The Flanders Mare
Holbein’s’ portrait of Anne of Cleves hangs today in the Louvre Museum and Art Gallery in Paris. That it was painted from life is likely because it was painted on parchment, which made it much more portable than a set canvas. Henry VIII would later state that the portrait misrepresented Anne of Cleves, flattering her rather than reflecting her actual appearance. If anything, the opposite was true. The painting shows a richly dressed young woman, her hair covered. The face is attractive enough, but her eyes are dull and heavy. Contemporary descriptions, however, suggest Anne of Cleves was more compelling.
The French ambassador to England, Charles de Marillac, while not considering Anne to be the most beautiful princess in Europe, described her as “of middling beauty and of very assured and resolute countenance.” Anne’s hair, unseen in the painting was: “fair, yellow and long,” according to Edward Hall, an English Lawyer, and historian. When Anne was “apparelled after the English fashion, with a French hood,” her looks were greatly enhanced, said Hall, setting forth ” her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her.”
Every creature, that is, except her husband. There is a reason to believe issues other than looks that put Henry off Anne. The couple made a bad start. Henry, in a boyish mood at the prospect of a new bride, decided to surprise Anne and meet up with her incognito “to thus nourish love” as he put it to Cromwell. So, accompanied by his gentlemen, the King headed to Rochester Abbey where his future queen was breaking her journey.
Anne was watching a bear bating through a window when, according to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador to England, the King rushed into her chamber and “embraced and kissed her.” Being set upon by a strange man who then thrust a gift at her must have left Anne more than a little shocked. So it is small wonder that she “regarded him little,â¦always looking out of the window” as she was likely confused and embarrassed- a situation made worse by her poor English. Henry was not sympathetic. His pride was wounded. “When the king saw that she took so little of his coming,’ said Chapuys, “ he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet.”
The couple met officially on January 3, 1540. However, matters did not mend. In fact, they grew worse. The King complained that his bride was “nothing so fair as she hath been reported. ” His liking of Anne did not improve when he discovered they had nothing in common. Besides their lack of common language, his future queen shared none of his interests. Henry quickly began to look for ways out of the marriage. But he was trapped. England needed the alliance with Cleves.