Holbeins portrait of Anne of Cleves shows a sweet faced girl, in my estimation the most attractive of all of Henry's wives, however as we all know Henry rejected her citing among other things that she was horse faced and smelled badly and did not have a maidens body. Do we have any actual proof that she was unattractive,and wouldn't Holbein have been punished for depicting her as something she was not? Is it more likely that at his first surprise visit Anne offended his vanity in some way?
[This is one of those questions that I could swear we had before but I couldn't find it in the archives. If I missed something, please post it in the comments! - Lara]
I don't know all that much about the matter but I know at least that the 'horse faced' and 'Flander's mare' comments are not something Henry actually said. It was put in his mouth almost a century later by some author recounting the events.
My thoughts on his rejection of Anne are that she was the only of his wives he had not actually met and fallen in love with in person. For being the King of England he was rather unusual in that. He was not used to the realities of arranged marriages as other Kings were, because all of his previous wives he had met in a more natural way like we would today.
So perhaps when she arrived he found he could not just force himself to love a stranger. He was used to actually loving his wives and not used to normal royal marriages of expedience where people tried to get along as best they could without much if any deep feelings for each other.
Somewhere I read that x-ray of Holbein's painting of Cleves shows a larger nose that was overpainted - probably before presented to Henry? Nonetheless, without modern soaps and deodorants some people would have had greater body odors than others, maybe Cleves did and overly so. We will never fully know what about Cleves turned Henry off, he simply didn't care for her period. Like his sisters Margaret and Mary, Henry was a romantic and his commitment to marry a woman he had never met was destined to end in failure.
Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More mentions that Castile soap was widely available in England by the late fifteenth century. But apparently most people didn't make full use of it, using it only to wash their faces and hands. More's friend Erasmus said that the English in general, and the More family in particular, smelled bad. Erasmus was from the crowded and sanitation-conscious Netherlands, with higher standards of personal cleanliness than England and presumably most other European countries at the time.
I have read many current historical books and I truly believe that it was definitely Henry's "masque" surprise attempt to meet her and Anne of Cleve's negative reaction to it that made all the trouble. Later on in history the two of them get along well and the English people adored her until her death. As did Henry's children. Since there is no disputing this I think neither one of them were too thrilled with the situation so it was not truly about Anne of Cleves appearance.
Anne pretty much raised her hand & said "Where do I sign?" when the business of the alleged pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine was thrown out as a way of annulling the marriage. She couldn't have been too thrilled with latter-yrs Henry, as he was 2x her age & 3x as wide. Supposedly Henry wanted to use that before the wedding but Cromwell talked him out of it. At least, unlike Jane Seymour, Anne had a chin, as far as looks go. If Catherine Howard hadn't been in the wings Henry might've stuck with Anne, as they did get along. He'd always previously had the replacement wife lined up before getting rid of the old wife. I've read Cromwell had feelers out for a new bride before Jane was even interred. It just took a while to get a nibble for the likes of Henry. No one but Henry seems to have found Anne to be ugly, so I'd hazard something didn't go well at his "surprise" visit to her for him to ground muttering "I like her not!" immediately.
Over on a German Website, I found a portrait purported to be "Anne of Cleves as an older woman" - which I haven't seen before. I'm a little dubious because of the ruff she's wearing (Anne died in 1557) but the eyes and the shape of the mouth are remarkably similar to the full-on portraits by Holbein, and the nose is big, as Bruyn's portrait of Anne indicates. I don't know who did this portrait, though:
Scroll down to see the portrait and compare it to the younger Holbein picture above.
The "older" portrait is, I think, a portrait of Mary Neville, the dowager Lady Dacre. It used to be said the portrait linked to above, & this one with her son, Gregory Fiennes, Baron Dacre:
were once purported to be portraits of Frances Brandon (with young Lord Dacre there supposedly Henry Grey).
I think Holbein's portrait of her facing straight ahead is probably accurate though he probably made her complexion a bit lighter than it really was. If you look closely and then at other portraits of Cleves at an angle, the nose does stay the same length more or less and it is clear she had a fairly long nose---one of her turned to the side partly was x-rayed recently and revealed the nose was repainted shorter.
And I think she too was a bit put off by Henry's obesity, judging by her reaction (or lack thereof) when he first met her incognito.
Cleves was a smart woman and she probably assessed the situation and the three preceding wives and what happened to 2 of them---she was probably very glad to have an annulment when it was brought up.
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