The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Duren to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia, each of whom Henry was considering as his fourth wife. Henry required the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter the sisters. The two versions of Holbein’s portrait are in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Another 1539 portrait, by the school of Barthel Bruyn the Elder, is in the collection of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Negotiations with Cleves were in full swing by March 1539. Cromwell oversaw the talks and a marriage treaty was signed on 4 October of that year.
Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these: She had received no formal education but was skilled in needlework and liked playing card games. She could read and write, but only in German. Nevertheless, Anne was considered gentle, virtuous and docile, qualities that recommended her as a suitable candidate for Henry.
Anne was described by the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim, “of middling beauty and of very assured and resolute countenance”. She was fair haired and was said to have had a lovely face. In the words of the chronicler Edward Hall, “Her hair hanging down, which was fair, yellow and long … she was apparelled after the English fashion, with a French hood, which so set forth her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her”. She appeared rather solemn by English standards, and looked old for her age. Holbein painted her with high forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and a pointed chin.
Henry met her privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester on her journey from Dover.[ Henry and some of his courtiers, following a courtly-love tradition, went disguised into the room where Anne was staying, and Henry boldly kissed her. According to the testimony of his companions, he was disappointed with Anne, feeling she was not as described. According to the chronicler Charles Wriothesley, Anne “regarded him little”, though it is unknown if she knew if this was the king or not. Henry did then reveal his true identity to Anne, although he is said to have been put off the marriage from then on. Henry and Anne then met officially on 3 January on Blackheath outside the gates of Greenwich Park, where a grand reception was laid out.
Most historians believe that he later used Anne’s alleged ‘bad’ appearance and failure to inspire him to consummate the marriage as excuses, saying how he felt he had been misled, for everyone had praised Anne’s attractions: “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported,” he complained. Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, doing so was impossible without endangering the vital alliance with the Germans. In his anger and frustration the King finally turned on Cromwell, to his subsequent regret. Cromwell’s enemies, who had long waited for him to make his first false step, began to close in.
Despite Henry’s very vocal misgivings, the two were married on 6 January 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The phrase “God send me well to keep” was engraved around Anne’s wedding ring. Immediately after arriving in England, Anne conformed to the Anglican form of worship, which Henry expected. The couple’s first night as husband and wife was not a successful one. Henry confided to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.” He described her as having unpleasant body odour and sagging breasts, among other complaints.
In February 1540, speaking to the Countess of Rutland, Anne praised the King as a kind husband, saying: “When he comes to bed he kisseth me, and he taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me ‘Good night, sweetheart’; and in the morning kisseth me and biddeth ‘Farewell, darling.'” Lady Rutland responded: “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a duke of York, which all this realm most desireth.”
Anne was commanded to leave the Court on 24 June, and on 6 July she was informed of her husband’s decision to reconsider the marriage. Witness statements were taken from a number of courtiers and two physicians which register the king’s disappointment at her appearance. Henry had also commented to Thomas Heneage and Anthony Denny that he could not believe she was a virgin.
Shortly afterwards, Anne was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed. Cromwell, the moving force behind the marriage, was attainted for treason. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine. Henry VIII’s physician stated that after the wedding night, Henry said he was not impotent because he experienced “duas pollutiones nocturnas in somno” (two nocturnal pollutions while in sleep; i.e., two wet dreams). On 28 July Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard: on the same day Thomas Cromwell was executed, in theory for treason, but in practice as a scapegoat for the doomed German marriage.