Wilhelm (William) of Cleves is the Duke of Cleves (one of the German States) and a wealthy member of the Protestant League. He is also brother to Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII of England. His residence is the vast Swan Castle in western Germany.
William becomes Henry's ally for a brief period late in Season Three, when England is threatened with the possibility of Spain and France- usually bitter enemies-launching a joint invasion of England to overthrow the Reformation in the name of Catholicism. As Henry himself is turning away from religious reform, his Protestant First Minister, Thomas Cromwell, uses this foreign threat as an opportunity to bring England back into the Lutheran fold by allying with the Protestant League (a collection of wealthy Protestant states in Germany who have united in opposition to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V).
Cromwell makes overtures to William when Henry begins seeking a new wife, determined to align England with Cleves. when Henry runs out of more attractive options, he reluctantly takes Cromwell's advice to court one of William's sisters, though his interests are primarily carnal. Henry's ambassador to the Low Countries, Sir John Hutton, makes a proposal to William: England will sign a betrothal alliance with Cleves uniting Henry with one of William's sisters, Cleves will grant England formal introduction into the Protestant League and all its' privileges, and England will hire out large companies of German mercenaries to serve in their armies and artillery divisions.
William is initially flattered by the offers of alliance from England, but annoyed that Henry demands on visual inspection of his sisters by Hutton and his colleagues; when Anne and Amelia, the two Princesses, enter the room wearing veils, the English Ambassador insists that they are too covered, prompting the irritated William to reply, "Would you see them naked, then?!" William further suggests that Henry should come himself to Cleves and humbly profess his desire to marry Anne or Amelia, pointing out that Henry is taking much for granted and treating his country "like a meat-market" simply because Cleves is only a minor player in European politics. To indicate that Henry needs him more than he needs Henry, William points out that he has already received a flattering offer for Anne's hand from the Duke of Lorraine. However, when Henry finally agrees to forfeit his right to a dowry in exchange for a quick marriage and negotiations, William relents.
Despite the difficult diplomacy, Cleves and England ultimately do make a betrothal alliance, but Henry (having assumed Anne is very beautiful due to the portrait brought to him) is repulsed on meeting Anne before the wedding. Going into an inexplicable temper tantrum, he demands the wedding be canceled, but Cromwell correctly points out that to do so would deeply insult William and might even provoke him to join England's enemies. Henry is forced to go through with the marriage, but as soon as it becomes clear France and Spain have turned on each other again he begins looking for the chance to annul it. Despite the failure of her marriage, Anne does not protest or return to Cleves; she is rewarded for her compliance with a generous settlement and allowed to live in comfort in England under the title "The King's Beloved Sister".
Historical Background Edit
Also known as "William the Rich" Wilhelm was born in 1516 in Dusseldorf, and inherited Cleves on his father's death; in 1538 he also inherited the territory of Geulders in the Low Countries until Emperor Charles likewise made a claim to it. After England broke its' alliance with Cleves following the annulment of Henry and Anne's marriage, William instead made overtures to the Kingdom of France.
Historically, William was a key member of the Protestant League that opposed the Catholic Emperor Charles V during the Italian War of 1542-46; headed by the German states of Cleves, Bavaria, Hesse and (initially) Saxony, the League waged war against the Habsburg Empire and the Kingdom of England in alliance with King Francis. However, the French and the Germans failed to act simultaneously, allowing Charles to fight them one at a time and retain the advantage. As a result of the war, William surrendered his claim to Geulders, though he retained and fortified Cleves. He later settled his differences with the Emperor by marrying the daughter of Charle's successor, Ferdinand of Austria. He died in 1592, succeeded by his son Johann Wilhelm.