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January 1, 1540 – Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves Meet Privately at Rochester

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves, from The Six Wives of Henry VIII

The official meeting between the King and his new bride was scheduled for January 3, 1540, at Greenwich, but Henry VIII was far too much of a romantic for this – he wanted to “nourish love.” Spoiler alert (as if we needed one!) – this really didn’t go well…

There are a number of stories that are told about this meeting. The chroniclers all agree that the King’s “face fell” when he first saw her, and that he was so disappointed that he forgot to give her the presents he had brought her. They also all agree that the King began immediately to make inquiries about avoiding the marriage. But it is stories about what happened in the room that are the fun ones.

EnglishHistory.Net presents a contemporary account said to be by Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys:

And on New Years Day in the afternoon the king’s grace with five of his privy chamber, being disguised with mottled cloaks with hoods so that they should not be recognized, came secretly to Rochester, and so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed here a token which the king had sent her for New Year’s gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window…. and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet. And when the lords and knights saw his grace they did him reverence…. and then her grace humbled herself lowly to the king’s majesty, and his grace saluted her again, and they talked together lovingly, and afterwards he took her by the hand and led her to another chamber where their graces amused themselves that night and on Friday until the afternoon.

Antonia Fraser gives a slightly different version, taken from John Strype (Ecclesiastical Memorials…of the Church of England under Henry VIII). It’s the one that was used in the Six Wives of Henry VIII presented back in the 1970s. The Anne of Cleves episode, written by Jean Morris, was particularly brilliant. It opens with the marriage negotiations, showing us a king who looks much older than the one who married Jane Seymour – it’s the king that most people think of when they hear “Henry VIII” (these later years are really the ones that show Keith Mitchell’s greatness). Then we switch to Cleves, where Anne is about to have her famous portrait painted. We are given a key contextual point and learn that Anne has been told – and obviously believes – that Henry is “the handsomest and most courtly king ever born.” We also are given to understand that Hans Holbein was personally captivated by Anne of Cleves – perhaps because he met her when she was wearing simple clothes with her shoulders showing – and that Anne is surprised to hear herself called beautiful …

Then we get to the best part. Henry – in pain after a good hunt, learns that his bride-to-be is on English soil, and his romantic nature takes over. Rather than waiting for the official meeting scheduled for three  days, hence, he calls for “Clothes, clothes fit for the bridegroom,” checks on the gifts he has chosen for her, and grabs some chicken legs. While he is eating, his mouth full and his chin greasy, he comes up with his plan. “We will say that I am a messenger sent by the King. She receives me. When we are alone, I reveal myself. Not the King, but the lover. The ardent lover who can wait no longer.”

They ride the 30 miles to Rochester, and get there a bit late – when Anne would not be dressed to receive visitors (but not quite in her shift yet). He is admitted to her chamber as a messenger – a larger than life messenger covered by a plain, coarse cloak. And snickering every other line.

“So, this is to be the Queen of England, eh?” he says and kneels, awkwardly to kiss her hand.

“His Majesty has sent you, sir?

“Ya,” he snickers in “German.” 

“That was most kind.” She pauses, and looks at him. “I see the journey has tired you.”

Henry waves off the concern. “Twice as far would have been nothing, Madam, so long as it was to your side.”

Anne gives a quiet “Ah” (why would she encourage a messenger who was being overly familiar?); Henry continues with his attempts at gallantry.

“And er, does England please you as much as you will please England? The journey, these lodgings, your attendants? Are they all you could wish? One finger lifted, and all England is yours.”

“Everything is most comfortable, thank you.”

He gives another of his wheezy snickers. “And while we hear your views on England we will take a cup of wine with you.” The servant comes in, has a bit of a hard time not bowing to the King but also not turning his back on him, and Henry just pushes him with an “Oh go on, get out.”

Then Henry looks over and sees Anne’s lady, Lottie, still there. “Your woman may leave us as well.”

This clearly does not please Lottie, who sniffs, “Leave her Highness alone, Sir?”

“It’s not manners in Cleves, Mistress,” he starts to rage – then catches himself and calms himself with great effort. “Well, just here, manners are different.”

Lottie agrees (what choice does she have?) but turns to Anne to curtsy and assures her, sotto voce, “I shall be within call, Madame.”

Alone with his new bride, Henry sits and tries again to charm. “Ah, of to be Queen of England. What greater glory could any woman wish? When I was young, what was England then? A little country, disregarded in the councils of the world. Who feared England then, when we signed the treaty of Lille in 1514?”

Anne breaks in. “Thirteen.”


“The treaty of Lille was signed in 1513. October. The 17th

Henry is surprised, and utterly charmed. “Such a pretty thing, to prepare yourself for marriage by familiarizing yourself with your husband’s triumphs.”

Unfortunately, that turns his mind to other things…He sits, and a lecherous look appears on his face. “But there are better ways of pleasing a husband,” he says, patting his knee.

Anne pulls her dressing gown close around her and turns away. “I am not dressed to receive visitors so late at night.”

Henry ignores the dismissal and presses on. “That’s a mighty pretty piece of silk but nothing so fine as what it covers.”

That really gets her. She turns around, furious, and snaps. “Sir. This is too much. If the King were here himself…”

“But he is,” interrupts Henry.

Anne, still not getting it, looks around. “Oh? Where?”

“Sweetheart, behold him,” he yells, standing and removing his cloak to reveal a magnificent white doublet glittering with jewels. Anne looks him up and down and falls to her knees in horror.

The image cuts to Cromwell and Cranmer talking about the marriage contract outside the room. They hear an indignant scream from Anne, clearly in reaction to an inappropriate gesture. “My procuring has been successful,” says Cromwell, but then soon after that an annoyed and disgruntled King comes out of the room. A servant extends the tray of sables he had planned for her gifts, and Henry just waves him away. “Oh, tomorrow. Let a servant bring them tomorrow.”

Then he looks at Cromwell to delivers his famous lines. “I am ashamed that men have so praised the princess. I like her not.”

Again, not a good first date…


Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII and  John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials…of the Church of England under Henry VIII

Marilee Hanson, The First Meeting of Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII (EnglishHistory.Net)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII series!

My other posts on the topic (including the description of their official meeting that did take place as planned on January 3) – check out the Anne of Cleves line of tags!


If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! My Seymour Saga trilogy tells the gripping story of the short-lived dynasty that shaped the Tudor Era. Jane the Quene skews romantic, The Path to Somerset is pure Game of Thrones (without the dragons), and The Boy King is a noir coming-of-age. Get them now through AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Apple, or even your local independent bookstore!

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January 1, 1540 - Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves Meet Privately at Rochester
Published inOn This Day

One Comment

  1. […] 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) […]

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