Saturday, 25 April 2009

Anne of Cleves and Princess Mary

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.

Further reading:

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).

Happy Families: A Deceiving Portrait?

Simon Thurley’s The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547 is a fascinating read, and contains many wonderful images. Whilst researching for my undergraduate dissertation I came across this interesting drawing. It is designs by Erhad Schön, or his workshop, for the left-hand side of the east window of the chapel of Hampton Court. The drawings date to c.1520/29 and were commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who by this time was still the owner of this impressive palace. The designs are rather conventional – the royal family are depicted along with three saints, two of which are probable the royal couple’s namesake. This includes (from left to right), St Katherine, St Henry and St George. The three royals are Princess Mary, Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. They are presented as engaging in prayer emphasising the expected and actual pious nature of the characters in question (and yes – for all his actions Henry was, or at least perceived himself to be extremely devout!).

The designs remind me of a previous family group image – that of Henry VII, Elizabeth of York and their children kneeling before Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate, from the Ordinances of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, London, 1503 (see image to the left). Again the individuals are depicted in prayer, and the children most unrealistically depicted (only four of Henry VII’s children survived infancy, but Prince Edmund and Princesses Elizabeth and Katherine all of whom died as infants are depicted as adults, or at least as adolescents here. Furthermore Princes Arthur and Henry along with Princesses Margaret and Mary were all children when this image was created but all appear older).

A similar situation may have occurred with this image of Henry VIII and his ‘first family’. If this drawing does date to the early 1520s than Princess Mary would have been a small children (she was born in 1516). Yet she is depicted as older. On the other hand Mary’s maturity here could indicate a later date, maybe the mid 1520s, or slightly later. The date c.1527/9 could be ruled out as in 1527 Henry asked Wolsey to investigate the validity of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. By this point Henry was arguing that owing to Katherine’s previous union with his brother, she was not his lawful wife. Thus it would have been incredibly bold or, to be blunt, rather foolish for Wolsey to commission an image depicting Henry alongside Katherine in the full regalia of the queen.

I think it is possible that the image dates to the mid 1520s when Mary was sent to Ludlow. I believe that Henry VIII was never confident about having Mary as his heir and by the mid 1520s he was awarding his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, far more titles and powers than his legitimate daughter. Yet Henry was proud of his daughter and commissioned images of her (including the Lucas Horenbout miniature). By 1525 he decided to send her to Ludlow Castle, the traditional seat of the princes of Wales and she went with an impressive household, composed by Wolsey. Importantly, she was sent to represent the king in Wales and the marches. Whilst Henry did not, and never did, officially grant Mary the title of ‘Princess of Wales’ (although other people took to calling her that), he was signifying that she was his daughter, and therefore a suitable candidate to represent him in a part of his realm.

Could then this image date to this period; at which time Mary was no longer an infant locked in the royal nursery but becoming a more active member of the royal family?

Interestingly, if this image does date to the mid 1520s, it belongs to a time when Henry was starting to have significant concerns regarding the lack of a male heir. Beneath this harmonious family portrait lays tensions. It is often believed that Henry stopped sleeping with Katherine around 1525 (which may have been an indication that she had ceased to be able to bear children). Thus it seems Henry had given up on hopes to have a male heir with this wife. At the same time he was advancing his illegitimate son, and according to David Loades in Mary Tudor: The Tragical history of the first Queen of England, he was also keen on separating Mary from Katherine. According to Loades, Henry ‘was keeping his options open, and at the same time separating the child from what he probably saw as the overweening influence of her mother’ (p. 22). Was he perhaps also punishing her for what he came to see as her failure to produce a male child? Despite Henry’s belief that both he and Katherine had sinned by marrying one another he clearly perceived his first two wives to be at fault for the lack of a son.

So this image is fascinating in its attempts to convey a picture of domestic peace when it may in fact date to the beginning of the breakdown of Henry VIII’s first marriage. Poignantly, it may also represent the beginning of one of the most drastic and tragic episodes in Mary’s life.