Meet the Wives Handbook: Anne of Cleves

Catherine Parr

There was little drama in Henry VIII's selection of Catherine Parr. The execution of Catherine Howard had sunk the king into a deep depression. (Though Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys quipped that Henry's "sorrow" had more to do with the fact that it was the first time he'd lost one wife without having another one in the wings.) At 52 years old, this one-time randy monarch was more in need of an affectionate companion than a sexual playmate.

How the king hit on the idea of Catherine Parr is not known, but he had known her since she was a child. Catherine's father had been one of his early companions; her mother a lady-in-waiting to Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon. As it was, there were precious few women to vie with Catherine Parr for the title of queen. After the execution of Catherine Howard, few courtiers were willing to advance their daughters for consideration. The law requiring that a woman intended as the king's bride make a clean breast of all past affairs was a perilous gamble for members of the dissolute Tudor court.

A sensible widow was just the thing. She was pious, she was dependable, she had a love of music and learning and the gouty king was tired of adventures of the heart.

The pair would be married on July 14, 1543 in the queen's chambers at Hampton Court Palace.

Who Could Henry VIII Also Have Married?

Anne of Cleves
Yes, that Anne of Cleves. The likelihood of Henry VIII remarrying his fourth wife was largely nil, but this did not stop Anne's brother, William, Duke of Cleves, from lobbying for her candidacy after the execution of Catherine Howard in 1542.

The signs were promising: Henry had sent his personal physicians to attend to Anne for fever and had exchanged New Year's gifts with her: pots and a wine holder for Anne, strips of crimson cloth for Henry.

The Privy Council, weary of Cleves's persistence, finally responded with no uncertain refusal, writing that "what was done was founded upon great reason, whatever the world might allege." Two of Anne of Cleves' ladies-in-waiting were sent to prison for speculating that God must be arranging things to make Anne queen again. The king had no interest in his so-called official "sister."

The news broke hard upon the former Queen Anne. This rejected wife was in no mood to be as generous toward Catherine Parr as she had been toward Catherine Howard. The new queen, she sniffed, was "not nearly as beautiful as she," the Spanish ambassador reported her saying. "A fine burden Madame Catherine has taken upon herself!"

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