July 11, 1540 – Anne of Cleves Acknowledges the Dissolution of Her Marriage

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves, from the BBC's Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972)

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves, from the BBC’s Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972)

On July 9, 1540, the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was formally dissolved by the convocations of both Canterbury and York, based on the grounds put forward to them by Parliament. Anne was informed that afternoon, both of the dissolution and the lands and annuities she could expect by virtue of her new position as the “King’s Sister” which gave her precedence over almost every other lady of the kingdom. She immediately assured them of her consent – but the Council asked her to put her agreement in writing.

The result was a masterful letter from a woman who ended up in far better a position than she had expected or hoped – but who was careful to conceal the true extent of her relief.  Indeed, as Alison Weir put it, “it manages to convey a poignant sense of loss, calculated to flatter the King.” Which of course begs the question: was the letter drafted by the Privy Council or did it come out of Anne’s own head? The BBC’s Six Wives of Henry VIII showed us an Anne who was perfectly capable – more than anyone else – to craft such a letter. That’s the Anne I believe in.

This is the letter she wrote Henry. It is my own first-person muddle between the letter that Alison Weir quotes from in her book and the one summarized in Letters and Papers, but it gives you the essence of the communication:

I was told by divers of the Council of the doubts concerning our marriage and how petition was made that the same might be examined by the clergy and I consented to this.

Though this case must needs be both hard and sorrowful for me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person, I accept and appro.ve the decision of the clergy, whereby I neither can nor will repute myself your Grace’s wife, considering this sentence and your Majesty’s pure and clean living with me. For all this, I hope I will sometimes have the pleasure of your most noble presence, which I shall esteem for a great benefit. The Lords and others of your Council now with me have put me in comfort that your Highness will take me for your sister, for the which I most humbly thank you accordingly. Beseeching the Almighty to send the King long life and good health.

Your Majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne the daughter of Cleves.

 ***

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