The Anne Of Cleves – A Place In History
Melton Mowbray, market town known for its fine building, is also a home to the famous Anne of Cleves. It is set in Burton Street, nestled alongside the famous Parish church, as it has for over 600 years.
Originally built as a dwelling house for parsons in Melton, the start of its life closely linked to the fortunes of the Church. During the 15th Century and early 16th, it was used as a chantry priests’ house. After the building of the house, chantries or praying places
for departed souls, were so numerous that the parish had 14 of them. In 1538 the Bishop of Lincoln’s visit was a high point and nine chantry priests existed.
1539 is an important date for our house. It was the year of the Dissolution of the Monasteries – Henry VIII’s violent destruction to the English Monasteries and the start of England’s break with Rome. Now it was King Henry who owned Church properties, who gave them to his chancellor Thomas Cromwell.
It is thought Cromwell lived briefly in Anne of Cleves house around 1540. It was now that Cromwell made a fateful suggestion to the King. On the death of Jane Seymour, he suggested to Henry that a certain princess at Flanders might be an appropriate fourth wife.
Her name was Anne of Cleves
Henry had not actually seen her in the flesh, relying on the evidence of a portrait of her by Holbein. The famous painter obviously flattered Anne,
because she was no beauty, and Henry instantly disliked her, referring to her as ‘a great Flanders mare’.
The marriage lasted only six months – it is though Henry never slept with Anne at all. The matter also sealed Cromwell’s fate, the former King’s favourite was stripped of his estates (including our Cleves House) and position, and was executed in 1541.
Being close to Henry VIII was indeed a dangerous business. It was now that the house ceased to be a Church building that it became a private house. Anne agreed to a divorce (the King no longer encumbered by Roman Catholic law on divorce) and the king granted her properties and the title Lady Anne. The old priests’ house was one of the properties granted, and from then was known as it still is today ‘Anne of Cleves House’.
It is thought Henry visited Melton at this time to view the property (and others of Cromwell) before he gave them to Anne. It is doubtful she ever lived in Melton, although she may have visited. All in all considering what happened to many church buildings, and too many of Henry VIII’s wives, it could be said that both Anne and the house got off lightly.