Many people feel awkward about meeting their ex’s new partner, and when one brings in crowns and royalty you would expect the potential for drama and ill-feelings to be magnified. But when Anne of Cleves was faced with this prospect, she took control of the situation, demonstrating an incredible knack for managing Henry in a way which his other wives perhaps lacked.
On the 3rd of January, 1541, less than six months after the annulment of her marriage to Henry, Anne travelled from her palace at Richmond to Hampton Court in order to personally deliver her New Years gifts to her ex-husband and his new, pretty wife.
Though Chapuys was generally hostile to Anne due to religious and political differences, his admiration for the former queen’s behaviour upon meeting her former lady-in-waiting and replacement is evident:
The cordiality between Anne and Catherine seems incredible given the circumstances; however there is another element to the exchange which has long gone overlooked. Heather R. Darsie, Historian, in her outstanding biography, ‘Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister,’ explores the culture around gift giving in the German states that Anne would have grown up with. German princesses used gift-giving as a sort of friendly competition, ‘sending increasingly grand gifts to each other….a gift showed a potential rival one’s financial or domestic superiority.’
Anne clearly outdid Catherine in this instance; Anne’s gift to the couple was ‘two fine and large horses caparisoned in mauve velvet, with trappings and so forth to match,’ an extravagantly expensive gift. Contrastingly, Catherine’s gift was ‘a ring and two small dog,’ which Henry had actually given to Catherine to gift to Anne ‘in her own name.’ The difference in these gifts highlighted their very different stations in life; despite their current situations, Anne was born a duchess, and had come out of the annulment a very wealthy woman; by contrast, Katherine was from a younger, poorer branch of the Howard family tree, and all she had was what the king had given her. Though Anne undoubtedly did want to ensure a smooth relationship with Henry and his new wife, she was also highlighting her own status with her gift.
Anne’s extravagant gift and performative humility toward Catherine clearly paid off, as she became a regular visitor at court. We do not have any record of Anne’s reaction to Catherine’s disgrace and death; though it is perhaps safe to assume that she felt some measure of relief that she herself escaped the same fate.
Images (left to right):
Portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein, c.1539. For further information about the portraiture of Anne of Cleves, see my dedicated post here: https://tinyurl.com/muy78jj5
Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, c.1540. For further information about the portraiture of Henry VIII, see my dedicated post here: https://tinyurl.com/2s3vzr9x
Portrait of a Young Woman, possibly Catherine Howard, by the workshop of Hans Holbein, c.1540-45. For further information about the identification of the portrait, and the portraiture of Catherine Howard in general, see my post here: https://tinyurl.com/5a4vk25c