Monday, 30 December 2013

30 December 1539 - Sittingbourne

Anne of Cleves was woken early on 30 December 1539 in order to continue her journey towards London. From Canterbury, the next stage of the route was Sittingbourne, where she was lodged as comfortably as possible in an inn. Although she was used to royal residences and noble households she did not complain. By 30 December she had been journeying towards England for a month and had become used to packing and unpacking as she made her slow progress towards her new life as queen of England.

Once the marriage treaty between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves had been agreed at the end of September 1539, the English king turned his attentions to just how his bride was to reach England. The most direct, and usual route, was for a traveller to pass overland through the Low Countries and into Calais, where they could make a short sea voyage over to Dover. With the Lo Countries ruled by Charles V’s sister, Mary of Hungary, however, it was far from certain that a safe-conduct would be granted, particularly since Anne’s brother was in dispute with the Emperor over his occupation of the Duchy of Guelders. Another dangerous possibility was that, even if safe-conduct as granted, war could break out during the journey, leaving Anne stranded and in danger.

For Henry, who was anxious to be joined by Anne, the solution was obvious. He had spent a good deal of money on building his navy. The idea of his fleet sailing across hostile waters to snatch his bride from the hands of the emperor fired his imagination. Anne’s home of Juliers-Cleves had only acquired a sea port when her brother took control of the disputed Guelders and the people around her had little experience of sea travel. Henry, however, was enthusiastic, commissioning two experienced shipmasters to sail to Guelders to produce a pilot’s chart and seaman’s rutter (a book of sailing instructions) for the dangerous route, which involved navigating sandbanks in the Zuider Zee. Their reports did not fill Anne’s brother with confidence, particularly since, at one stage of the journey the deepest water was only nineteen feet, with ‘ooze’ clogging the water on both sides of the channel.

Faced with this, Anne’s brother refused absolutely to consider the enterprise, with his ambassadors telling Henry that ‘they think it rather expedient to have conveyed by land than by water; for she is young and beautiful, and if she should be transported by the seas, they fear lest the time of year being now cold and tempestuous she might there, although she were never so well ordered, take such cold or other disease, considering that she as never before upon the seas, as should be to her great peril’. Anne had almost certainly never seen the sea and was probably relieved when the matter was allowed to drop and a safe-conduct acquired instead.

Anne’s brother paid for her to travel in grand style across Europe. As a distant kinswoman of the Emperor she was never really in danger of attack, although Henry wrote touchingly to Mary of Hungary, requesting that she ensure ‘the personal security and comfort of the said lady [Anne] and her suite’. Anne left Cleves at the end of November with a train of 263 people, including some of the highest dignitaries of her brother’s duchy. They made slow progress due to the wintry conditions, averaging only around five miles a day, but had reached Antwerp by 3 December, where she was received in grand style. On 7 December she was at Bruges and, three days later, she reached Gravelines, which was only a few miles from the English-held city of Calais.

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, who escorted Anne from Deal to London. The two women became friends.


  1. Hi Elizabeth, Is it recorded in which inn she stayed? When Natalie and I were writing 'In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn' we found out Anne and Henry were lodged at the Red Lion, part of which still stands today. Nice pub - I visited. Some lovely Tudor features. It was apparently fit for kings in its time. Have you heard of it?

  2. Hi Sarah, that's interesting about the Red Lion - I haven't visited and didn't realise that any of the Tudor building remained. There's no record of Anne of Cleves' inn. The Red Lion is a possibility, I would have thought and it might be possible to locate local records on inns in the area. Maybe you will find something on it for your next book!

    1. Hi Elizabeth, Thanks for your reply. The Red Lion, or The Lion, as it was known then, was THE premier inn in Sittingbourne, having played host to Henry V (on his return from Agincourt); Henry VIII, the Emperor Charles V (when he visited Henry); Cardinal Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. It had a fine / large dining chamber on the first floor and was also the largest Inn in the town. Only a small, central part of the building remains today - as a pub by the same name. Some lovely medieval / Tudor architecture is visible down the side of the building. Interestingly, I never read about Anne staying there, but it seems odd that she shouldn't, given its pedigree and her status.

      Nat and I have embarked on the next book, an 'In the Footsteps' - this time focusing on the top 10 locations associated with each of Henry VIII's Six Wives. So we will be researching places linked to Anne. I am enjoying reading your book, which is being very helpful! I'd love to talk to you more about her, and in particular, what is currently known about the foreign locations, if you'd be up for that? Many thanks again, Sarah

    2. Hi Sarah, That's fascinating - I'd be interested to see if you do unearth anything about Anne and the Red Lion for your new book.

      I think 'In the Footsteps of the Six Wives' is a great idea. I wrote an article on the places associated with the six wives for a US magazine last year, but didn't venture outside England.

      I'm glad your enjoying my book on Anne of Cleves. When I was researching her I was struck by how likeable she seemed - even Henry VIII wanted to socialise with her when he no longer had to be married to her! I'm happy to talk. I'm not actually sure where you're based - if we're near enough perhaps we could meet up sometime. Otherwise, on the phone.

    3. North Oxfordshire. Where are you? Do you want to email me off-line on