Guest Post: Anna Duchess of Cleves by Heather R. Darsie

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian Heather R. Darsie to History… the Interesting Bits with an article about Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Heather’s new book, Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister is out now.

The First Hint of Trouble: An Early Spat Between the Johann II of Cleves and Elector Frederick of Saxony

By Heather R. Darsie

Throughout the late 15th and early 16th century, various disputes over territory sprung up across the German-speaking portions of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1517, a new facet of rebellion against the Empire was introduced in Saxony when Martin Luther’s 95 Theses became known. Maximilian I was still the Holy Roman Emperor in 1517. He could not know what the changing attitudes toward the Catholic church would do to the fabric of the Empire. Maximilian passed away on 12 January 1519, making his grandson Charles the next Holy Roman Emperor. Charles’ first coronation, in Germany, took place in 1520.

Twenty-year-old Charles V was crowned in October 1520 as the King of the Romans-Germans at a grand ceremony in Aachen. By being crowned King of the Romans-Germans, Charles V was the Holy Roman Emperor Elect. Pope Leo X gave Charles V permission to style himself as the Holy Roman Emperor until Charles’ 1530 coronation at Bologna by Pope Clement VII.

In 1520 when Charles V’s massive train of at least two thousand horse. The various electors, including Elector Fredrick of Saxony, made up part of Charles V’s company. Though the details are unclear, it is recorded in an account of Charles V’s coronation printed circa 1520 that the Elector of Saxony and “Duke of Gülch” – an archaic spelling of “Jülich” – squabbled for a long time over who took which precedence during the procession to Aachen Cathedral.

Frederick of Saxony believed that Johann III of Cleves should have been included with the Saxon contingent rather than Johann being independent of Saxony. Saxony was ruled by an Elector, with only eleven electors in all of the Germanic areas. By comparison, Johann III was only a duke, and there were hundreds of duchies in all of the Germanic areas. In the end, Anna’s father Johann III entered the city before Elector Frederick of Saxony. Elector Frederick likely took exception to this snub.

Elector Frederick, famous for having sheltered Martin Luther from Charles V, passed away. Because Frederick was childless, his younger brother John became Elector of Saxony in 1525. Frederick was Catholic throughout his life. There is some debate over whether Frederick converted to Lutheranism on his deathbed. In February 1527, Elector John’s son Johann Friedrich married Johann III’s eldest daughter, Sybylla of Cleves.  The debate over Lutheran reforms was in full swing, and Charles V tried his best to quell the rising tides of religious change.

The marital alliance between Anna of Cleves’ elder sister Sybylla and Johann Friedrich did not have the immediate benefits for which Elector John hoped. Elector John was a Lutheran even before he became the Elector of Saxony. Sybylla and Johann Friedrich welcomed their first son, also named Johann Friedrich, in January 1529. The next year, the first Diet of Augsburg took place. It was at this Diet that Emperor Charles V tried to soothe tensions over Protestantism, and also when he introduced his comprehensive criminal code. The Augsburg Confession was produced because of this Diet, too. After the Diet of Augsburg, the issue of religion and thus, allegiance to the Emperor became more divided.

Anna’s and Sybylla’s parents were Catholic, their mother Maria particularly so. Jülich-Cleves-Berg was understood to be predominantly Catholic under the reign of Johann III, but tolerant of Lutheranism. By the late 1520s, two political and religious ideas dominated Germany: pro-Imperial and pro-Catholic, or anti-Imperial and pro-Lutheran. This put Jülich-Cleves-Berg and Saxony on different ends of the political spectrum.

Sybylla herself converted to Lutheranism, as did Anna’s and Sybylla’s little sister Amalia. At the begin of his reign in 1539 as Duke Wilhelm V, Johann Friedrich sent Philipus Melanchthon to learn whether Wilhelm was pro-Lutheran or pro-Catholic. Johann Friedrich became Elector of Saxony in 1532 after the death of his father, and needed to know which way Wilhelm leaned.

If you’re curious to know more about religion in Cleves during Anna of Cleves’ lifetime, check out my new biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister.’

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Römischer Künigklicher Maiestat Krönung zü Ach Geschehen. Author unknown. Circa Held by the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
  2. Rosenthal, Earl E. “The Invention of the Columnar Device of Emperor Charles V at the Court of Burgundy in Flanders in 1516.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes36 (1973): 198-230.
  3. Darsie, Heather. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister.’ Stroud: Amberley (2019).

Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives – and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves – notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism – and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon in the UK and from Book Depository worldwide.

About the author:

Heather Darsie works as an attorney in the US. Along with her Juris Doctorate she has a BA in German, which was of great value in her research in the archives of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands for this book. She is currently studying for her Master’s in Early Modern History through Northern Illinois University. She runs the website MaidensAndManuscripts.com and regularly contributes to QueenAnneBoleyn.com and TudorsDynasty.com. She has been researching this work for several years.

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My books

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Heather R. Darsie

Book Corner: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

51C52QElN8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, is an absolute treasure trove of pictures and information of the many historic locations associated with Henry VIII’s 6 wives. The book is divided into 7 easy-to-follow sections; the 1st covers the principal Royal residences of the period and the 6 subsequent portions are each dedicated to one of the 6 wives, in chronological order.

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St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

The book examines each of Henry’s queens in turn, looking at the locations associated with them, not only when they were queen, but also from their childhood and early life. In each section, we are treated to the queen’s story, her triumphs and failures, told through the palaces in which she experienced them.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII takes you on a visit of each location, whether it’s a palace or manor house, the authors give vivid tours, telling you what to look out for, what is still extant – and what is lost to history. In one location, they guide you to a housing estate and point out the walls which once made up the exterior of a Henry VIII’s now-lost palace. You are also provided with a practical guide to the locations covered, giving you visitor information, parking suggestions, details on refreshments and facilities.

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Windsor Castle

With Katherine of Aragon, we visit the magnificent palaces of Spain, while Anne Boleyn takes us from Burgundy to the Loire Valley. Jane Seymour allows us to investigate the renowned Wolf Hall and Anne of Cleves gives us a fascinating glimpse into Germany’s wonderful castles. Jane Seymour The tragic story of Katherine Howard allows us to join Henry’s great progress of 1541,  through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before the tragic last months of imprisonment at Syon House. Which finally brings us to Katherine Parr, investigating the locations associated with her first 2 marriages, her life with Henry and then her final years with Thomas Seymour.To walk the grounds and corridors of Hampton Court Palace is to walk in the footsteps of all the Tudor kings and queens. Within the Tudor palace’s russet-coloured walls, the present fades into the brickwork and the past emerges to greet us. Although mush of the Tudor palace has, over the years, been modified or demolished and replaced with William III’s and Mary II’s baroque palace, the buildings that survive propel us back through the years to a time when Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s most beloved palaces, at the centre of court life and politics.

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Hever Castle, Kent

If nothing else, it is worth reading In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII for the research the Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have conducted into the Anne of Cleves panels. These wonderful wood carvings are discussed and investigated in detail; their fascinating story told for the first time in its entirety. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of curiosity and, sometimes,  disappointment the authors must have felt as they tried to uncover the provenance of these panels, and their associations with Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Their eventual success and discoveries are a testament to the author’s persistence and tenacity.

This book is amply supported by quotes from primary sources, describing the locations as they were at the time the queens lived. The authors have a wonderful habit of discussing the difficulties involved in locating and identifying some of the less famous sites, making you feel part of their investigations.

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The Bishop’s Palace, Lincoln

An abundance of photographs and illustrations are included in the book. These include colourful photos of the sites as they are now, black and white floor plans from the Tudor period and artwork painted through the ages.

Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have created a wonderful book, which is a combination of history book and travel guide. They have worked so well together it is impossible to see the join; they speak with one voice in this stunning collaboration. The book is produced in a way to make it easy to dip in and out of, making it possible to read only about the locations you are currently touring, or to read from beginning to end in a couple of sittings. But be careful, in just looking up one specific location you may find that you lose an entire hour without noticing.

The only criticism I would have is that there are no footnotes to clarify the source of quotations, which makes it harder to use as a research tool, but not impossible. This fault is partly offset, moreover, by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Remarkably, the authors give equal empathy to each of Henry’s wives. It is impossible to discern a bias for Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (a remarkable achievement). Each property is subject to the same attention to detail, whether it was a frequently occupied palace, or a manor house visited for just a few days while on progress.

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Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII is beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. You can practically hear, see and smell the Tudors. The book is a detailed, enjoyable and enlightening read, no matter whether you are intending to travel to the palaces, or visiting them through the book, you are in for a real treat. The authors have an incredible ability to invoke the past and recreate the sumptuous, lavish lives of England’s most fascinating queen consorts. It will be a valued addition to anyone’s Tudor library.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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Photographs ©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016