Today was the day that Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves were supposed to meet for the first time. Unfortunately, on January 1, Henry allowed his impatience to get the better of him and decided to surprise his prospective bride. He disguised himself as a servant sent to bring her a New Year’s gift and tried to kiss her. Of course she was shocked, of course she resisted…and of course Henry was insulted at her (likely disgusted) reaction Apparently he didn’t even bother giving her the rich sables that he had picked out for her, and just left them there for a real servant to bring her. You can read about the experience in a separate post here)
Not much changed at their formal meeting on Blackheath outside the gates of Greenwich Park, where she was received with all the pomp that a foreign alliance demanded and a new queen deserved. The King, dressed in rich cloth of gold and purple velvet and adorned with diamonds, rubies and jewels of all kinds, rode in “on a goodly courser” through the crowds with his entire court behind him – household officers, gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, lords, knights, bishops, ambassadors, and liveried servants. Anne rode toward him on a “richly trapped steed”and Henry “put off his bonnet and came forward to her, and with most lovely countenance and princely behavior saluted, welcomed and embraced her, to the great rejoicing of the beholders.” The couple and their attendants then rode on to Greenwich, where they could see – and hear – the citizens of London on the river in barges cheering and singing. That night, there was a grand reception laid out in Anne’s honor. She was said to have made a good impression on just about everyone – except the one person who mattered.
Unable to find a way to avoid the marriage without jeopardizing the Gernan alliance, Henry went ahead with the marriage. He was clearly dragging his feet on the way in (“My Lord, were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing”), and was even less happy the morning after (“I liked her not well before, but now I like her much worse”).
Henry’s inability to consummate the marriage opened the door to the annulment that followed (conveniently after the threatening alliance between France and Spain had dissolved). Many believe (I believe) that was his plan: Francis I had sent him a gift of boar pate for Christmas, so Henry might have suspected that a rapprochement between England and France would not be long in coming. Some also believe (I suspect) that he had already developed an attraction to Catherine Howard, who would have come to court to serve as a lady-in-waiting to the new queen. Ironically, Anne of Cleves probably ended up happier in this scenario than she would have been under the original plan….
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