I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. I am not well handled, Cromwell. ~Henry VIII on Anne of Cleves, Fourth Wife~
Cromwell, you’re so gonna get it.
I have been a passionate fan of Tudor history for as long as I can remember, so you can imagine my absolute delight when Showtime brought the Tudor story to life in their cable show, aptly called ‘The Tudors’.
We are now nearing the end of the third season of ‘The Tudors’. Katherine of Aragon has died a cast-aside, broken woman. Anne Boleyn is minus a head which, of course, renders her quite dead as well. And third-wife, Jane Seymour, has tragically died from complications of childbirth, just days after giving birth to Henry’s first and only (legitimate) male heir, Edward.
Enter stage right Anne of Cleves, the proposed fourth wife of Henry VIII. Now here’s a woman for whom you really must feel more than a bit of empathy.
Let me explain.
At this point in his life, Henry VIII does not exactly have a gossamer reputation in the world as, shall we say, particularly promising husband material.
When Henry tired of his first wife, Katherine, who couldn’t give him a male heir, he hooks up with the vivacious and cunning Anne Boleyn. When the Roman Catholic Church won’t permit Henry to divorce Katherine of Aragon to make it legal with Anne, he breaks England off from the Catholic Church and set himself up as Supreme Ruler of the Church of England.
And grants himself the divorce. Clever.
Anne must have been a real hottie, yes?
Apparently having less than ideal karma, Anne first gives Henry a daughter, whom we will eventually come to know as Queen Elizabeth I. Beyond that, no boys in Anne’s future.
Well. Okay. That’s not entirely accurate.
Because at one point Anne does give birth to a stillborn male child. However. Said baby was described by court physicians as grossly deformed, which leads Henry VIII to suspect that he’s being cursed by his marriage to Anne. This sets Henry’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell, on a mission to dig up some dirt on Anne so she, too, can be properly set aside.
Y’all see a pattern here?
Jewels and opulence notwithstanding, a wife of Henry VIII probably lived in mortal fear 99.9% of her married life. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a position for the faint-hearted.
Thomas Cromwell, the sneaky bastard, not only tells Henry that Anne is having an affair but elaborates that it’s multiple affairs. And. That Anne is allegedly sleeping with her brother.
Based on heresy, because y’all know Cromwell has a tidy little agenda of his own to put said atrocities into play, Henry has Anne’s head neatly removed from her person. Oh. And then Henry seals the deal by also executing Anne’s brother, father, and a gaggle of other persons in her inner circle.
Now. So far, does this sound like a man you’d be jumping at the chance to share the rest of your (possibly short) life with?
Third-wife Jane Seymour is a quiet, demure, and relatively innocuous woman who was reputed to be the salt of the earth. Probably because she didn’t cross him.
Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize I said that out loud.
And a male baby in the form of Edward would certainly seemed to have enhanced the king’s professed undying love for her. So when Jane dies just days after giving birth to Edward, the king is reported to be utterly devastated.
Which brings us to his choice of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.
After Saint Jane’s death, Thomas Cromwell starts scouring the world to find a suitable match for his king. Unfortunately, you now have Spain, France, and Italy … all Catholic nations … can we be blunt here? Well. They’re really pissed off at England’s break from the Catholic Church. So. They’re not inclined to offer up any of their eligible Catholic women. Cromwell, who was part and parcel of the Church reformation, wants Henry to marry a Protestant and create an alliance with the Lutheran League.
And there you have it. Germany. His answer is Anne of Cleves from what is now known as Germany. A quiet, little Protestant country.
Cromwell has famous artist, Holbein, traipse over to the Court of Cleves and paint Anne in a manner which seemingly made her … ummm … a whole lot more attractive than she really was. Henry gets the professional portrait, likes what he sees, and demands she be brought to him ‘with much haste’. Chop chop!
Oh. Poor choice of words, Henry thinks hearkening back to the ‘other’ Anne.
But it is a bewildered Anne of Cleves, who speaks scant English and is in no way schooled in the politics of the English court who arrives before the king. The king, ever the gentleman (cough), meets Anne of Cleves … and immediately sets his lawyers to the assignment of breaking the engagement. He deems Anne to be akin to a ‘Flanders mare’.
And folks, he ain’t the least bit happy about it.
Because ya’ll know at this time in his life King Henry VIII himself is quite the stud. Being grossly overweight and with an ulcerated leg that makes him perpetually ‘smell of pus and blood’, his rather checkered past with the ladies, and the fact he’s just flat-out cantankerous and more often than not, irrational … why, he should expect only the best for his next choice of wife, right?
‘Damn that Flanders mare!’, says the tubby, smelly, nasty-ass King Henry VIII.
Okay. This brings me to my conclusion that the producers of ‘The Tudors’ got Anne of Cleves way wrong.
WAY WAY WRONG.
Now that y’all know the history … please pay attention because this blog is nearing an end … would you ever, in a million years, cast singer Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves?
I mean, REALLY.
Maybe if you were on some really bad acid, it would seem logical. But sober and alert, it just seems … dumb? Far-fetched. Ridiculous. Absurd. Folks, I have a thesaurus and could go on ad naseum with a plethora of other adjectives.
But I think you get the point.
I watched the second-to-last episode of this season of ‘The Tudors’ last night and I literally could not stop shaking my head.
Joss Stone. JOSS STONE.
You just can’t ugly that girl up.
It is so implausible to believe the scene with Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Joss Stone in the marital bed where he repeatedly turns away from her in disgust, unable to consumate the marriage. Honestly? If those two historical figures looked like the actors in real life, Henry would have only turned away from Anne if he were gay.
I’m just sayin’.
Or conversely. If he were impotent. Ah ha. Which, my friends, is what some scholars believe to be the truth of the matter.
I understand making ‘The Tudors’ sexy enough to make history interesting to people who don’t particularly ‘get into’ history. I simply don’t understand them making the show so sexy as to be foolish.
See? Told you I had a thesaurus.