mary’s faith offended Anne because the pair became very good friends later on and Anne died a devout Catholic thus indicating that the pair shared similar interests and ideas. In short the idea that Anne was a Lutheran is incorrect and based almost simply on the fact that Anne has family ties with Lutherans (namely to her brother-in-law, the Elector of Saxony).
Retha Warnicke’s suggestion that Anne was offended by the presence of her husband’s illegitimate child at court seems interesting. Mary was no ordinary royal bastard but Anne, who seems to have been uninformed about so many things, may not have been told about Mary’s delicate situation. By asking her to have Mary in his household, Henry may have offended his new wife. On top of that Mary was the cousin of Charles V and Charles just so happened to be her brother’s and her brother-in-law’s enemy.
But the tense situation was soon over with as Anne and Mary became good friends, possibly because Anne was later informed of Mary’s situation. On top of that it seems that Mary treated her as with respect, which may have improved matters.
Henry of course later annulled his marriage to Anne, having by that point become enraptured with one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Katherine Howard. Mary never took to Katherine and continued to treat Anne well. In March 1543, Henry VIII even licensed his former wife to visit the princesses at court for several days. After his death Anne and Mary appear to have seen each other infrequently (there is a recorded visit between the two in 1551). By this time both had their respective problems; for Anne it was financial, for Mary it was more dangerous as her Catholic faith put her in direct opposition to the reformist policies of Edward VI’s reign.
When Mary did become queen, Anne shared in the celebrations. Alongside Princess Elizabeth she rode in a chariot lined with cloth of silver, during the coronation procession on 29th September 1553 and sat at the foot of the queen’s table at the coronation banquet on 1st October. She also sought financial assistance from the new queen and Mary appears to have been ready to help.
Anne died, aged forty-one, on 16th July 1557, appointing as the overseer of her will, “our most dearest and entirely beloved sovereign lady Queen Mary”. In turn Mary ensured Anne was awarded an impressive funeral at Westminster Abbey. Whilst Mary enjoyed good relations with two other stepmothers – Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr – her relationship with Anne was longer than those she enjoyed with the other women. Anne and Mary proved to have a number of things in common, namely that both had faced rejection of sorts from Henry VIII and with this a humiliating downgrade in status.
Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (London, 2007).
Judith M. Richards, Mary Tudor (Oxon, 2008).
Retha M. Warnicke, ‘Anne [Anne of Cleves] (1515-1557)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Retha M. Warnicke, The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Tudor England (Cambridge, 2000).