Henry VIII, the Reign
Henry VIII had been duped by various means into the Cleves marriage and it worked to the advantage of the conservatives. They were ready to scupper the union before it ever got into bed.
Anne of Cleves would be Henry’s fourth wife. Within months, Catherine Howard would become his fifth and Queen of England. Catherine was at Greenwich Palace with Henry for Anne of Cleves’s arrival in England; she had already been appointed as a lady in waiting for the new German queen.
There could hardly have been a worse time in the year for Anne to cross the Channel, but such was Cromwell’s urgency for the Cleves union. Bad weather delayed Anne at Calais for almost two weeks. She arrived there on 11 December 1539 but did not set foot on English soil until 27 December.
The rival woman offered by the conservative party was Catherine, niece of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (the daughter of his brother Edmund). Anne de Boulogne had been Norfolk’s sister Elizabeth’s daughter, so Anne de Boulogne and Catherine Howard were cousins.
Henry prepared to meet his German bride-to-be for the first time. Perhaps Hans Holbein, painter of the famous portrait of Anne, was a little nervous. Cranmer’s doubts in the autumn came back to haunt Cromwell, who in his audacity had brokered this ill-fated union. The archbishop had been correct when he had ‘thought it most expedient the King to marry where that he had his fancy and love, for that would be the most comfort for his Grace’.
Henry and Anne met and from first sight it was a disastrous match. When Cromwell asked him how he liked the lady Anne, Henry retorted that she was nothing so well as she was spoken of and if he had known before as much as he knew now she should never have come into the realm. Henry immediately attempted to extricate himself from the marriage altogether but then the fear ‘of driving her brother into the hands of the emperor and the French king’ induced him to go through with the ceremony at Greenwich Palace on 6 January 1540.
A Protestant revolt broke out in Ghent, in the Low Countries. The city belonged to Charles but it was only thirty miles from the French border. Both of the two most powerful rulers in Christendom were being threatened by the Protestant confederation, of which Cromwell was at the heart.
In Spain, Charles’s wife Isabella of Portugal had died in May 1539 after a stillbirth. He had not been to the Low Countries for several years. Saddened and reflective, he decided that he would leave Spain for a time, anxious to make a permanent peace between his family and Francis. He left for the land of his birth to put down the dissenters in person. He would deal with these Lutherans and at the same time put down the new young Duke of Cleves, Anne’s brother, Henry VIII of England’s new brother-in-law.
William, in fact now Duke of Cleves-Jülich-Berg, was also holding the neighbouring Duchy of Guelders as the successor of his relatives the Egmond dukes. Charles claimed Guelders for himself as the dukes had sold their right of heritage, but William refused to relinquish it.
Charles first thought to make the journey by ship from Barcelona and on through Italy to avoid the English Channel, the Strait of Dover, Henry’s navy and the new chain of coastal fortifications.
However, Francis was, for the time being, Charles’s friend and invited him to make the journey overland through France.
He promised Charles safety, impenetrable security and utmost friendliness. Charles accepted his new friend’s invitation and crossed into France on 27 November 1539. He spent his first night at Bayonne and would be Francis’s guest for almost two months, until 24 January 1540.
This ploy had outwitted Cromwell. He had not expected the friendship between Charles and Francis to last long, let alone continue to blossom as it now appeared to be doing. He planned to upset the harmony.
Notes and Links Part 39