Anna of Kleve’s Evil Genius by Alison Weir


By Alison Weir



How Henry VIII’s Fourth Wife was Implicated in Wyatt’s Rebellion

By Alison Weir

In the autumn of 1553, the talk at court, and in England at large, was all of Queen Mary I’s marriage and prospective bridegrooms, of whom several had been mooted. The Catholic Queen had come to the throne on a tide of public acclaim after an ill-fated attempt by the late Edward VI and the Duke of Northumberland to place her Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne; now Mary needed an heir to ensure that a Catholic succeeded to the Tudor throne.

Anna of Kleve Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir
Anna of Kleve Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir

At that time, Anna of Kleve, the divorced fourth wife of Henry VIII, was close to the Queen, her former stepdaughter, and had been accorded the honour of riding in the coronation procession with Mary’s half-sister, the future Elizabeth I.

Wilhelm V, Duke of Julich, Kleve and Berg'Print made by Heinrich Aldegrever
Wilhelm V, Duke of Julich, Kleve and Berg’

Prompted probably by her brother, Wilhelm V, Duke of Kleve, and his wife, Maria of Habsburg, Anna was doing her best to persuade Mary to marry Ferdinand of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Ferdinand, the second son of the Emperor’s younger brother, Ferdinand, King of the Romans, Bohemia and Hungary, was twenty-four; Mary was thirty-seven, and Anna was eager for the match to take place, foreseeing that it would bolster her position in England.

On 15 October, the new and highly influential Imperial ambassador, Simon Renard, reported to Charles V: ‘My lady of Cleves has spoken to the Queen about a marriage with the Archduke, and [Sir William] Paget has had letters from the ambassador sent to Hungary by the late Duke of Northumberland before the late King Edward’s death, speaking of the same matter and saying that the King of the Romans is greatly desirous of seeing the marriage arranged.’ In November, King Ferdinand sent his own ambassador to England to press for the match. But Mary was already set on marrying Charles V’s son and heir, Philip of Spain, who proposed marriage that month.

Philip II & Mary Tudor, by PORTRAIT SCULPTOR, Suzie Zamit
Philip II & Mary Tudor, by PORTRAIT SCULPTOR, Suzie Zamit

Mary’s resolve to marry the Catholic Philip proved deeply unpopular in England and provoked a major rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt and others, their aim being to depose Mary and set up Elizabeth in her place.

Sir Thomas Cawarden was one of those involved in the rebellion. He had come into Anna’s circle as keeper of her manor of Bletchingley. He was one of the ‘new man’, men who had come to prominence by ability rather than birth. His father had been a London cloth fuller, but, thanks to the patronage of Thomas Cromwell, Cawarden had risen to become a Gentleman of the Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber and a close associate of the King himself.

Cawarden was to play no insignificant role in Anna’s life in the years ahead. He was rich and he was dangerous, being a secret Protestant activist. In 1543, when a ‘nest of heretics’ had been uncovered in the Chapel Royal at Windsor, Cawarden, his wife Elizabeth and ten other courtiers, were arrested for heresy. Cawarden had received a warning from Katharine Parr, another closet Lutheran, and she had sent her servant Fulke to keep watch on events at Windsor and obtain a copy of the list of courtiers against whom evidence had been laid; Fulke was to report to Cawarden, which suggests that Cawarden was one of her covert circle. Notwithstanding Cawarden kidnapping and intimidating the messenger who was taking the list to Gardiner, and reading it, several courtiers were imprisoned. ‘The Devil cannot make one of them to betray the other,’ the conservative Bishop Gardiner fumed, and when the King found out, he promptly pardoned them all. But the ‘Windsor martyrs’ as the Chapel Royal heretics became known, died at the stake.

Anna of Kleve
Anna of Kleve

In March 1544, Cawarden, was appointed Master of the Revels and Tents, with the immediate responsibility of providing tents for Henry VIII’s siege of Boulogne, where he led a company of fifty-one horsemen and two hundred foot soldiers, and was knighted.  The following year, he received a royal licence to keep forty liveried retainers. In 1546, Cawarden and his wife were living at Hextalls, the farm attached to Bletchingley, as Anna’s tenants. Cawarden was a diligent steward at Bletchingley, and appears to have developed a strong attachment to the place. In the last years of Henry VIII’s reign, he clashed with Anna over her stubborn refusal to spend money on repairs to the house, and he was unhappy when her Anna’s servants felled good trees for charcoal, wasting the timber; this led to a long dispute and much bad feeling.


Under Edward VI, the Protestant faith became the official religion of England, and Catholicism and the Mass were outlawed. Sir Thomas Cawarden now came out of the closet as a Protestant and became a leading ‘gospeller’ at court. Anna, a Catholic, seems to have kept her head down and conformed.  Cawarden did very well for himself. He was well thought of by the Council and the young King, who gave him estates near Nonsuch Palace. Cawarden owned a London house at Blackfriars and lands in seven counties. As keeper of Bletchingley, he was a political mover and shaker in the area, and highly influential. He was to sit as M.P. for Surrey four times between 1547 and 1559 and was High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1547–48.

St Mary the Virgin, Bletchingley
St Mary the Virgin, Bletchingley

Cawarden had clearly been maneuvering to wrest Bletchingley from Anna – and he succeeded. The Council ordered her to offer him a tenancy and gave her Penshurst Place in exchange, much to her chagrin. Cawarden quickly ensured that worship in the nearby parish church (in which he would later be buried) conformed to Protestant ideals; he had the rood loft torn down, the statues and vestments removed, the walls whitewashed and the altar defaced. He removed much gold and silver plate, furniture, carvings and other ‘idolatry’, and had everything carted to his house at Blackfriars.

Cawarden was close to the Duke of Northumberland, his kinsman, who was ruling England during the minority of the young Edward VI. He probably knew about the plan to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He appears to have co-operated with Queen Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, who sent him a warrant for tents for the garrison at the Tower. Jane sent the last warrant of her brief reign to Cawarden, requiring him to provide tents for the troops who had already abandoned her.

By then, the country had rallied to Mary Tudor’s cause. Anna may have feared that, because of her close connections with Sir Thomas Cawarden, she would come under suspicion of having supported the usurper Jane, although her fears would  prove unfounded. The Queen showed her friendship, honour and favour.

Thomas Wyatt the Younger Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Thomas Wyatt the Younger
Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger

But then came Wyatt’s rebellion. As a notorious Protestant and supporter of Lady Jane Grey, Sir Thomas Cawarden immediately came under suspicion. On 1 January 1554, Queen Mary ordered her officers to collect arms and armour from the vast armoury he had established at Bletchingley, to be used in the defence of London, and possibly to prevent him from giving them to the rebels.

On 25 January, as Wyatt was setting up his standard in Kent, Cawarden was ‘in his house at Bletchingley in perfect quietness, good order, obedience, and subject-like’. Nevertheless, that morning, he was arrested by Lord William Howard and brought as a prisoner before the Council in the Star Chamber at Westminster, where he was questioned by Bishop Gardiner, the Lord Chancellor. Having managed to convince the Council of his loyalty, Cawarden was ‘dismissed and set at liberty’, and ordered to arm his people at Bletchingley in readiness to march at an hour’s notice for the suppression of the rebellion.

But Lord William Howard continued to mistrust him, and the next day, he issued a warrant to Sir Thomas Saunders, sheriff of Surrey, to seize all the weapons and armour at Bletchingley. Seventeen cartloads of arms were carried off to the Tower of London, which seemed to justify Lord William’s suspicion that Cawarden had stockpiling them to help the rebels. Saunders arrested Cawarden and he was ordered by the Council to remain in his own house at Blackfriars.

Wyatt’s rebellion was the worst crisis of Mary’s reign, but the Queen rallied the people by a rousing speech given at London’s Guildhall, and London locked its gates to the rebels. Within days, the revolt had collapsed. Wyatt was captured, and Mary ordered an inquiry into the cause of the uprising.

Her half-sister, the Lady Elizabeth, was widely believed to have been involved in the rebellion, and although the Council would find no evidence to prove it, she was to spend three months in the Tower and nine more under house arrest at Woodstock, and would never regain what little trust the Queen had had in her.

King Henri II of FranceArtist: After François Clouet
King Henri II of FranceArtist: After François Clouet

Anna too was suspected of conspiring against Mary with Elizabeth and the French, for King Henri II strongly opposed the Queen’s coming marriage to his enemy, Philip of Spain. When Renard saw the Queen on 12 February, she told him ‘that the Lady of Cleves was of the plot and intrigued with the Duke of Cleves to obtain help for Elizabeth: matters in which the King of France was the prime mover. The Queen says that God has miraculously permitted all this to come out and furnished her with means to put a stop to it by punishing the guilty authors in time, for otherwise heresy would have found its way back to the kingdom, she would have been robbed of her state and England subjected to the will of the French. So she is now absolutely determined to have strict justice done and make herself strong against further eventualities.’

The Queen had grounds for suspecting Anna of complicity in the rebellion. Anna was close to Elizabeth and to Sir Thomas Cawarden, of whom Elizabeth thought well. As the rebellion was breaking out, Anna’s servant, Florence of Diaceto, had returned from Denmark (whither he had been sent by Edward VI) with papers and a gold chain the King of Denmark had given him, which were immediately impounded and never returned. Probably it was thought that he had been in France, acting on Anna’s behalf and that she was involved in the political maneuverings of her brother and Henry II of France against England.

Four days earlier, Renard had told the Emperor he expected ‘to see the King of France make war on England from Scotland or France because he does not wish the Queen well, desires to prevent the marriage [to Philip], but knows it to be necessary in order to take the war out of France, because he has promised the Duke of Cleves, at the Lady Elizabeth’s request, thus to revenge himself for Henry VIII’s repudiation of his sister, and in order to give the German princes an opportunity of turning their forces against your Majesty’s dominions. The great preparations he is making by sea and by land show that he is following his usual policy of trying to cross your Majesty’s projects.’

Lady Elizabeth Tudor, 1555
Lady Elizabeth Tudor, 1555
Artist Unknown

This all sounded quite damning; it looked as if Elizabeth had incited the King of France to make war on England to help her seize the throne; her alleged plea to the Duke of Cleves to take revenge on Anna’s behalf pretext made it appear that Anna was complicit, or even active, in the conspiracy. Evidence for that was strengthened by the Emperor’s reply to Renard, sent on 18 February, in which it was Anna who had done the inciting, with Elizabeth acting as intermediary:
‘We wish you to leave nothing undone to obtain information on a point mentioned in your last letters: the promise made by the King of France to the Duke of Cleves, at his sister’s request – she who was abandoned by the late King Henry – and by the intermediary of the Lady Elizabeth. Thus we may use the information acquired in deciding what we had better do, and we have no doubt that the Queen will realise how important it is to us, and afford you all the help you need to get to the bottom of it.’

Anna may have been simmering for years over the humiliation of her brother by Charles V, who had overrun his duchy and made him a puppet prince, and the Emperor’s destruction of the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes, with its tragic consequences for her sister’s beloved husband, the Elector of Saxony, who had suffered a long imprisonment and died soon after his release. She wanted her marriage to Henry VIII declared valid so that she could keep her settlement and return to Kleve, but there is no evidence that she was hoping that the King of France would ally with the German princes against the Emperor and force the repeal of the Act annulling her marriage, or that she wanted revenge upon England for Henry VIII’s repudiation of her thirteen years earlier; and it is highly unlikely that she would have jeopardised the royal favour that was now being shown to her – unless, of course, Elizabeth had promised to be generous to her.

Anne of Cleves from the workshop of Barthel Bruyn the Elder
Anne of Cleves from the workshop of Barthel Bruyn the Elder

Nothing was proved against Anna. She apparently remained unaware that she had come under suspicion, for she was never questioned, and there was no open rift between her and Mary, who continued to show favour to her, while Anna felt able to seek financial aid from the Queen. Evidence in Anna’s will shows that Mary paid some of her servants’ wages, as Henry VIII had done; and Mary allowed Anna to live at the palace at Chelsea during her last illness. But Anna was never at court after Wyatt’s rebellion, and her plea to have her marriage to the late King declared valid was – unsurprisingly – never addressed by the Council.

By March 1554, Sir Thomas Cawarden had been discharged and resumed his official duties.  He was soon back in favour at court. The office of the revels, which he substantially reorganized, made him an early patron of English court drama. Yet he remained an unreconstructed closet Protestant and there is evidence that he was involved in all the later plots against Mary.  He continued to act as Anna’s advisor, and would remain her steward and tenant at Bletchingley until she died. He entertained her at Blackfriars and provided her with furnishings for her house at Dartford. But he was a dangerous friend to have. Considering his heretical views, he was very lucky to escape the stake. In 1555, he outraged the inhabitants of Blackfriars by defacing their parish church of St Anne and pulling down the roof. That year, someone informed on him at the Court of King’s Bench, possibly accusing him of heresy, but he was not prosecuted.  On 15 May 1557, Cawarden was imprisoned in the Fleet prison, for an unspecified offence, and was not released until August. By then, Anna was dead.

Editor’s Note: is honored and delighted that Alison Weir chose QAB to contribute the following fascinating guest article detailing Anna of Kleve’s implication in Wyatt’s Rebellion in celebration of the release today of the newest novel in her Six Tudor Queens novel series, Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets. Enjoy Alison’s account not only of Anna of Kleve but also “Tudor Thomas” Sir Thomas Carwaden. He is quite an interesting gentlemen, to say the least.

Afterwards, do check out QAB’s review of Alison’s newest novel exploring the life of Henry’s fourth wife and “beloved sister” HERE.


Alison Weir
Alison Weir

Alison Weir is the United Kingdom’s most popular and best selling female historian. Alison’s first published work, Britain’s Royal Families, introduced the world to the now recognized genre of  “popular history”, and her sales tell the story. Readers purchased more than 2.3 million books, over 1,000,000 in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,300,000 books in the United States. Rich in detailed research, Alison’s engaging prose captured the interest and imaginations of countless people, instilling a love of history that influenced the career paths of historical fiction writers, historians, and teachers, while also greatly increasing knowledge of medieval English history among people throughout the world. For more information on Alison Weir, visit her websites at ALISON WEIR: U.K. HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR and ALISON WEIR TOURS.


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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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