Anne-and-Elizabeth-anne-boleyn-8687407-1600-896_600x336As it is Mothering Sunday in the UK, I wanted to share with you snippets from my chapter “Anne Boleyn the Mother” from The Anne Boleyn Collection II. The chapter goes into detail on the rituals and traditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth in Tudor times, but today I want to concentrate on what we know about Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth, as mother and daughter.

We don’t know the details of Princess Elizabeth’s birth, only that she was born at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of 7th September and that she was named after her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth of York, and possibly also after her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Howard. The little girl had her father’s red hair and long nose, and her mother’s dark eyes.

The birth appears to have been straightforward; the baby was healthy, and so was Anne. However, the baby was a girl, and not the predicted son and heir. So sure were Henry and Anne that the baby would be a prince that a celebratory tournament had been organised and a letter announcing the birth of a prince had been written. The joust was cancelled and the word “prince” had an “s” added in the birth announcement letter, but it is easy to read too much into the cancellation of the festivities. As Eric Ives points out, the celebratory jousts were cancelled in 1516 too, when Catherine of Aragon gave birth to Mary, and it was traditional for the celebrations of the birth of a princess to be low-key. Although the joust was cancelled, Ives writes that “a herald immediately proclaimed this first of Henry’s ‘legitimate’ children, while the choristers of the Chapel Royal sang the Te Deum”.1 In addition, preparations were already underway for a lavish christening.

On 10th September 1533, when Elizabeth was three days old, she was christened at the Church of Observant Friars in Greenwich. Click here to read a detailed article about Elizabeth’s christening.

Anne Boleyn and Breastfeeding

There were some rather strange ideas about breastfeeding in Tudor England, one of them being that the milk was actually menstrual blood turned white. Some also believed that colostrum, the highly nutritious milk produced in the first few days after birth, was harmful, so the baby was sometimes given to a wet nurse for a few days.

Breastfeeding was recommended in Richard Jonas’ 1540 book The Byrth of Mankynde, a translation of an earlier manual, recommended breastfeeding, but noblewomen ignored this advice and hired wet nurses because it was important for the new mothers to conceive again quickly. Wet nurses were chosen carefully because it was believed that the mother could pass on her characteristics via breast milk. In the early days, when feeding was frequent, babies would often live with the wet nurse to make things easier.

As a queen, Anne would have been expected to hand over Elizabeth to a wet nurse. The wet nurse would have been well vetted to make sure that she had the right temperament and plenty of milk for the royal princess. In her book on Elizabeth, historian Tracy Borman writes of how Anne wanted to breast-feed Elizabeth. However, David Starkey states that the story that Anne wanted to breastfeed, and was prevented from doing so by Henry VIII, is just a “tale… derived from Leti’s fictionalised account and is without foundation.”2 Gregorio Leti was a historian, but he was known for mixing facts with fiction; other than Leti, there is no source for Anne wanting to feed Elizabeth herself. Perhaps she did want to breastfeed, but it was not the done thing and she would have had to have followed royal protocol.

The advice of the time was that babies should be breastfed for two years, but in reality it tended to be one year. The Tudor equivalents of baby rice and rusks as weaning foods were gruel, bread and sugar, or bread dipped in water or milk to make it soft. Finger food for older babies included chicken legs, if the family could afford the meat. In poorer families, the baby would eat the same food as the rest of the family: gruel.

Instructions were given to Lady Bryan, Princess Elizabeth’s nurse, to wean the little princess at twenty-five months of age. The instructions were from the King, “with the assent of the queen’s grace”, and records show that with this order was included a letter from Anne Boleyn. We do not know what the letter said, but perhaps Anne was giving Lady Bryan instructions regarding weaning.3


We don’t have any details of Anne’s churching ceremony but it would have taken place a few weeks after Elizabeth’s birth. It was usual for the service to take place about a month after the birth, but records from a church in Lancashire show that women were churched anywhere from eight to forty-eight days after the baptism of the child.

Although churching is often seen as a purification ceremony, cleansing the woman after the unclean business of childbirth, it was more a celebration of her survival, a thanksgiving service, and a rite of passage marking her return to normal life after her confinement. It also marked the woman’s survival and her return to everyday life. It was celebrated with more drinking, feasting and gossiping, and the actual ritual involved the woman dressing in fresh, clean clothes, leaving her chamber and attending her local church. The priest would meet her at the church door, where he would sprinkle her with holy water. The woman would then enter the church, accompanied by two married female friends and wearing a white veil and carrying a candle. The priest would then recite psalms – such as Psalm 121, a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s protection – and talk about how the woman had been delivered from the dangers associated with childbirth. He would finish with the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer of thanks. As an offering, the woman would then give the church either the chrisom cloth which had been used for her baby’s christening, or a cash equivalent.

Anne and Elizabeth

Whatever the truth about Anne’s wish to suckle her own child, and go against the usual royal protocol and tradition, Anne was quite clearly pleased with and proud of her little girl. Courtiers were often embarrassed by Anne’s displays of affection for her baby and by her preference for placing Elizabeth next to her on a cushion, rather than shutting her away in a nursery.4 Elizabeth’s removal from court to her own household at Hatfield on the 10th December 1533 must have been a huge wrench for Anne. Even though it was just a few miles away, Anne would not have been expected to visit her daughter very much and, instead, would have been expected to get on with her queenly duties and to leave Elizabeth’s upbringing to Lady Bryan and her staff. Anne had to concentrate on conceiving again and providing Henry VIII with a prince.

We don’t know exactly how much time Anne was able to spend with Elizabeth, but we know the following:

  • That Anne visited Elizabeth at Hatfield in Spring 15345
  • That Elizabeth was moved to Eltham, just 5 miles from Greenwich, at the end of March 1534 and that her parents visited her there a few weeks later6
  • That she was at court with her parents for five weeks in the first quarter of 15357
  • That she was at court at Christmas 1535, and that she was still there at the end of January 1536 when news reached the court of Catherine of Aragon’s death. Henry paraded his daughter around in celebration.8
  • That she was at court at the end of April 1536, shortly before Anne’s fall. Alexander Alesius described Anne holding Elizabeth in her arms while she appealed to her husband.9 David Starkey discounts this report, saying that Elizabeth was most probably at Hunsdon at the time.
  • That Anne kept in touch with Elizabeth’s nurse, Lady Bryan.

At the end of the day, Henry and his council had the last word regarding Elizabeth’s upbringing, but the stylish Anne Boleyn involved herself in buying items for her daughter’s chamber and for her clothing. The Account of materials furnished for the use of Anne Boleyn and Princess Elizabeth 1535-3610 by Anne’s mercer, William Loke, included the following items for Elizabeth:

  • White sarsenet to line an orange velvet gown
  • Black velvet for a partlet
  • Black satin for a partlet
  • Russet velvet
  • Black buckram
  • Crimson, purple, white, yellow sarsenet
  • Yellow velvet to edge a yellow kirtle
  • White damask for a kirtle
  • White velvet for edging the kirtle
  • Russet damask for a bed cover
  • Black satin for a muffler and taffeta for its lining
  • Embroidered purple satin sleeves
  • Green velvet for edging a green satin kirtlet
  • Black velvet for mufflers

We learn more about the Queen’s expenses in The Queen’s reckoning, beginning in December 1535. Hen. VIII.11 (the debts owed by Anne at her death. This account includes the following items for Elizabeth:

  • “Boat-hire from Greenwich to London and back to take measure of caps for my lady Princess, and again to fetch the Princess’s purple satin cap to mend it.”
  • “A purple satin cap, laid with a rich caul of gold, the work being roundelles of damask gold, made for my lady Princess.”
  • “A pair of pyrwykes for my lady Princess, delivered to my lady mistress.” Eric Ives explains that pyrwykes were a device to straighten the fingers.12
  • “2¼ yds. crimson satin, at 15s., an ell of “tuke” and crimson fringe for the Princess’s cradle head.”
  • “2 fine pieces of “nydle rybande” [ribbon] to roll her Grace’s hair withal.”
  • “ A white satin cap laid with a rich caul of gold for the Princess, 4l., and another of crimson satin.”
  • “A fringe of Venice gold and silver for the little bed.”
  • “A cap of taffeta covered with a caul of damask gold for the Princess.”

Anne obviously made sure that Elizabeth looked the part of a royal princess and Henry’s heir.

Anne and Elizabeth’s future

On 26th April 1536, just days before her arrest, Queen Anne Boleyn met with her chaplain of two years, her “countryman”, thirty-two year-old Matthew Parker. Parker recorded later that Anne had asked him to watch over her daughter, the two year-old Princess Elizabeth, if anything happened to her. In other words, Anne was entrusting him with her daughter’s spiritual care.13 Eric Ives writes that this was a request that Parker never forgot and something which stayed with him for ever.14 Parker obviously came to be important to Elizabeth, because in 1559 she made him her Archbishop of Canterbury. This was a post which, Parker admitted to Lord Burghley, he would not have accepted if he “had not been so much bound to the mother”.15

By getting Parker involved with Elizabeth’s upbringing and her future, Anne was putting her daughter into the hands of a man with important connections, connections with a set of men with humanist and Protestant ideals who would influence and help her daughter. This cohort included John Cheke, Roger Ascham, William Cecil, Anthony Cooke, William Grindal and John Dee. Three of these men – Grindal, Cheke and Ashcam – tutored Elizabeth, and Dee may even have spent time with the young Elizabeth. He certainly taught Edward VI and Robert Dudley. It is no coincidence that Elizabeth relied on these men when she became queen. Her mother had made sure that she was surrounded by men who could help her in the future.

Elizabeth’s Household of Boleyn Relatives

The young Elizabeth was also surrounded by Boleyn relatives:

  • Anne Boleyn’s uncle, Sir John Shelton, was comptroller of the joint household of Elizabeth and Mary, and was helped by his wife, Lady Anne (née Boleyn).
  • Lady Margaret Bryan, Elizabeth’s nurse, was related to Anne Boleyn by marriage.
  • Katherine Champernon (or Champernowne) was appointed to Elizabeth’s household in July 1536 and became her governess in 1537. She became related to the Boleyns when she married Sir John Ashley (Astley) in 1545. Ashley’s mother, Anne Wood, was the sister of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn whose husband, James Boleyn, was Anne Boleyn’s paternal uncle.
  • Thomas Parry, Elizabeth’s “cofferer”, or treasurer, was was also connected to the Boleyns. His wife, Anne Reade, was the widow of Sir Adrian Fortescue, whose mother, Alice Boleyn, was an aunt of Queen Anne Boleyn.

J.L. McIntosh writes:

“The presence of these Boleyn relations and the evidence of Queen Anne’s interest in the material splendor of her daughter’s environment indicates that Anne, before her death, was an important, if indirect, early influence on the development of her daughter’s household’s culture. Henry VIII funded the household and had the final say in all important aspects of his daughter’s upbringing, such as when she was weaned, but it was Anne who was guiding the routine behavior and agenda of the household…The queen also may have begun to draw up plans for Elizabeth to receive a Protestant humanist education.”16

Although Anne was unable to bring up her daughter herself, because she died before Elizabeth turned three, she made sure from the start that her daughter was well taken care of and had the appropriate household for a royal princess. Anne’s instructions to Matthew Parker, one of the Cambridge cohort I have already mentioned, is evidence that Anne was not just ensuring that Elizabeth’s spiritual needs would be met. She was also making sure that Elizabeth would have the connections she needed to become a formidable woman and queen. I believe that Anne’s influence was kept alive by those who surrounded the young Elizabeth.

Notes and Sources

  1. Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 184
  2. Starkey, David (2004) Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, 511
  3. LP ix. 568
  4. Borman, Tracy (2010) Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen, 21. The story of Anne Boleyn placing her daughter on a cusion is from The Spanish Chronicle – see p. 42 at
  5. LP vii. 296, LP x. 913
  6. LP vii. 509
  7. LP vi. 1486, LP viii. 440
  8. LP x. 141
  9. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1 – 1558-1559. 1303
  10. Loke, William “Account of Materials Furnished for the Use of Anne Boleyn and Princess Elizabeth 1535-36.”
  11. LP x. 913
  12. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 255.
  13. ed. Bruce and ed. Perowne (1853) Correspondence of Matthew Parker, 59.
  14. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 267.
  15. ed. Bruce and ed. Perowne, Correspondence of Matthew Parker, 391.
  16. McIntosh, J.L. “From Heads of Household to Heads of State: The Preaccession Households of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor 1516-1558.” English Historical Review CXXVI, no. 518, 151-153

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23 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn, Mother of Elizabeth I”
  1. Happy Mother’s Day (in England), or more accurately, Mothering Sunday. Despite the very difficult royal restrictions on princess rearing, Anne was clearly devoted to her daughter.

    The differing opinions regarding the prime source documents demonstrates that we have to make our own minds up about how to interpret these pieces of evidence. As fond as I am of David Starkey, I sometimes find his dismissal of certain ideas shows how he really doesn’t understand women!

    Enjoy the day.

  2. Somewhat off topic but in the spirit of Mothering Sunday, I expect Princess Elizabeth was swaddled as was the norm.

    Mary Queen of Scots was not swaddled, her mother Frenchwoman Mary of Guise forbade it.

    The controversy continues.

    1. It was the norm for babies to be swaddled with swaddling bands to protect the limbs and to keep them straight, so it is likely that Elizabeth would have been swaddled.

        1. Yes, and cot-death apparently, babies over heating and dehydrating bound up like little ‘mummies’ and kept in a very warm room too no doubt…how things have changed, for the better in this case.

  3. Picky mode on: Lady Bryan was the older half-sister of Anne Boleyn’s mother, so it’s more correct to describe her relationship to Anne (aunt) and Elizabeth (great-aunt) as a blood relationship. Picky mode off.

  4. A very interesting and detailed articele. It is easy to think of royal babies stuck in the nursery and mum and dad pop in now and then, but the list of things for Elizabeth and the expenses shows that Anne must have been an active mother to the best of her ability and the times she was allowed to spend with her. Anne may or may not have wanted to breast feed her own daughter, it would have been natural for her to have this desire; and she was not raised to be Queen so may not have expected this to be against protocol. It is clear that Anne wanted to see Elizabeth as often as she could and made the best of the time with her. She also thought about her future and the best match for her as well as providing for her welfare. I think that Anne would have been an affectionate mother, but of course she had to accept the norms of the day with regards to her daughter being moved to her own establhishment. I wonder if she ever worried that Henry may move Elizabeth away as he did with Mary and she may never see her daughter again?

    Henry it seems was also proud of his daughter and when she was paraded about she must have made both of them proud. It must have been difficult to be parted from her when she was just a few months old. And poor little Elizabeth to lose her mother when she was just 2 and a half. I love that scene in Anne of 1000 Days shown above when Anne is with her daughter at the time that the council come to arrest her; in it she is getting Elizabeth to walk like a Princess, and praises her, then encourages her to walk with a train and is very pleased and proud of her daughter. It is a heart wrenching scene when Elizabeth is taken from her, and she cries out for her child as Norfolk comes to arrest her. It is also very moving as the final scene shows Elizabeth walking tall and straight and proud with Anne’s voice over saying what a great Queen her daughter will make, alluding to an imagionary scene when she tells Henry: My Elizabeth will be a better Queen than any King of yours!

    Yes, I think Anne was a good mother and would have gone on to raise her daughter well had she been allowed to live.

    1. I was recently watching a documentary in which they showed a beautiful double locket showing Elizabeth and her mother, when opened, one on one side, Anne in the other. Elizabeth is believed to have kept it with her all her life. I am also very moved by the story told in a letter to Elizabeth of the day before her mother’s arrest, when she came to the window in the garden of the palace, carrying the toddler in her arms to plead with her husband, Elizabeth father. A tragic, beautiful, but heart rendering sad sight, a loving mother attempting to reach the heart of her seemingly suddenly heartless husband. Anne was as devoted a mother as she could be, being apart from her must have been really hard.

  5. That Was so hard to read. I can only imagine tears falling from Anne’s eyes knowing that she was leaving her poor child alone in this world, with no father anymore, because Henry stole her the title of Princess.

  6. I wonder how Anne reacted when Elizabeth was bastardized. Was Elizabeth at Greenwich when Anne was arrested and if so, what happened to her while Anne was in the tower? Although there is no recorded mention of Elizabeth during her mother’s imprisonment, I’d like to believe that Anne’s humility in her execution speech was done out of protection for her daughter, to prevent the king’s displaced wrath after her death.

    1. Anne wasn’t there when Elizabeth was declared illegitimate in Parliament in July 1533, she was executed on 19th May, but she knew it was going to happen because Thomas Cranmer was sent to her two days earlier, to inform her and get her consent to the annulment of her marriage. Anne knew what that meant, her little daughter would be declared illegitimate and would not inherit the crown. This doesn’t affect her trial and execution because that left Henry a widower and Elizabeth as his heir. Henry didn’t want that, he wanted a fresh start with Jane Seymour, with no challenges to the children he would have with Jane and the Succession was invested in her. For this to happen it was necessary to declare his marriage to Anne null and void.

      Unfortunately, there is no record of how Anne reacted, but we are told in the letter that was written by William Kingston on 16th May 1536 that Anne was in hope of life. It has been speculated that Cramner was authorised to offer Anne some kind of deal in order to get her to consent, but it is more likely that she really had no choice. We can only guess that Anne would have been devastated, Elizabeth was the light of her life, she was adored by both her father and her mother, now she was to be the same status as Princess Mary. It was like plunging a dagger into the heart of someone and pulling it out but leaving the wound open to fester. I would imagine she put on a mask of dignity but cried in the night for her child. Everything she had worked for was gone and now Elizabeth was to be disinherited. Anne probably felt betrayed and helpless. It was the final hurt and she could do nothing to prevent it.

  7. She was a mumsy mum, the list of clothes are fascinating its easy to imagine her deciding what clothes to dress Elizabeth in, and speaking to Henry about it, he was probably chewing on his chicken leg and ogling the ladies in waiting and she was thinking about what clothes would look good on her baby, I wondered if when Elizabeth left the court to for her new household if Anne wished she wasn’t the Queen at that moment? If she hadn’t she would have had her baby with her all the time, I read once that Queen Elizabeth 11 said she would much rather have been a farmers wife living in the country with Philip than Queen.

  8. For those who wonder about Elizabeth’s memories of Anne, I have an anecdote to share. When I was a young woman, my father asked me if I remembered his mother, my grandmother, who died a couple of months before my third birthday. He was a man of a few words, but his face took on a tender expression as he said, “She loved you so much. She played and played with you.” Although I didn’t remember her this way, I realized that I actually did have one memory that repeated itself in flashbacks every once in awhile and not until my father revealed this statement to me, did I realize this memory was likely the last time I saw my grandmother. I remember climbing a tall staircase and when I saw that we were at her house I delightedly scampered over to her bedside. She was very happy to see me and we did play together until she tired (obviously, she was very ill). I remember every element of that visit, down to the clothes I wore and the fact that she told someone to put a chair next to the bed so that I could climb up beside her all by myself. I very strongly believe that Elizabeth also had a memory, perhaps only one, like I had, of her beloved mother, who cherished her so much that she put her on a cushion next to her chair of estate in order not to be separated from her. I saw my grandmother infrequently, as did Elizabeth since her mother had to visit her at Hatfield. Perhaps my memory of the last time I saw my grandmother is the reason why I’m so fascinated by Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn. I hope this gives you food for thought.

  9. Onderabout the finger straightener. Was she afflicted with a sixth didget or crooked finger?great article, thank you. The word mother is a wonderful word.

    1. The evidence that Anne Boleyn had a sixth finger comes from a hostile source, Nicholas Sanders some 60 years after Anne’s death. It has no basis in fact. There is a slight chance that Anne had an extra growth of her finger nail, this is a well-known physical phenomenon. However, there is a great difference between a slight extra bit of nail and a sixth finger nail. Do you really think Henry would marry someone with such an obvious deformity in an age when it was seen as a curse? Of course not.

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