Anne Boleyn’s birthdate – Live debate – Gareth Russell, Dr Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway

Anne Boleyn’s birthdate is lost to history and historians have been arguing over it for many years, with two main dates being put forward – 1501 and 1507.

Was Anne Boleyn just six years old when she was sent to the Continent and just 28/29 when she was brutally executed on false charges, or was she 12 when she set off for Margaret of Austria’s court and 34/35 when she was killed?

Why does it matter?

Well, it’s even more of a coup for Thomas Boleyn to have attained a place for his daughter at Margaret of Austria’s court if she was just six, and if she was just 28 when she was brought down in 1536, she had quite a few fertile years ahead of her so it affects how we see her fall and the factors involved.

Gareth Russell and I have always disagreed over Anne Boleyn’s birthdate, amicably, of course, with Gareth arguing 1507 and me going with 1501. It’s become a long-standing joke between us, so I was intrigued when Gareth said he’d changed his mind, but not to 1501. He hasn’t told me his reasoning, I’m in the dark, but I’ve organised a live debate about it.

Gareth and I are great friends with Dr Owen Emmerson of Hever Castle so we thought it would be fun and interesting to debate Anne Boleyn’s birthdate, and to do it in front of an audience! We’ll chat about our reasoning, the evidence we rely on, all the different factors, and we’ll see what happens. Owen and I are both 1501, but are willing to have our minds changed – can Gareth change them? We shall see!

Our live-streamed debate will take place on Saturday 19th March 2022 at 10pm UK time/6pm New York and there will be a live Q&A session afterwards. It’s a bonus live event for ticket-holders of my 10-day “Anne Boleyn, the Woman who Changed England” online event which starts on 28th February. Doors for registration close on 25 February so make sure you register now!

It’s going to be a fun event so do join us!

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3 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s birthdate – Live debate – Gareth Russell, Dr Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway”
  1. I have after reading many biographies on Anne come to the conclusion she must have been born around 1500 – 1501, it makes more sense because during the struggle for the divorce, through the sources known to us, we know she was worried about the passing of years, her frustration which she vented on Henry and her associates was born out of fear, fear that her body clock was running out, another argument for the earlier birthdate and which Amy License believes is that the 1507 date which was documented was really 1501, and the reader mistook it for a seven, a one can be taken for a seven and vice versa if the ink is a bit wobbly and runs, this I am in agreement with and her mature handwriting which is evident in the letter she wrote to her father from Marguerite of Savoys court, and the fact that she was sent abroad all suggests she was much older than many earlier writers believed, we know she was highly precocious but she would not have been accepted as a lady in waiting if she was a mere girl of seven, a study of the skeleton which was found in the chancel in chapel grounds of St Peter in Victoria’s reign was described as having belonged to a female about twenty five years age, the bones are alleged to have belonged to Anne Boleyn because she was buried in the chancel and in between two dukes those of Somerset and Northumberland and another tragic queen- Catherine Howard, Catherine’s body was never found and the description of the skull and the skeleton fitted perfectly the accounts given of Anne’s physical appearance, large eye sockets small jaw, shapely hands and feet, the dead queen had been noted for her elegance and her large bewitching eyes, yet the age of death had been given as mid twenties, not mid thirties then again we have to take into account this was the Victorian era, now we have advanced technological equipment that can analyse and date bones thousands of years old, if the bones were tested now the result could well be different, also Anne’s final miscarriage at the age of thirty six explains Henry’s sudden desire to get rid of her, in Tudor times a woman at the age of thirty six was considered past her childbearing best, had she been but twenty nine Henry may have been hesitant at sending her to her death, this is the conclusion I have come to.

  2. I personally believe Anne Boleyn was an extremely precocious child. Her father was well known for his linguistic abilities, and it placed him in very important diplomatic positions. If Anne were educated along with her two older siblings, it would soon become clear that she had her father’s outstanding gift for languages as well. I clearly remember being five and helping my very gifted 3 year old sister learn to read and write, so I know this is possible. It fits with what we can deduce about Anne’s very high intelligence, her notable and very much appreciated service to European royalty as a young girl (the ability to communicate with foreigners was extremely important to royalty) and it also would fit with Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria’s statement, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that Anne Boleyn was not yet 29 at the time of her death.

    1. Yes Jane Dormer did say that but she was born two years after Anne’s death, so she may have been merely relying on what Princess Mary told her who was her good friend, Mary herself years later commented rather spitefully that her sister Elizabeth resembled Mark Smeaton, one of the so called lovers of Anne Boleyn, but he did not enter her service till after Elizabeth was born, so that was an error Mary made, she could therefore have been wrong on Anne’s birthdate to, if it were she who informed Jane of her stepmothers age at death, George was it is believed younger than Anne and we know Mary was the eldest out of all three, Anne was highly precocious it is true, inheriting her fathers ability for languages but I feel that seven, even in those far of days where children were married at the age of twelve would have rendered it impossible for Sir Thomas to have wangled a place for her at Marguerites court, friends though they were, also Lady Boleyn I am sure would not have wanted her darling child leaving her that young, she was especially close to Anne, there is also a portrait of Anne called the Nidd Hall portrait, it is not an attractive portrait and in it the queen is shown more like a woman in her mid thirties than twenties, she looks jowly and has the tell tale signs of age running from nose to mouth, there are fine lines around the eyes, of course stress can make a woman look older than she is, and her life as queen was very stressful, during the last year of her life she knew the king had fallen out of love with her, he had been dallying and a certain Jane Seymour had come to court, everything depended on giving the king a prince, this is what I feel is a closing argument for Anne’s earlier birthdate, had she been just twenty nine she still had many more childbearing years left to her, however for a woman approaching thirty six with two miscarriages already behind her, would explain Henry V111’s total abandonment of her, he must have believed she would never be able to give him a son, he had waited for years with his first queen for a son, and all for nothing, he also was now in his forties, and had he had had a near fatal injury, all he had were two daughters to show for two barren marriages, barren because there was no prince, Anne’s tragedy was about to unfold, as she had bitterly complained to Henry V111, she had been waiting long and might well have been married and had children, which is the greatest consolation in this world, had she been but a young woman of twenty would she have been so concerned about children?

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