In celebration of Mother’s Day in the UK on Sunday and this week’s International Women’s Day, I thought it would be good to look at Anne Boleyn as a mother.

Anne Boleyn was not the only victim of the fall of the Boleyn faction in May 1536, five men were also executed, but there was also a small, two year old girl who was a victim of the brutal events. It is amazing to think that this little girl who was made illegitimate and who was banished from court for a while, went on to become a great monarch. Not only did Anne Boleyn’s daughter become Queen of England but she became “Gloriana” and “The Virgin Queen”, and her reign was known as “The Golden Age”. Anne, if she could look down from Heaven, certainly had the last laugh!

Anne did not have much chance to be a mother, that opportunity was taken away from her, and, as a mother, I can only imagine the fears and worries that must have eaten away at her during those days imprisoned in the Tower – fears for Elizabeth’s safety and future, worries about her child growing up without a mother, concern that Elizabeth would be told that her mother had committed treason and adultery, grief that she would never see her little girl grow up into a woman…

But what was Anne like during the two years and eight months that she was a mother?

Anne Boleyn and Motherhood

David Starkey, in “Six Wives”, writes of how Anne Boleyn gave birth just twelve days after taking to her chamber. On the 7th September, between 3 and 4am, Anne gave birth to a little girl, which must have been a huge blow to her parents who were expecting the baby to be a son and heir. However, the couple seemed to bounce back – Henry VIII named his daughter Elizabeth after both her grandmothers and was soon busy arranging a lavish, public christening for the 10th September. After the christening, Elizabeth was taken back to Anne but then the Princess’s own nursery staff took control of the baby, as was royal protocol.

If you’re a parent, you will know how wonderful, if not exhausting, those first few days are with a new baby. The complete awe you feel when you look down at your newborn, the complete fulfilment you feel as they suckle…it is a wonderful time but Anne, as Queen, was deprived this. Elizabeth had her own staff, headed by Lady Margaret Bryan, and a wet nurse to suckle her. Both David Starkey and Tracy Borman write of there being a story that Anne wanted to breastfeed her daughter but “was only prevented from doing so by Henry’s selfish desire for a good uninterrupted night’s sleep!” and, as Starkey says, “Refusing a wet-nurse would have been a characteristically unconventional gesture on Anne’s part” but he points out that this story is from a fictionalised account by Leti and is therefore without basis.

In Alison Sim’s “The Tudor Housewife”, she writes about a book on midwifery published in 1540, “The Byrth of Mankynd” by Richard Jonas (a translation of a book by Eucharius Rosslin):-

“It recommends that a woman should feed her own child, ‘for because that in the mothers bellye it was wonte to the same and feede with it’, but few wealthy mothers took his advice. They wanted to get pregnant as many times as possible and suckling their own child helped prevent this. It is no doubt because of this that the book goes into some detail on selecting a wet-nurse. The child was believed to develop some of the mother’s characteristics as it fed from her, so it was very important that the wet-nurse should have the right temperament.”

So, if there is any truth in Henry VIII not allowing Anne to breastfeed perhaps it is more to do with making sure that she can get pregnant again quickly, rather than inconvenience. It was Anne’s duty to get pregnant quickly and give him a son.

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 litle girl. In “Elizabeth’s Women”, Tracy Borman writes of how courtiers were often embarrassed by Anne’s displays of affection for her baby and that she loved to have Elizabeth next to her on a cushion, rather than shut away in a nursery. 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 be expected to visit her daughter very much but would be expected to get on with her queenly duties and leave Elizabeth’s upbringing to Lady Bryan and her staff.

Two years later, in January 1536, the two year old Elizabeth made an appearance at court. Henry VIII celebrated the death of Catherine of Aragon, his former wife, by proudly parading around court with his small daughter. We can only imagine how happy Anne must have felt to be able to spend time with her daughter, but her happiness was not to last long as she “miscarried of her saviour” (J E Neale) on the 29th January, the day of Catherine’s funeral. As her husband spent more time in the company of ladies like Jane Seymour, Borman writes of how Anne threw herself into being a good mother to Elizabeth, taking advantage of Elizabeth being a court by playing with her, dressing her up in the finest clothes and just simply spending time with her little girl after a long separation, delighting in her and loving her. With hindsight, we can see how precious they days were to both Anne and Elizabeth, as we know how the story so tragically ends. It is good that mother and daughter had this time of bonding and perhaps Elizabeth did have some hazy memories of that time.

Just three months later, we have the poignant scene of Anne, with little Elizabeth in her arms, pleading to Henry to listen to her:-

“Never shall I forget the sorrow I felt when I saw the most serene Queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a little baby, in her arms, and entreating the most serene King your father in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard when she brought you to him. I did not perfectly understand what had been going on, but the faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed the King was angry, although he could conceal his anger wonderfully well.” (Words of Alexander Aless to Elizabeth I, during her reign.)

Elizabeth I - Coronation Portrait

It is thought that Anne was trying to explain her argument with Henry Norris, to entreat Henry to listen to her and understand that she did no wrong. Whatever the truth of what this scene was about, Anne’s appeal to her husband was not successful and she was taken to the Tower just a few days later, never to see her husband or daughter again. Anne’s final speech at her execution showed no defiance, which would threaten the safety and wellbeing of her daughter, but instead showed the submissiveness which was expected of a convicted traitor. Anne’s last act as a mother was to bite her tongue, to accept her punishment and to protect her beloved daughter.

How I wish that the scene from “Anne of the Thousand Days” had really happened, the one where Henry visits Anne Boleyn in the Tower and where she yells at him:-

“But Elizabeth is yours. Watch her as she grows; she’s yours. She’s a Tudor! Get yourself a son off of that sweet, pale girl if you can – and hope that he will live! But Elizabeth shall reign after you! Yes, Elizabeth – child of Anne the wh*re and Henry the Blood-Stained Lecher – shall be Queen! And remember this: Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours! She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built! Yes – MY Elizabeth SHALL BE QUEEN! And my blood will have been well spent!”

Unfortunately, there is no record of Henry VIII visiting Anne Boleyn in the Tower and these words are completely fictional, but I love them anyway and perhaps we can say that Anne’s blood was well spent in that her daughter did become Queen, against all odds.

We don’t have enough evidence to give us a clear picture of what Anne was really like as a mother but she was unconventional in other aspects and was a fierce friend to those she loved, so I can imagine her wanting to buck royal convention, do things her way and be a loving, hands-on mother. What do you think?


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28 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn: The Mother”
  1. I think that Anne was a wonderful, attentive mother in the time she spent with her daughter. I also believe that Elizabeth had some memory of Anne however faint they might be and that she was well loved and adored by her. Such a shame that she never saw her daughter achieve the glory that she did.

  2. I’d love to think that Anne was as wonderful mother as far as she could have been.

    It would have been very hard for women in those days of the royal class to have to hand their baby over to its own household – Anne may have accepted it, but I believe she would have put up a pretty good fight before doing so.

  3. I like to think that Anne, like any mother, would have done anything to protect her child and this is why she was so restrained in her execution speech. Anne clearly loved Elizabeth and had she lived, I’m sure their relationship would have been as strong and loving as that of Katherine of Aragon and Mary.
    I’m pleased to see that the next ‘experience’ might take place in August because I’m a Headteacher and that would be during school holidays!

  4. We will never have enough evidence to find out whether Anne was a good mother or not. But I ask myself, every time, what defines a `good`mother. I am hundred per cent sure, call it a`mothers`or woman`intuition, that Anee, taking in respect the position she had to uphold, and the man she was married too,that she did all she could for her daughter Elizabeth and had the wonderful, passionate , protective instinct that comes automatically when one holds ones child in your arms. And Anne was a passionate, outspoken , courageous Queen anyway, so why would she have been any different as a woman and as a mother.

  5. I think you should get your hands on The Queen’s Governess by Karen Harper. It’s her newest work of historical fiction and tells the story of Kat Ashley and her relationship with Anne and Elizabeth. It’s not my favorite of Ms. Harper’s, but it was still a wonderful story.

  6. A lovely article. It is so sorry that Elizabeth never had the chance to meet Anne in person, because she was too young when Anne died. And it makes me smile to know,that she had a portrait of her mother in a ring =) It is so sad,that there’s the fact that Henry didn’t visit Elizabeths christianing(because she was not the son he wanted to have)which is very sad 🙁 But as you write, I think Anne and Elizabeth both had the last laugh.And England ,too! Indeed Elizabeth became the “son” Henry had prayed for all the time! Greetings from Germany ♥

  7. I have a question about “wet nurses”. Sorry if I offend anyone, but how do “wet nurses” produce breast milk if they were not pregnant themselves? I have wondered that since reading about this awhile ago.

    Too bad, it seems children must have had closer relationships with their caregivers than their own parents. People in the royal families really didn’t seem to understand the importance of love and nuturing of their children. It was all about succession and using them as pawns. Maybe that is why some of the parents could easily give up a child or let them die, because they really weren’t close to begin with. Distance seemed to be an asset for the parents, not many hurt feelings during tough times.

  8. Wet nurses are actually people who have had their own babies and then move from suckling their own babies to suckling other babies, this means that their milk supply doesn’t dry up. In “The Tudor Housewife”, Alison Sim says that in Tudor times it was believed that the child could develop some of the mother’s characteristics as it suckled from her so it was essential that Tudor parents found the right wet nurse, a woman with the right temperament. She also says:- “Rosslin also describes at some length how she should look, that the mother should ensure that the nurse’s ‘bulke and breste be of good largenesse’ and explains how to test her milk to see that it is suitable. Despite all these instructions the choice of nurse must have been fairly limited, as finding an available woman who had given birth fairly recently cannot have been easy, even in the sixteenth century.”
    So, not only did you have to find a woman who had recently given birth/was still producing milk, but she had to have the right breasts, the right quality milk and have the right temperament!

  9. That was a lovely article, really! I love the idea that Anne was inlove with Elizabeth, but everyone knows how small the chance must be, concidering her rank and the era. And, oh, I am dying ot get my hands on Karen Haper’s ‘The Queen’s Governess’! Please tell me if its any good!

  10. What a great article. It tickles me to no end that Anne Boleyn was eventually triumphant via Elizabeth. Also, thanks for the reference to Anne of the Thousand Days. That was my favorite scene in the film.

  11. I’m so glad that you all enjoyed the article, thanks for all the comments. “The Queen’s Governess” is very good and I did a review on it a few weeks ago (it was our January book of the month – see – and Karen Harper wrote a guest article over at The Elizabeth Files, see

  12. I loved this article! Given all that I’ve learned about Anne, I feel sure that she was a loving and devoted mother to Elizabeth. I agree that Anne’s motivation for her calm, reserved final words was probably the safety of her daughter. I personally have noticed that Elizabeth inherited many of her mother’s traits, and Anne couldn’t have had a better legacy.

  13. I have a gut feeling Anne was a very good mother and without a doubt was protecting her little girl Elizabeth which was the last thought she had before dying by the hand of the ax man.Her final speech could have a series of accusations,denial , and resent for the King. But instead she humbly relented to the King’s orders and showed nothing but utter respect, I know she was considering Elizabeth’s destiny with her last words. After all, a mother’s instinct to protect her young is the strongest instinct any human cannot surpass! With Anne’s strong personality,her strong will, and her unconventional attitudes I believe she had a maternal bond with Elizabeth “royalty” would of thought unqueenly !!

  14. I thing that Elizabeth was Anne’s justice
    I’m pretty sure Anne loved her daughter very much because she try
    to protect her till her death

  15. “In “Elizabeth’s Women”, Tracy Borman writes of how courtiers were often embarrassed by Anne’s displays of affection for her baby and that she loved to have Elizabeth next to her on a cushion, rather than shut away in a nursery.”

    Good for Anne! And the fact that Elizabeth had her mother’s portrait painted into a ring with her own (I believe) proves Elizabeth did love her mother and cherished her memory and knew she was innocent. And it also disproves the nonsense that she never spoke her mother’s name (Starkey). You can’t commission a ring without speaking the name of the people to be painted inside. Right?

  16. As endearing as Alexander Alesius clams are, I think we have to question the authenticity of it. It appears that Elizabeth was not at court in the days preceding Anne’s fall. Starkey, in his work on the young Elizabeth, dismissed the claim, noting that Elizabeth had already been sent back to her household. Jeri McIntosh in her work on Elizabeth’s pre-accession household also does not note that Elizabeth was at court at that time. It is probable that the last time Anne saw her daughter was immediately after Elizabeth’s time at court in Dec to Jan 1536. The infant appear to have gone back to her nursery sometime in late Jan/early Feb 1536. Ives does include the Alesius remarks in his work on Anne, though does not pause to examine the authenticity of them.

    Ironically, Elizabeth was primarily raised by her maternal kin; they held numerous offices within her household. Even Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Astley, was related to her (through marriage; she had married John Astley who was related to Anne Boleyn). An excellent table indicating such relations can be found in McIntosh’s study. There is also an interesting recent PhD thesis on Elizabeth’s Boleyn relations – namely her Carey cousins – during her reign. Clearly she recognised such connections and sought to preserve them (referring to many as her ‘kinsmen’).

  17. Great article! I also believe that Anne was a loving and protective mother. It’s the only way to explain her final speech, right? If it wasn’t for Elizabeth, I don’t think that Anne would have gone quietly. She would have made a fuss about the injustice!

  18. Excellect article! It’s too bad Anne didn’t have much time to be a mother. She sure did the best she could before her time was up. I think Jane Seymour would’ve been a good mother to Edward too, but she didn’t have a chance to be a mother at all! At least Anne had 2 1/2 years. A lot of mother didn’t even get that much time!

  19. Anne expressed her caring for Elizabeth by sending her lots of clothes and nursery items,clothes, many made by her own hands and lengths of fabrics. I think she genuinely loved her daughter but was given little time to show it, since she hardly ever had a chance to see her.

  20. i do think that AB was a wonderful mother at the time and did not care much for what other people thought of this, i base this opinion on the fact that AB was not conventional for this time as we see she did not manage the transgression from mistress to queen that she should and be a subdued wife so why would anyone think that AB was not at the head and heart of things when it came to making sure that her daughter would be loved and have the best up bringing that AB could have given her

  21. I agree with you about that scene from “Anne of a Thousand Days”. I too wish it were true. That would have been a great slap in the face to Henry indeed. And I can imagine Elizabeth was told many things about her mother as a child growing up. But as intelligent as she was as a child and as a teenager. I can image she formed her own opinion of her mother. Keeping her mother secretly in her heart.

  22. I think from what I read about Anne is that she was a very caring mother and truly loved her daughter more than anything and its so sad that Anne never got to see Elizabeth crowned as queen 🙁

  23. Ashley, yes, it’s sad she couldn’t be there with her child, but at least Elizabeth had by her side the cross which belonged to her mother, the one to which Anne used to pray =D

  24. Claire:
    I enjoyed the article. I have been a Tudor “addict” for 40 years now. Until I came across your website, I thought I knew just about (not everything) about the Tudors. The truth actually is is that I have found out how much I don’t know. I have always felt that Anne was innocent and the others who faced their deaths as well as the Queen. So much was taken from her, her brother, her daughter, her life. As a mother myself, I can see now why she was careful in choosing the words she choose during her speech at her execution. A mother’s protective instinct is hard to discount. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to protect my children even though they are now grown adults. The picture that is painted in this article reminds me of the pictures we have seen in more recent times. The images of Princess Diana and her children. You can not help but to see how much she loved them. She too, was very protective of her sons. Like Anne Boleyn, she was taken too soon from them in a very tragic way. My heart goes out to both of these women who were lost to their children much too soon. We can not forget also, how these children have lost a mother. So very tragic.

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