Alternate History: What If Anne of Cleves Refused the Terms of the Annulment

by AlexandriaIngham

Anne of Cleves agreed to the annulment from Henry VIII relatively easily. But what if she put up a fight like Catherine of Aragon?

Anne of Cleves is often viewed as the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives. She was certainly the most successful. She managed to as the second most well-off woman in England at the time when looking at her finances, and was often invited to court. Henry VIII became her “brother,” and she was looked after by him without too many strings attached.

However, what if she didn’t agree to Henry VIII’s terms? What if she fought the annulment with all she could, just like Catherine of Aragon did before her?

Would Anne of Cleves Have Lived?

Anne of Cleves may have found her head leaving her body rather quickly.

Anne of Cleves may not have lived had she fought backHenry VIII had already built up a reputation for not keeping his wives. After 20 years of marriage, he divorced his first wife. Because she put up a fight, she was left in poverty and died without being able to see her daughter. Just months after her death, the woman she was put aside for was executed for treason and adultery. Then less than 18 months after that his third wife died of childbed fever.

Anne of Cleves would have been a silly woman to put up a fight, which is why she didn’t. However, if she did, there are high chances that Henry VIII would have found some reason to get rid of her; and not so that she lived. Could he have had charges made that would mean she was executed?

It depends. There were legitimate grounds for the annulment. There was a previous contract, and that was enough in those days to prevent another marriage taking place. If Anne had have put up a fight, it is likely that she would have just been treated as Catherine of Aragon was, and possibly left in poverty.

Whatever would have happened, the relationship with the Duke of Cleves would have been well and truly destroyed. There is a very high chance that England could have found itself with another war to deal with.

The Marriage to Kathryn Howard

It may have taken so long that Kathryn wasn't available to become Henry VIII's fifth wife.

It would have depended how long the annulment from the marriage would have taken. Considering the reasons for the annulment, it is unlikely that it would have taken that long. The marriage to Kathryn Howard would have still likely taken place at the same time.

However, it might have changed Kathryn’s actions. She may have seen just how her predecessor was treated, and seen Henry VIII’s anger firsthand. That may have been enough to make her think twice about letting Francis Dereham into her household and possibly starting the affair with Thomas Culpepper.

On the other hand, if the annulment was dragged out or there was a trial, it is possible that Henry VIII would never have married Kathryn Howard. She may have just become his mistress instead. That would have at least meant that she would have kept her head in 1542.

Thomas Cromwell Would Have Still Been Executed

Thomas Cromwell would have likely been executed still, but would it have been under the same circumstances?

Unfortunately, nothing would have saved Thomas Cromwell from his fate. He was the one who arranged the marriage in the first place. It was his fault, in Henry VIII’s eyes. All Thomas was kept around for was for the arrangement of the annulment. He needed to admit that there had been a pre-contract with someone else, and that made the marriage invalid.

It is possible that Thomas would have faced the brunt of Henry VIII’s anger if Anne of Cleves refused the terms of the annulment. Henry VIII may have made his execution worse by giving him the full traitor’s death; being hung, drawn and quartered.

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Would Henry VIII Have Joined Back With Rome?

Is it possible that the argument could have pushed the country back to a Catholic nation?

Catherine of Aragon's arguments for her marriage caused Henry VIII to break from RomeIt seems like a silly question at first, but I want to look into this possibility. When Catherine of Aragon refused the divorce, Henry turned to Rome. The pope refused and it led to the break. Henry VIII became the Head of the Church.

Anne of Cleves was from a Lutheran country. The easiest way for Henry VIII to gain his annulment would have been to turn back to Rome. He could have apologized to the pope, and arrange for an annulment to happen that way. The pope would have likely agreed that the marriage was never valid. After all, in the eyes of the Catholic church they were not married.

It would have led to the country going back to the Catholic ways. That would have been great news for Mary, but distressing news for all those who have fought for and moved on with the changes to the religion. It would have also caused problems for Elizabeth, who had been raised Protestant. Edward was still young, and could have been raised with Catholic views without too much hassle.

The question is whether England would have stayed this way. Elizabeth would have only been seven, but she was stubborn just like her father. There would have been some memory of the Protestant teachings, and there is the chance that she would have attempted to bring about the change to the religion.


There are a lot of ifs and buts, especially when surrounding Henry VIII and his six wives. Looking at what could have happened if Anne of Cleves didn’t agree to the annulment isn’t one that many would consider. It may not have even changed that much. Henry—for once—did have legitimate grounds to divorce his fourth wife. It may not have changed anything, except his treatment of her.

More Alternate History of Wizzley

I often love delving into the what ifs in history. This is a post dedicated to the what ifs surrounding Anne Boleyn had she had a boy.
It's fun to have fun with alternate history. Here I considered what could have happened if Jane Seymour never died after the birth of Edward.
Updated: 09/30/2014, AlexandriaIngham
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