Anne of Cleves’s journey towards London and her new husband recommenced on the morning of 29 December 1539. Although Anne had been very well received in England, her first sight of her new country was less than auspicious. The weather, even for December, was appalling, with driving rain and freezing winds. It was in fact, so bad that the Duke of Suffolk and Sir Thomas Cheyne were concerned that they would have to delay their departure from Dover, since ‘the day was foul and windy with much hail’.
The two men had good reason to worry about the potential delay. The route that the princess was to follow towards London was a well-trodden one by travellers, with overnight stops at Canterbury, Sittingbourne, Rochester and Dartford, before reaching London. All of these places, bar Sittingbourne, had a suitable royal or noble residence for Anne to stay in. If they waited another day to set out from Dover, Anne would arrive at Sittingbourne – and the common inn in which she and her party were forced to stay – just in time for New Year’s Eve. Since she would not be travelling on New Year’s Day, one of the most important days in the Tudor year, she would have spent two uncomfortable nights in an inn. The only alternative to this would be to remain at Dover another three nights which, as Suffolk and Cheyne assessed, was ‘too many days to lose’.
It was Anne herself who saved the situation. Although the rain and hail ‘blew continually in her face’, she agreed to move on to Canterbury without delay, being ‘desirous to make haste to the king’s highness’. Anne was also kindly and anxious to please those she met in England, winning praise from those about her for her fortitude and obliging nature.
It certainly cannot have been an easy journey that day, particularly since, once she arrived outside Canterbury Anne was forced to wait in the rain for her reception committee so that she could make a ceremonial entrance to the city.
Anne was met on the downs outside Canterbury by the city’s archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, as well as a company of men that he had had to press-gang into braving the weather. That evening Cranmer wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell setting out that he had been forced to retain one of the minister’s servants to make up the numbers, since he otherwise had but ‘a slender company’. Anne was too polite – and possibly too cold and wet – to say anything, allowing herself to be led into the city, where she was received by the mayor and citizens processing with torches, as well as a peal of guns.
Even when she reached her lodgings in the former St Augustine’s Abbey Anne was not free to rest. Instead, in her chamber she found ’40 or 50 gentlewomen in velvet bonnets to see her’. Once again, she was the model of tact in the face of the surprise additions to her party, ‘which she took very joyously and was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her, that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper’.
Henry had converted St Augustine’s Abbey into a lavish palace and Anne spent a warm and comfortable night there, with a fest held in her honour. She must have been grateful to finally retire to her bed that night, however, aware that she would have to continue the next day, regardless of the weather, in order to ensure that she had passed through Sittingbourne before New Year’s Eve.
The remains of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, where Anne spent her third night in England