Anne’s marriage had originally been scheduled for 4 January 1540, the day after her reception at Greenwich. However, Henry VIII was determined not to go through with the ceremony unless he absolutely had to.
In the morning of 4 January, Thomas Cromwell went to wait upon the king at court. Cromwell was hopeful, based on Henry’s show of chivalry towards Anne, that his master’s feelings had changed. The king, however, was adamant, declaring to Cromwell ‘my lord is it not as I told you? Say what they will, she is nothing so fair as hath been reported, howbeit she is well and seemly’. Cromwell jumped upon Henry’s slight praise for Anne, agreeing ‘By my faith Sir ye say truth’ before adding that she had a queenly manner. Cromwell was, however, forced to admit that the princess was not the beauty that Henry had been promised.
Henry had already instructed Cromwell to gather his council in order to attempt to find a way out of the marriage and they met the night of Anne’s reception. As a child, Anne had been betrothed to Francis of Lorraine and this was jumped upon by the councillors, who summoned the two ambassadors from Cleves, demanding that they produce documents to show that the betrothal had been correctly brought to an end. The ambassadors, who had witnessed Anne’s joyous reception only hours earlier, were baffled, but asked to be given until the next morning to make their answer.
The request for proof of Anne’s broken betrothal was an unusual one. The time to make such enquiries was during the negotiations, not on the eve of the wedding itself. However, the ambassadors returned early the next day. Although appearing ‘as men much perplexed’, they were adamant that ‘a revocation was made, and that they were but spousals’. Both Anne and Francis had been children at the time that their betrothal was made and when it was broken, something which meant that it was not binding on the parties. It had, in fact, been dropped so long ago that the necessary documents no longer existed, although the ambassadors were prepared to swear to remain as hostages in England until sufficient proof could be brought from Cleves.
The ambassadors’ oaths almost closed the door to Henry’s escape route and Cromwell rushed to speak to the king, using the backstairs of the palace to avoid being seen. As the minister would have predicted, Henry was furious, declaring ‘I am not well handled’, before ranting that, if it were not ‘that she is come so far into my realm and the great preparations that my states and people hath made for her and for feat of making a ruffle in the world that is the mean to drive her brother into the hands of the emperor and the French king’ he would refuse to marry her.
Henry was not quite ready to entirely admit defeat, summoning his council again after dinner. They deliberated for some time, aware that their master was desperate to avoid the match. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Durham agreed that, in the event that Anne and Francis had been betrothed, a renunciation from either party was required to break the engagement legally. This was Henry’s last hope and he stalked out of the council chamber ordering his ministers to ask Anne to give a verbal renunciation of any betrothal before notaries.
He cannot have had high hopes that she would refuse, and he was right. Confused, but anxious to please, Anne swore her renunciation. This time trembling, Cromwell brought the news to Henry, who answered furiously ‘is there none other remedy but that I must needs against my will put my neck in the yoke’. The minister, usually so self-assured and composed, had nothing to say, quietly leaving the king alone to fret about his impending marriage to Anne of Cleves.
Thomas Cromwell. Unfortunately for him, he was widely considered to be 'a special counsellor of the match'