In mid 16th century England there were rumors of the epic proportion that had spread throughout the kingdom and beyond. These said rumors are what will be examined in this article.
Rumor: Anne of Cleves had one, maybe two children by Henry VIII after they were separated from marriage.
At this time in England, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard was in the midst of being exposed for her past indiscretions along with her adulterous relationship with Thomas Culpeper.
King Henry was devastated by his queen’s actions. Katherine Howard was his fifth wife and he still had only one legitimate male heir and two illegitimate daughters. As his father’s son, Henry always had the line of succession in the back of his mind. It was his duty as a Tudor king to keep the dynasty going on as long as her could, with sons.
To find out more about these rumors we looked through Royal State Papers & Letters, Proceedings and Ordinances and books to gather all the pertinent information to make an educated guess as to what was true and what was false. After all, the only person who could answer this question is long gone. Anne of Cleves.
If you have ever watched the TV series, “The Tudors” you’ll remember an episode that, if I remember correctly, was at Hampton Court where Henry and Anne of Cleves were playing cards together in candlelight. They were laughing and having a good time in each other’s company. Looks exchanged between the two that led me, as a viewer, to believe that they may have slept together following the conclusion of their game. Was this scene based on the rumor we are uncovering today?
Our journey into the truth begins with the marriage treaty between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Article 6 of the marriage treaty has a statement within it that caught my attention:
“And if, after the King’s death, she have no children surviving and would rather return to her own country” she was free to do so.
After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, Anne of Cleves remained in England until her death a decade later. Does this mean she stayed in England because she had a living child, or children? If not that, is it possible that Anne chose to stay in England because it was agreeable to her? We also know that after the death of the King that there was not much left for Anne in Cleves. We also know that she enjoyed the company of her step-children: Edward, Mary & Elizabeth – maybe that is why she stayed.
In looking for the first evidence of any discussion of the matter I came across evidence from Alison Weir where she says:
On 22 October, Henry VIII, while at The More in Hertfordshire was astonished to learn there was a rumor circulating that he had impregnated Lady Anne of Cleves while he had visited her in Richmond in August. Henry was relieved to discover after investigation that Anne had been confined to bed for only an upset stomach. Someone had suggested and rumored that it was morning sickness.¹
The above statement from Alison Weir’s book is interesting, however, I was unable to find any evidence of it in the State Papers, which is listed as her source. Let’s keep that in mind while following this timeline. However, this is the first evidence that there is a likelihood that Henry had slept with Anne, at some point – otherwise why would he have been relieved?
As we know, the marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine Howard was short-lived. He loved her very much and it has been noted often how much affection he showed her in public.
In November/December 1541 , not long after the arrest of Katherine Howard, Anne of Cleves was noted to have fallen ill. Some at the time believed it was not an ailment at all but more a mental state. After Anne heard of the arrest of Katherine Howard she became ill. At the time that she fell ill her favorite lady (who would care for her person), Dorothea was in child-birth – so Elizabeth Bassett and Jane Ratsey were to attend Anne in her place.²
While she lay in bed, Anne overheard Jane Ratsey say, “It’s God’s working in his own way to make Milady Anne queen again!” Anne, upset by what she heard made sure (in her weakened state) to firmly reprimand Jane for her inaccurate statement. Anne understood the consequences of saying such things. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Others had overheard what Jane had said and were actively repeating it.²
Not long after the event both Jane Ratsey and Elizabeth Bassett were apprehended and questioned.²
Attempting to cheer up her friend, Dorothea brought Anne her newborn son, William. It is believed that this is where the rumor of Anne having a fair son began. The image of Lady Anne with a child in her bed was enough to start the rumor. Words had spread that the child was Anne’s. This of course was untrue as the child was actually Dorothea’s.² Let’s keep in mind that the previous statement came from a novel, but an interesting statement nonetheless. I apologize, I appreciate the ‘what-ifs’ of history.
It is perceived, that at the time, Anne went along with the story because she feared for her own safety from the King. If Henry heard that she had his son he would spare her life if she were ever in a situation where it was needed.²
Sir Thomas Wharton wrote to the Council on 4 December 1541, that Jane Ratsey was examined for her statement. He states that it was idle saying suggested by Bassett’s praising the Lady Anne and dispraising of Katherine Howard. She also said, under examination that she believed the King’s divorce from Anne was good. Jane was asked why she also said, “What a man is the King! How many wives will he have?” She said it upon the sudden tidings declared to her by Bassett, when she felt sorry for Katherine Howard but did not know at the time what the charges were against her.³
Around the same time, the Council wrote to Sir Anthony Browne and Sadler – written in the handwriting of Wriothesley:
We examined also, partially before dinner and partially after, a new matter, that the Lady Anne of Cleves should be delivered of a fair boy, and whose should it be but the Kings Majesty, and gotten when she was at Hampton Court; which is most abomynal slander, and for this time, and the case in ‘ure’, as we think, most necessary to be met with all. This matter was told to Taverner, of the Signet, more than a fortnight ago, both by his mother-in-law, Lambert’s wife, the goldsmith, and by Taverns own wife, who says she heard it from Lilgraves’ wife, and Lambert’s wife heard it also from old Lady Carew; Taverner kept it and they, with others, have made it a common matter of talk and never revealed it ’til Sunday night – at which time he told it to Doctor Cox, to be further declared, if he thought good; who immediately disclosed it to me, the Lord Privy Seal. We have committed Taverner to the custody of me, the Bishop of Winchester, and Lambert’s wife, who seems to have been a dunse in it, to M’ the Chauncelour of the Augmentacious.4
Only a day later we find out that Frances Lilgrave had indeed openly communicated slander of the Lady Anne and the King when she affirmed to have heard that the Lady Anne delivered a son by the King, and yet she could not, or would not name others that she had heard it from. She was sent to the Tower.5
That very day, Richard Taverner, one of the King’s Clerks of Signet was also apprehended for both concealing the slander he overheard and who also reporting it himself to others. He was also committed to the Tower.5
In the book, Memoirs of the Queens of Henry VIII, and his Mother Elizabeth of York by Agnes Strickland, it states that Anne’s lady, Dorothea/Dorothy was also thoroughly examined by the Council. Strickland also states that Lilgrave refused to name who she heard it from.
From my research it looks to me like Frances Lilgrave was a member of Anne’s household. As were Jane Ratsey and Elizabeth Bassett. Was this just normal court gossip among the women?
Richard Taverner was a Clerk of Signet. A Clerk of Signet was an English official who played an intermediate role in the passage of letters patent through the seals. He worked for the king and was responsible to him. The fact that he was involved in the scandal was shameful. Taverner is also known for translating the Bible in 1539 – it was called, Taverner’s Bible.
¹ The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, pg 436
² My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes
4 State Papers: King Henry VIII; Parts I and II, Volume I, pg 697-698
5 Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England: Henry VIII-5 December 1541
Memoirs of the Queens of Henry VIII, and his Mother Elizabeth of York by Agnes Strickland
By the 7th of December 1541, Sir Anthony Browne and Sir Ralph Sadler wrote to the Council in London and stated that the matter regarding the Lady Anne of Cleves would be thoroughly examined. The King is informed that she has indeed had a child and attributes blame in her officers for not informing him.¹
So here we are again, discussion on how the matter needs to be thoroughly examined. The King is upset that none of Anne’s officers informed him of the matter. The matter that even the King was unsure was true.
Again on 7 December, the Council with the King wrote to the Council of London that the matter touching the Lady Anne of Cleves, the King thinks it should be thoroughly examined, “and further ordered by your discretion as the nature and quality of the case requires; and to enquire diligently whether the said Lady Anne of Cleves hath, indeed, had any child or no, as it is bruited (reported);” The King has been informed that it is true; in which case the King is very upset with Anne’s officers for not relaying the news. Without doubt, your Lordships (Council) will thoroughly examine the information and find out the truth of the whole matter and relay the results to the King.²
Only two days later the wheels were in motion. The Council in London reported to The Council with the King:
We have also sent for the officers of the Lady Anne of Cleves and for Dorothy (Dorothea) Wingifeld, John Wingfield’s wife which is of her privy chamber; and have committed Taverner, and Lilgrave’s widow (Frances), who apparently yet the first author of the bruit, to the Tower. And we have also travailed to the best of our powers, with Jane Ratsey; and more than she hath already confessed we cannot get of her, albeit we have once committed her to the Lieutenant, as though she should have been committed to the Tower, and finally left her in the custody of me, the Lord Chancellor. The woman seems most sorrowful, as to have been moved upon none other occasion then is before written. Desiring you, also, to know His Majesty’s pleasure what shall be further done with her, accordingly. And thus we commit you to the keeping of Almighty God.¹
To summarize, Anne’s lady Dorothea was sent in for questioning after Taverner and Lilgrave had already been sent to the Tower, and Ratsey was being held for their involvement in the matter.
On the same day, the Council discussed the matter of the rumor about Anne of Cleves having a son by the King and being pregnant with another by him. The rumor about the son was that he was born at one of her country houses in the Summer of 1541. They suspected that both rumors were spread by Protestants. They discussed all day and decided they didn’t have time to delve much further into it as they had enough on their plate with the scandal of Henry’s current queen, Katherine Howard. The Council discussed the matter of Lady Anne with the King who requested a full enquiry into said matter.³
I find that exchange most intriguing – we have to remember while going along on this timeline that the Katherine Howard investigation was going on at the same time. The Council had their hands full trying to get to bottom of the Katherine Howard drama, that the idea of also having to investigate something that seemed like a rumor to them seemed like too much. However, the King insisted.
Imagine how Henry VIII felt at the time. One wife was being accused of adultery and then having to deal with the rumors of your ex-wife possibly having your child (and a son at that) and didn’t bother to tell you. That would be a lot for any person to digest.
Not long after the execution of Katherine’s lover, Thomas Culpeper, Henry felt the need to escape.
In the meanwhile Henry sought such distraction as he might at Oatlands and other country places, solaced by music and mummers, whilst Norfolk, in grief and apprehension, lurked on his own lands, and Gardiner kept a firm hand upon affairs. The discomfiture of the Howards, who had brought about the Catholic reaction, gave new hope to the Protestants that the wheel of fate was turning in their favour. An
ne of Cleves, they began to whisper, had been confined of a “fair boy”; “and whose should it be but the King’s Majesty’s, begotten when she was at Hampton Court?” This rumour, which the King, apparently, was inclined to believe, gave great offence and annoyance to him and his Council, as did the severely repressed but frequent statements that he intended to take back his repudiated wife. It was not irresponsible gossip alone that took this turn, for on the 12th December the ambassador from the Duke of Cleves brought letters to Cranmer at Lambeth from Chancellor Olsiliger, who had negotiated the marriage, commending to him the reconciliation of Henry with Anne. Cranmer, who understood perfectly well that with Gardiner as the King’s factotum such a thing was impossible, was frightened out of his wits by such a suggestion, and promptly assured Henry that he had declined to discuss it without the Sovereign’s orders.4
The biggest question from the above quoted book is why does it state that Henry was inclined to believe the rumor? Had he and Anne slept together after their divorce/annulment? Was it a true statement to say that he believed the rumor? I often wonder why he called for an investigation if he had not previously slept with the Lady Cleves.
The fate of Jane Ratsey was decided after the results from her interrogation were released:
Fynally, thes being all the poyntes answerable in your said letters, saving onely touching Jane Ratsey; whom the Kinges Majeste, understonding sorowfulnes for her faulte, and gracyously wayeng her wordes to proced rather lightnes, then of anye malice is content that ye shall discharge and set at lybertee, with such good advyse and exhoracion to be given unto her, as by your wisedomes, shalbe thought convenyent.5
Jane Ratsey was released by the King and free to go after showing remorselessness for her actions. The same went for Taverner and Lilgrave- they were also released from the Tower not long after being placed there.
The King’s Council documented on 11 December 1541, that they had also sent letters to both Fr. William Goring, Anne’s Chamberlain and Jasper Horsey, her steward, to report to the King’s Council for questioning.
After hearing about the arrests of a couple of Anne’s household, Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Spanish Ambassador, wrote to the Emperor to inform him of the events occurring at English court:
Two honest citizens were three days ago confined to prison for having lately stated, after the publication of this queen’s misbehaviour, that the whole thing seemed to them a judgment of God, for, after all, Mme. de Clèves was really the King’s wife, and, although the rumour had been purposely spread that the King had had no connection whatever with her, yet the contrary might be asserted, since she was known to have gone away [from London] in the family way from the King, and had actually been confined this last summer, the rumour of which confinement, real or supposed, has widely circulated among the people. (fn. n13) —London, 11 December 1541.
Two days after sending the letters the King’s Council had questioned both Goring and Horsey and they were both dismissed the same day after their questioning commenced.
² The Council with the King to the Council of London, Minute written by Sadler: 7 December 1541
³ The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir, pg 473
4 The Wives of Henry the Eighth and the Parts They Played in History by Martin A.S. Hume, pg 387
5 A letter from The Council with the King to the Council in London, 10 December 1541
Interestingly enough, Thomas Cranmer was approached by the ambassador to the Duke of Cleves on the 13th of December 1541 . The ambassador was pushing for the King’s reconciliation with Lady Anne, and that the King should marry her again because of the his trouble with the line of succession. Cranmer informed the ambassador that he could not answer without first speaking with the King.
The reason I find this interesting is because the King’s succession is mentioned. At this time the King already had a legitimate son, Edward. Had Anne indeed given birth to a son and this was the way for the Duke to have his nephew legitimized and placed in the line of succession, or was this just his way to gain himself a stronger alliance with England?
On 16 December 1541, the French Ambassador (Marrillac) joins in on sharing with King Francis I to inform him of the Ambassador Duke of Cleves intentions in England:
The Ambassador of Cleves told Marrillac that upon receiving letters from his master he was looking to speak with the King about the Lady Anne. But the King was still grieving (about the betrayal of Katherine Howard) and would not available to him. Instead the Ambassador of Cleves went before the Council and, after declaring his master’s thanks for the King’s liberality to his sister, pray them to find means to reconcile the marriage and restore her to the estate of queen. The Council answered on the King’s behalf that Anne should be graciously entertained and her estate rather increased than diminished, but the separation had been made for such just cause that he prayed the Duke never to make such a request. The Ambassador, realizing he upset the men, did not press the matter any further for fear of hurting matters for the Lady Anne.¹
…..One year later…..
On 26 January 1542, William Paget wrote from From Paris that he wanted to let the King know he heard of “a certain declamation” made in French by a gentlemen of the Court (as he was informed) about His Majesty and his Council, in Lady Anne of Cleves’ name and found the means to get a copy of it. “Where your majesty shall perceive that, with words only, and under the shadow of a humble and obedient oration, author goes about to confute Your Majesties just proceeding touching the repudiation of the said Lady.” He goes on to say that he will find the author.²
Is it possible that what Paget writes about pertains to Henry’s divorce of Anne of Cleves. It seems that a year and a half later is a long time to still be gossiping about it, so is it possible that this is a rumor in Paris about Anne’s pregnancy?
Only weeks after the execution of Katherine Howard, on 25 February 1542, the Imperial Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys wrote to Emperor Charles V that the Duke of Cleves is attempting to convince the King to remarry his sister.
…Four Years Later…
On 23 May 1546, John Dymock, commissary of the King was at the house of Walter Henricks in Cronenborch, in the state of Dordrecht (Netherlands). While there the bailiff of Dordrecht, with Doctor Nicholas and the bailiff asked him to host dinner. Shortly after the Procureur General and three other joined them. The Procureur asked Dymock not to take ill what should be said to him in confidence, and first Van Henluyden asked if it were true that the King had taken again Lady Anne of Cleves and had two children by her. Dymock answered that they in England knew no more than he had heard here – it was a matter between God and the King.
John Dymock writes on the matter again on 26 May 1546, when he pens a letter to Stephen Vaughn, who was Henry’s royal agent in the Netherlands. This time he explains the conversation further. When asked about the King taking again Lady Anne of Cleves and having two children with her, Dymock replied with “Somewhat abashed I answered that I heard this of the Emperor’s subjects, but knew only that she “goes and comes to Court at her pleasure” and has an honest dowry to live upon; the King would not have put her away without cause and do in his realm what he and his Council reckoned to be “for his common wealth..”³
From my findings, May 1546, was the last time the matter was documented.
When I began this research I thought it was quite possible that Anne of Cleves gave birth to at least one of Henry’s children. After concluding my research and presenting the evidence it seems more clear to me now that she most likely did not.
At the beginning I really didn’t believe Henry ever slept with Anne. I mean, he couldn’t consummate the marriage, so why would he sleep with her later? However, after reading that Henry may have believed the rumors about Anne carrying his child, I tend to believe that they did at some point (after he had married Katherine Howard) sleep together. To me, this would be the only explanation for Henry pushing for a thorough investigation when his life was already in shambles with Katherine Howard cheating on him. It’s as if the prospect of a son would bring him out of the darkness.
It is most likely that the rumors we’ve covered here started by some of the ladies of her household, or Protestants trying to stir up problems for Henry. It is also possible that Anne went along with the rumors to protect herself from the king. She feared what happened to his other queens could happen to her after she witnessed the downfall of Katherine Howard. If rumor had spread that she had his son then he would be less likely to harm her – or so one would hope.
I’d be interested in what you think…please share!
² State Papers, King Henry the Eighth; Part V, page 652
³ Letters and Papers, Foreign Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, pg 457