The relationship of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard

Henry VIII didn’t like Anne of Cleves from the very beginning, and an annulment of their marriage was inevitable; it was just a matter of time.

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At first, Anne was shocked by the news which the king’s delegation brought to her visiting her at Richmond Palace, where she had gone to escape the threat of plague. But she swiftly understood that the king wanted to find a way out of their marriage, and I have no doubt that she didn’t forget the fate of one of her predecessors – Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second executed queen.

When Anne agreed to give the king what he wanted, Henry seems to have been surprised by her unexpected amenability, but he was also pleased because he was free to marry Catherine Howard and continue his quest for “healthy sons”. As a result, Henry was generous to Anne for her submission.

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David Starkey writes about Anne of Cleves’ agreement:

“On the Sunday, Anne wrote to Henry on the lines suggested. She began by repeating in unambiguous terms her previous oral agreement that the marriage should be tried by Convocation. Next she accepted their judgement that it was invalid. Finally, she submitted herself, ‘for her [future] state and condition’, wholly to the King ‘goodness and pleasure’, begging only that she might ‘sometimes have the fruition of your most noble presence’.

The letter was signed ‘Your Majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne, Dochtter the Cleyffys.”

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Henry replied to Anne’s letter, addressing her as his ‘sister’. In the same letter, Henry proposed the terms of the financial settlement: she was offered income of GBP 4,000 a year, and she would receive Richmond and Bletchingley as her residences. The king explained that he had chosen these residences for Anne’s convenience: they were located close to the court, and she was welcome there.

When the king married Catherine Howard, Anne was on good terms with her former husband, and she also visited the king’s children. When Catherine Howard was executed, rumours circulated in England that Henry might take his former German wife back, but it never happened.

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The French ambassador Marillac was impressed with Anne’s handling of the situation: she said that ‘all her affairs could never make her utter a word by which one might suppose that she was discontented.’

It is true that in the Showtime’s “The Tudors” Anne and Henry become closer in the fourth season, but I wouldn’t call them friends in the series – the king just felt grateful and benevolent towards her for her submission.

It seems that Anne felt pretty comfortable with the arrangement: she became a free, wealthy, and independent woman after her “amicable divorce” from Henry, and she was still regarded as royalty. Henry and Anne got along well after their annulment, but I still think that they were not very close. The king didn’t choose to trouble his former bride, and she liked that a lot.

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Catherine Howard and Anne of Cleves definitely met, but we don’t know for sure what their real attitude to each other was.

According to David Starkey, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk heard that ‘the King’s Highness did cast a fantasy to Catherine Howard the first time that ever his Grace saw her’. It might have happened in the autumn of 1539, before or during Anne of Cleves’ arrival in England. For a short time, Catherine was Anne of Cleves’ ladies-in-waiting.

When Henry married Catherine Howard, Anne of Cleves was out of the picture, but the German princess was still alive and became quite popular in England. That might have been a sort of embarrassment for Catherine, who really tried to be a good queen and to befriend all of Henry’s three children.

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Marillac reported to King Francis I of France that it had been:

‘to the great regret of this people, who loved and esteemed her as the sweetest, most gracious and kindest Queen they ever had or would desire’.

Whatever Catherine thought of Anne and regardless of her probable embarrassment, she couldn’t ignore Anne and couldn’t forget about the other woman’s existence. After all, Anne was considered ‘the king’s sister’, even though I insist that she was called so for formality and out of Henry’s gratitude to her. In the first months of the king’s fifth marriage, Anne wasn’t invited to the court, perhaps to Catherine’s relief, but it finally happened at New Year 1541, when Catherine had to welcome Anne at the court.

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Anne sent Henry an expensive and lovely New Year’s gift of two fine horses caparisoned in mauve velvet. When she arrived, Catherine and the courtiers might have been very anxious and worried before the meeting of the new queen and ex-queen. After all, there were no such precedents before! Anne, too, must have been nervous, but she handled the situation wisely and with her usual grace and modesty.

Eustace Chapuys wrote Anne of Cleves’ meeting with Catherine:

“Having entered the room Lady Anne approached the Queen with as much reverence and punctilious ceremony as if she herself were the most insignificant damsel about Court.’ ‘All the time’, he continued, ‘addressing the Queen on her knees”.

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Catherine Howard was all graciousness and kindness, and she kept her emotions in check, even if she might have found the situation hilarious. She asked Anne to rise and received her courteously, lavishing her with her great favor and affection.

Then Henry appeared and surpassed Catherine in his own graciousness. He made a low bow and embraced the discarded German Princess. The spectacle was over: the king’s sister and the king’s wife greeted each other gallantly and amiable, and no doubt that Henry was delighted.

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The relationship of Catherine and Anne was established on the basis of Anne’s submission to Henry’s will and Catherine’s polite acceptance. It was an appropriate and courteous relationship of the queen and her subject, who was highly favored by the king.