Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

JULY 16th

On this day in history in 1557, died Anne of Cleves.

Anne of Cleves, known as ‘The Flanders Mare’ was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. Henry was persuaded to marry Anne to form an alliance with her brother William, Duke of Cleves against the combined forces of France and The Holy Roman Empire. In 1540, Anne duly arrived in England, the wedding took place but Henry divorced her within six months.

The traditional story is that Henry was disappointed by Anne’s appearance, which did not live up to the portrait he had commissioned from Hans Holbein the Younger. Henry called her ‘The Flanders Mare’ and berated his ministers for deceiving him and persuaded Anne to accept a generous divorce settlement.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different. It is true that Holbein painted a flattering portrait of Anne omitting her smallpox scars. But it was usual practice for Holbein, when seeking out prospective brides, to make a flattering portrait of the sitter, which would please them and their family and surreptitiously make a true likeness which he brought back secretly for the king. Henry would therefore have known what Anne really looked like.

The alliance against Henry by France and The Holy Roman Empire never took place and so it is probable that Henry, no longer needed the support of Anne’s brother the Duke. The bride was therefore despatched and Henry could look for another more agreeable companion.

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