Painting a beautiful divorce – Anne of Cleves, 1539

I recently discovered something interesting about King Henry VIII’s fourth wife and had to write it down.

Other than the fact that King Henry obviously had no regard for his wives, all 6 of them – it felt great reading how art had a hand in manipulating him to marry someone he divorced in a heartbeat.


Quick background his wives: One died, one survived,two divorced and two were beheaded.

  1. Catherine of Aragon (marriage annulled; died while detained under guard at Kimbolton Castle);
  2. Anne Boleyn (executed);
  3. Jane Seymour (died days after giving birth, widely believed to be following birth complications);
  4. Anne of Cleves (marriage annulled);
  5. Catherine Howard (executed);
  6. Catherine Parr (widowed).

In 1539, King Henry VIII went looking for wife number 4. His chancellor Thomas Cromwell assured Henry he knew of a German princess who would be a perfect match. The King’s painter-in-residence, Hans Holbein the Younger, returned with a painted portrait of the princess and Henry immediately fell in love. When she arrived to England however, he was more than a little appalled.


      “As Michael Farquhar reports in his book, “Royal Scandals”, the king’s first words upon their initial meeting were, “I like her not.” In a letter to Thomas Cromwell, Henry complained that she stank and her breasts sagged. They were married on January 6, 1540, but Henry was so repelled by her that he could not bring himself to consummate the marriage. In another letter to Cromwell, written after his wedding night, he said, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse . . . [I] could never in her company be provoked and steered to know her carnally.” Anne agreed to a quick divorce, and received a handsome settlement that enabled her live out the rest of her life in comfort. Thomas Cromwell was not so lucky; he was accused of treason and beheaded a few days after the divorce became final. Curiously, Holbein retained his post as King’s Painter, and does not seem to have incurred Henry’s wrath.”

Quite ironic nothing happened to the painter in residence, and how a portrait was enough for the King to decide to marry Anne Cleves. Imagine if that was the only basis for men to select women to marry or become attached. Oh wait, I think that still exists. Pfft




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