The Flanders Mare – Anne of Cleves

annecleeves emblemPrior to her marriage Anne of Cleves used the emblem of two white swans which stood for innocence and honesty or sincerity. They were also supporters of the Cleves badge coming as they did from the story of one of Anne’s ancestors who was guided down the Rhine by a pair of swans. It should be added that more factually, like all his wives, Henry was related to Anne – through a daughter of Edward I.


Anne’s motto, which seems rather tongue in cheek to modern eyes, was “God send me well to keep.” However, rather than casting aspersions on her spouse’s marital record it was rather an attestation of her Lutheran background, no doubt one of the reasons why Thomas Cromwell was so keen on the marriage. The couple married in January 1540 despite the fact that Henry had taken one look at his bride and decided that he didn’t like her overly much and after the marriage declared that she hadn’t arrived in England in a state of maidenly virtue – which was hardly chivalrous especially as Anne’s upbringing was cloistered and it had to be explained to her that Henry would need to kiss her more than goodnight for there to be any Tudor heirs- either that or Anne was playing a very clever game indeed.


anne of clevesIt’s odd too that poor Anne should have been lumbered with the title Flanders Mare when the portrait by Holbein shows someone very different to that particular sobriquet. It has been suggested that Holbein had played up Anne’s beauty when he visited the court of Cleves to paint Anne and her sister Amelia but there again no one accused him of making the full length portrait of Christina more striking than the lady in question really was. Anne of course hadn’t turned down the opportunity to marry Henry, Christina said that she’d be more than happy to marry him if she had a spare head.


The Cleves ‘marriage’ after a disastrous start with Henry bursting in on Anne incognito when she first arrived in England lasted only six months and Cromwell’s head was on the block because of his unfortunate matchmaking skills. To be fair a portrait doesn’t show what a person is actually like and Anne swiftly developed a reputation for being unlearned and not very witty, though it didn’t stop her learning English, besides Henry had met another girl and it was easy enough to get an annulment from his Cleves marriage. The teenage Katherine Howard had been dangled in front of the Tudor monarch and he’d taken the bait. Anne must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when she became as a ‘sister’ to the king and popular with the aforementioned king’s subjects and daughters. She stayed in England until her death in 1557.


Her emblem is the ducal badge of Cleves which is apparently an escarbuncle- and that, as we all know, is a eight spindled wheel without a rim.

2 thoughts on “The Flanders Mare – Anne of Cleves

  1. Julia I think you may have hit on the truth by your statement,She was playing a clever game. She knew Henry was violent before she left Germany. Her family broke and poor. She may not even have allowed her portrait to be painted and Hans had to work off an impression. She did appear before Cromwell but it is likely he did not see below the veil. She ate food in bed leaving crumbs on the sheets. A plot to keep head hunter Henry well away maybe. What she did do was secure an excellent pension and a house with staff. No bad deal fora girl without cash of her own. That is why I think you have it well.

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