For those interested in retracing the steps of Henry VIII’s fourth wife in England, they can of course do so at Hever Castle, the Boleyn seat which was granted her as part of her annulment settlement, at the site of Richmond Palace, which remained hers until her death, together with the Kentish residences of Dartford and Penshurst, the latter of which was offered to her in exchange for Bletchingley. Such a journey in the steps of the “Lady Anna” might even extend to Rochester, where the legendary ill-fated first meeting took place with Henry VIII in 1540, or to the Anne of Cleves House at Lewes.
The last home of Anne of Cleves was Chelsea Manor, where she would in fact die on 16 July 1557, a year before the death of Queen Mary I and the subsequent accession of her successor, the Princess Elizabeth, as Queen Elizabeth I. However, Westminster Abbey is – quite literally – the last place which has both a personal and poignant connection with Anne of Cleves. Her body was transported by boat from Chelsea to Charing Cross and then carried to the Abbey – a location chosen by order of Mary I – where a vigil was kept that night. Her funeral took place on 4 August. Her grave bore her coat of arms and initials and bears images of lion’s heads and crossbones.
Her tomb in Westminster Abbey is to be found today, unaltered and in its original position, to the south side of the high altar. It is indeed so simple as to be even ignored, but for the modest inscription of the epitaph which reads in plain text, “Anne of Cleves. Queen of England. Born 1515. Died 1557”. It is easy to see why this tomb could be overlooked, its sheer location being within the area of the sanctuary, which is where the coronation service takes place and is therefore not accessible. Part of her tomb may be viewed from the back and the abovementioned inscription can be seen from the transept, but it remains a largely forgotten grave, despite being virtually opposite the shrine of Edward the Confessor.
It is however Anne of Cleves who shares the exalted place of burial in Westminster Abbey, together with many of England’s kings and queens – among which were the two daughters of two of Henry’s earlier queens, Mary I and Elizabeth I. This sense of her royal status took a curious twist, when her tomb was built over to enable the watching Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and other members of the royal family to stand and observe the coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth II.
It seems as if Anne of Cleves had wished to return to Cleves following the death of Henry VIII. One imagines had she done so, whether her eventual resting place would have been at Dusseldorf, where she was born or perhaps in the chapel at Schloss Burg near Solingen, where she had spent some of her childhood at the Clevian court. The inscription on her tomb would inevitably have recorded the fact that she had been for a time, married to the English King, who was once described by the Venetian papal nuncio Francesco Chieregato, as “[excelling] all who ever wore a crown”. But it was not to be. And one senses that in Westminster Abbey, Anne of Cleves has been according the fitting honour due to her, as a one-time Queen of England.