“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived,” runs the little rhyme that helps us to keep track of what happened to Henry VIII’s six wives. Keep this rhyme in mind, trust me, it is important to today’s adventure.
Today’s visit was to Anne of Cleves House in Lewes, Sussex. Anne was the fourth wife of the much-married monarch. If we count our way through the rhyme, number 4 was another divorce. Technically the marriage was annulled rather than ending in divorce because a) it was too important to maintain good relations with the Duchy of Cleeves and b) Henry could not bring himself to consummate the marriage with the “great Flanders mare.”
Anne did rather well out of the separation it seems; nine prime pieces of property in Sussex AND she kept her head!
In fact, she did rather better than most in Henry’s court; given the official status of ‘King’s Sister’ she was always welcomed at court. As Anne was a similar age to Henry’s daughter Mary (who became the notorious Bloody Mary) the two grew close, and Anne was an honoured guest at Mary’s wedding and coronation.
Now the history has been covered, let’s explore the house.
The house itself is quite charming, but not really where one would imagine a former Queen residing. So, it’s hardly surprising to learn she preferred the grander piles of Hever Castle and Richmond Palace.
The kitchen offers some interesting insights into everyday Tudor life- it turns out black teeth were attractive in Tudor times, they showed you were rich enough to have LOTS of sugar. Will and I had a go at dressing up in the bedroom:
However, I found the garden the most interesting part of the visit. Specifically the Medlar Tree (mespilus germanica botany fans!) which is a fruit tree, once popular but has now become a rarity, perhaps because the fruit can only be eaten once it has half rotted?
Looking at it, would you be surprised that the fleshy fruit had something of an erotic reputation in Tudor times? It was even mentioned by Shakespeare:
“Now will he sit under a medlar tree, And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit”
Romeo and Juliet: Act II scene 1.
But I couldn’t help but wonder what it tasted like…