So how did Anne of Cleves get to keep her head?

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, outlived….the six wives of Henry VIII. After divorcing his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, Henry managed to work his way through five wives over a ten year period until he died.

Two of them – Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – were beheaded. Anne had failed to produce a male heir to the throne while Katherine, finding her ageing husband less than appealing, was discovered conducting an affair with a younger man. He came to a sticky end too!

But wife number four was the apparently dowdy Anne of Cleves. It’s always said that Henry saw a portrait of her by the artist Holbein and decided to marry her – convinced she was stunningly gorgeous. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite so pretty in real life. In fact, Henry described his new Germanic wife-to-be a “Flanders mare”.

They later divorced.

But Anne is more fascinating than people give her credit. She complied with the request for a divorce and bent over backwards to give the king an easy exit out of the marriage. In contrast – Thomas Cromwell, the leading adviser at court who had recommended this union, lost his head.

And Henry seems to have been rather nice to Anne afterwards. He showered her with castles and a state pension, gave her access to his children and referred to her as his “sister”. When you consider that the next wife – Katherine Howard – would be executed, Anne must have played the situation very well.

I explain further in this episode on Henry VIII from Private Lives of the Monarchs on UKTV – Yesterday TV.

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