Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Two Marriages

January 6 marks two historical wedding anniversaries! One for a marriage that was a great success, and one that--well, it just wasn't.

In 1539, England was in need of a queen--and an alliance with a strongly Protestant nation. Henry VIII's third wife, Jane, had been dead for a long while, and he had only one son. Thomas Cromwell, the King's chancellor, came up with the perfect solution, the sister of the Duke of Cleves. Court painter Hans Holbein was dispatched to paint her portrait, she was deemed attractive enough, and the marriage treaty was signed. Anne, who unlike Henry's first two intellectual wives was not well-educated, spoke only German, and spent most of her time in needlework and card-playing (but was deemed pretty enough, as well as virtuous and docile) was dispatched to England. That's when things went downhill.

Henry went to meet his bride, incognito, at Rochester, and was quite disappointed. (As, no doubt was she, to meet her overweight, smelly groom!). "She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported," he complained, but it seemed there was no way to end the marriage without losing the vital alliance with the Protestant Germans. They were married January 6, 1540 at Greenwich by Archbishop Cranmer. Anne's ring was engraved "God send me well to keep," but the wedding night was a non-event. Henry told Cromwell, who was no doubt very unhappy his alliance was going so badly, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse." The marriage was unconsumated, and very brief. Anne was sent away from Court on June 24, and on July 6 told of the king's decision to seek an annulment, which was granted (with her consent) on July 9.

She ended up better than any of Henry's other unfortunate wives, though. She got a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (Anne Boleyn's family home). She was often invited to Court as "the King's beloved sister,"and had precedence over all women in England except for the King's wives and daughters. She got along well with all his children, and lived until 1557, when she was buried in Westminster Abbey (the only one of the 6 wives to be interred there). So, a happy ending for Anne, but not for the marriage!

The other January 6 wedding took place 1759, between Colonel George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow, when he was 27 and she 28. They were introduced at a party by friends of Martha's, and from all accounts hit it off immediately, talking until dawn. He only visited her a couple more times before proposing to her three weeks after their meeting. They married at St. Peter's Church in New Kent County, Virginia, with a reception after at the bride's home. Rev. David Mossom performed the ceremony, which was attended by many of the couple's friends and Martha's two children. Martha wore a gown of gold, lace-trimmed brocade and a white silk petticoat embroidered with silver threads. She had a set of fine pearls, and gorgeous shoes of purple satin. (The groom ore a blue coat and white satin waistcoat!). They then honeymooned in Williamsburg, and were happily married until George's death in 1799. Unlike Henry and Anne, Martha and George started well and perservered through all the challenges of war, politics, family, and tragedy to make a life together.

Some sources:
Elizabeth Norton, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride (a brand-new title I just got a peek at, thanks to a librarian friend!)
Retha Warnicke, The Marrying of Anne of Cleves
Patricia Brady, Martha Washington

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