Another contemporary image of Anne Boleyn?
Posted By Claire on April 26, 2017
Thank you to art historian Roland Hui for letting me know about an article he has just written on his blog. The article is about an image in the Black Book of the Garter, a beautiful illumination of a queen consort presiding over a meeting of the Order of the Garter.
As Roland says, in his article, this book was created in 1534 and the queen consort in the image has “AR” on her pendant, Anna Regina. So, the 1534 medal is not the only surviving contemporary image of Anne!
Read more over at Roland’s blog – click here. Thank you, Roland, and what a find!
P.S. Roland is the author of The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens. Another book to add to your list!
40 thoughts on “Another contemporary image of Anne Boleyn?”
What an incredible find. As Roland notes, however, the image does portray Anne as rather bland. What I find most interesting is the depiction of her wearing an English gable hood. Anne is known to have worn this style of headdress on several important occasions in her life, most notably her execution.
It is a myth that Anne Boleyn introduced the French hood to England, and I also question whether she actually wore the French hood more often than the gable hood. The 1534 medal, a contemporary engraving, also depicts her wearing the gable hood. Roland’s discovery of this image, however, is most useful in reminding us of the high favour that Anne enjoyed. Even when the royal couple experienced setbacks, including the pregnancy disaster of 1534, they were still able to put on a united front.
Thank you Claire and Roland. Very interesting article, and a good find — it certainly seems as if this could be a depiction of Anne sitting as Queen. But, as you say, the face is decidedly nonspecific. So disappointing! What a gorgeous book though! (and isn’t it strange that the King’s visage is very recognizable?)
Last September, when I was on a mission to see if I could find anything at all referring to lost portraits of Anne, I was in the British Library and was granted an opportunity to study a fantastic, huge and stunning book called “Geneology of Queen Elizabeth”. It’s catalogue number is Kings MS 396. It was owned at one time by Elias Ashmole. I studied this book with James Peacock, of the Anne Boleyn Society – the book began with geneology earlier than William the Conqueror, and page after page was filled with the most incredibly detailed portraits of various ancestors of Queen Elizabeth’s. We couldn’t wait to get to the page depicting Elizabeth and her parents, thinking tha certainly there would be portraits of Henry and Anne. Bit SADLY – NO! on that page there was a portrait of Elizabeth, but nothing of Anne of Henry! It was a real let down, because there aren’t many other places where a portrait of Anne might just be tucked into something overlooked and it seemed that this would be one. Not to happen. Oh well… the hunt continues… Thanks again, Roland.
Equally disappointing is the family tree made for Edward VI, in the British Library as well:
The tree ends with Edward VI. Above him are Henry VIII, his six wives, and his 2 daughters. Interestingly enough, Henry Fitzroy appears as well (on the left next to Princess Mary). However, the likenesses are generalized and nondescript.
I’ve uploaded the image to:
Thanks for your comment Conor. : )
I think that we commonly associate Anne Boleyn with the rounded French hood because of the famous ‘B’ pendant portraits.
On more than one occasion, I’ve come across silly comments online where people insist that Anne NEVER wore a gabled English hood in her life. Obviously, they’ve never seen the 1534 medal.
I come across those all the time “Anne Boleyn wouldn’t be seen dead in a gable hood” etc. but, as we know, she went to her death wearing one and liked it enough to be depicted wearing one for the 1534 medal. I can imagine that she did wear the French hood regularly but she obviously didn’t dislike the gable hood. I also get the “Anne made long sleeves fashionable to hide her extra finger” type comment too….[sigh].
i also read that Jane Seymour forbade her ladies to wear French hoods but how do we know that is the truth? The French hood was more flattering than the gable hood which hid all the hair therefore I’m sure Jane would have been vain enough to have tried to make herself look prettier for the King.
Yes, as Queen, Jane Seymour did forbid her ladies to wear French clothes.
This is mentioned in the ‘Lisle Letters’ where one of the Lisle girls who traveled from Calais to serve Jane at the English court, was actually told to no longer wear her French outfits.
The picture is very similar to those of the Norman/ Plantagenet kings sitting on their throne with the orb and sceptre, there was no attempt at likeness as there was no need for any, this is very similar in its simplicity, its find is interesting however.
Roland, I think it is one of the many misconceptions about Henry’s wives. I read in one scholarly book – I cannot remember which one – that Jane Seymour owned French hoods. And yet we think of her as abhorring French dress, because it reminded her of Anne Boleyn. It just goes to show that what we think we know of the Tudors is often not correct. I also believe we must be so cautious when analysing portraiture and to refrain from falling into the trap of looking at a portrait and thinking, this is what this person really looked like. Of course, Holbein’s portraiture is stunningly realistic, but often seemingly simple details like one’s eye colour, hair colour, weight etc. remains open to debate.
I remember the controversy a few years ago when Susan Bordo suggested that Anne Boleyn had red or auburn hair, because in the cultural imagination she is often associated with brunette hair, even black hair. And yet the only evidence for Anne having black hair is hostile, perpetuated by Nicholas Sander. I think it entirely plausible that her hair was auburn or brown, rather than black.
That is a good point. A person can’t be judged by one portrait alone.
I will mention that art historian Bret Dolman made an interesting point. In an article about analyzing portraits of Henry VIII’s 6 wives, he mentions how if we were to look for a lost portrait of Anne of Cleves painted during her time in England, we would be looking for lady wearing English/French costume, rather than the Germanic styles as seen in the Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach pictures of her.
Anne’s native clothes were considered unattractive by the English, and after her arrival at Henry VIII’s court, she would have worn outfits more fashionable.
Thus, sometimes we must look beyond expectations.
What about Thomas Wyatt and ‘Brunet’?
The lady in the picture seems to look pregnant. I don’t know if I’m seeing things though!
Anne Boleyn is recorded to have been pregnant in 1534 so that would fit.
I thought the same thing! Her stomach is definitely rounded! Perhaps it was unintentional, but she looks very pregnant.
Iv only heard one reference to Anne being auburn which was by Susan Bordo but no one else has ever made such a remark, I doubt if she was auburn as everyone always commented on how dark she looked, when she was a young woman in France she was referred to as a brunette and she was described as having swarthy skin by a Venetian visitor to Henrys court, swarthy is in fact a shade of olive which only dark people possess anyway, and can tan easily, but her enemies would decry her appearance which is what Sander did when he called her sallow as if troubled with jaundice, where he got jaundice from il never know! He also said she had a projecting tooth but no one else ever made a comment about her teeth, the auburn/ red haired person has a very white skin shade, the most sensitive skin in the world which Henry and their daughter Elizabeth had, at Annes coronation one observer commented that she wore her long hair loose down her back, and in its darkness jewels glittered, she must have looked very striking, therefore I think we can safely say that she was an olive skinned woman with possibly very dark brown hair, (only our continental cousins have black hair) and in the dark it would have appeared black, it was also so long it was said to reach right to her knees and she could sit in it, heavens it must have taken ages to dry after washing!
Sophia Loren is an example of a olive-skinned woman who has auburn hair.
She is portrayed as having auburn hair in Elizabeth’s portrait ring. One presumes Bess would have wanted an accurate likeness as possible.
Anne also has reddish hair in the Hoskins miniature.
And her hair is auburn in the Holbein sketch labeled with her name. (And it is accepted by the Royal Collection as an authentic likeness of the queen.)
In short, there is more evidence for auburn hair than there is for dark hair.
But Sophia Loren is Italian and Anne was English, English people with red hair possess the lily white complexion that goes with it, however I accept that the above portraits and the Holbein sketch portray the queen as having auburn hair but could that be because dark hair was not fashionable at the time? Holbein was quite possibly just trying to make the queen look more fashionable, Anne Of Cleves was painted by Holbein who is known for his accurate portraits of the Tudor courtiers yet I believe he could have airbrushed his subject to make her look more desirable for the King, as when he saw her, he was repelled, the Hever portrait shows Anne with very dark hair and the Nat. Portrait one depicts her with chestnut hair, which was taken from an original so again perhaps she was depicted with lighter hair in accordance with the fashion of the time, when her daughter was born according to Ives everyone commented on how fair she was unlike her mother, she is also said to have had several brown moles on her body, again only dark skinned people have more moles on their body, I think maybe we should go on the descriptions of her by observers at the time who did see her and all of whom referred to her as being ‘dark ‘.
Christine, the National Portrait Gallery and Hever portraits were created later in Elizabeth’s reign, far later than the portrait ring or the Holbein sketch, likely by artists who’d never actually seen Anne Boleyn. The same thing happened to Princess Mary Tudor, who married Charles Brandon. She had the Tudor red hair and grey-blue eyes, but in her painting with Charles – completed after her death – she is given dark brown hair and dark eyes.
Anne’s skin is described as being dark or swarthy, but we have no contemporary written descriptions of her hair color. It sounds crazy, but the same is true for Jane Seymour. Red hair is actually somewhat likely for Anne Boleyn because it ran in the Howard family. If you look at portraits of the Howards, you frequently see red hair or red beards.The dark skin could have come from the Boleyn family; we don’t have a portrait of Thomas, so there’s no way of knowing his skin tone.
Holbein was accurate in his painting of Anna of Cleves – which is why Henry continued to give him commissions and never punished Holbein. Henry was “repelled” by her because of the traumatic way in which they were introduced, not because she looked worse than the Holbein painting depicted her.
Lissa, I agree. I think even if Anne Boleyn did not have auburn hair, her hair was probably medium brown. I do not think it was dark. Only Nicholas Sander suggests that it was, and this was in keeping with his portrayal of Anne as a sinister, sexually perverse witch. In the cultural imagination, witches are often depicted with black tresses.
Jane Seymour is often depicted as blonde but one historian recently suggested that she probably had brown hair, because both her brothers had brown hair. Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr both had auburn hair. Katherine Howard, we don’t know, because the alleged portraiture is suspect, but if the 1540 miniature is of her, then it seems that she too had auburn or light brown hair. Anne of Cleves was described by Edward Hall as having blonde hair, but queens were culturally associated with blonde hair – Margaret of Anjou was depicted in portraiture with blonde hair when it was reported that she was dark.
I have red hair, don’t have lily white skin and live in England. But then again I have Irish, Scots and French ancestors. I had blond hair as a child, my father had dark brown, which looked almost black and mum was always blond, but had reddish hue in it. I had grandparents with red hair on one side, the Irish and one dark, one light on the other. Anne’s hair looks reddish brown in many portraits, but we have to remember that none of them are authenticated. Anne also had Irish ancestors and her eyes were probably green or brown or hazel. Dark hair was sometimes associated with mystery or magic so maybe she was described as dark because of her mystery or because of later wrong accusations of witchcraft, for which we know she was never tried. In order to paint someone as devious or poor character some people say they are dark. Having dark hair is so vague. It can mean brown, black, dark red, brunette, a lot of things. The person describing her hair colour was also probably male with no idea how to describe a woman’s hair. When you have a blank canvas in these official looking ceremonial paintings with these white faces you can project almost anything onto them. It’s such a pity we really don’t know much about how Anne looked, but we can guess.
Oh dear, Anne looks quite plain. I wish there was a picture of her that showed her immense sexual attraction.
Anne as Philippa, Queen of Edward iii is interesting as it could show her as an interceding Queen, a patron of learning and taking full part in court ceremonial as consorts did. Edward iii was one of Henry’s heros, the gallant knight of the garter, the champion of the tournament, so Anne would naturally be his heroic consort. Although the painting is beautiful and illuminating colourful, the trend of the day of drawing people with plain white faces tends to unsex them and to allow for a variety of ideas to be projected on the sitters. The sitters are a blank canvas and they are disappointing as we cannot really tell who they are. I don’t believe Anne, if she is the sitter is deliberately produced to be plain, but convention had these ladies and gentlemen shown in a way which makes them appear above the average person in their abstract appearance. Anne was not a beauty, but here she is shown as plain to give an awe of majestic transcendence, being above those others present and a lady to be reverenced. Even though not a perfect depiction of Anne, if it is Anne, its rare and precious.
Lissa, Henry V111 would never have punished his court painter as he was an artist, not a politician, the man had skill something which Henry admired, we do not know if the reason Henry was repelled by Anne was because she did not recognise him when he arrived to greet her, it’s only conjecture, he loved a pretty woman and the embarrassing meeting he would have soon forgotten I’m sure when they were in bed together, a courtier who met Anne remarked he doubted the King would find her attractive and there is another painting which portrays her as being quite plain, she has a long angular face, long nose and pointed chin, however we will go back to her namesake the first Anne and I know the point your making about Mary Tudor, she had the same colouring as her brother with blue eyes but the later portrait of her shows her with darker colouring, ok if Annes Howard relatives did have auburn colouring she could well have inherited that maybe she had dark brown hair with red in it, or very dark auburn hair? As you mention there are no descriptions of her father and mother or portraits of them, and Mary Boleyns colouring is unknown also, however every historian apart from the writer Bordo has accepted she had dark hair along with the dark skin and eyes that generally go with it, and Ives who meticulously researched her life for many years mentioned this fact, he was such a master in his chosen field I am satisfied that his description of Anne is the right one.
Although Ives felt that the John Hoskins miniature “is the best depiction of Anne we are ever likely to have, failing the discovery of new material” and believed that it could have been based on “an ancient original”. The Hoskins one depicts Anne with chestnut hair. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-john-hoskins-miniature-of-anne-boleyn/ for more.
I think Anne could well have had red in her dark hair. My father had black hair and my mother had red hair, with the usual fair colouring, but I have dark brown hair which has a tendency to have red highlights in it in the summer. My skin is not pale and freckled like my mother, it is darker and I have moles. Perhaps Anne’s hair was like mine, dark with reddish tinges to it.
Hi Claire it could be as I have seen some women with dark brown hair with glints of red in it, and a darker skin tone, therefore as I said in my reply to Lissa, I do accept she could have had that colouring, however one writer said that the NPG picture shows her with lighter coloured hair in keeping with the fashion of the age, (as we all know blondes and fair skin were much admired) therefore the painter had given her a lighter shade of hair, it’s interesting to wonder what colour she did actually possess, writers of historical fiction have always depicted her as being this raven haired temptress, and historians such as Weir and Lofts and Neale among others have always stated she had very dark hair, which means dark brown but yes it could have been russet tinged which must have looked quite striking against her skin tone, incidentally my dad was olive skinned with hair so dark it appeared black, it turned ash grey as he aged but still retained its darkness round the nape of his neck, it was still dark when he died just a few months short of his 90th birthday, incidentally my sister and I are fair skinned blondes as our mum was fair with light brown hair, there is red in her dads side who was red haired and her mum was black haired, I actually have quite a bit of red in my hair, so it’s surprising what genes you inherit from both your parents, the Hoskins portrait I love because as you mention, Ives does state that is the closest we can get to the original Anne, in fact she looks spookily like her daughter in it, apart from the nose which she inherited from Henry V111.
It would be interesting to get an expert in genetics and recessive genes back in the 14 and 1500’s……is it possible that Henry a fair skinned redhead and Anne a (posssibly) olive skinned and jet black hair and eyes could produce a fair skinned redhead in their child Anne?
I have believed for some time that Anne was a dark chestnut haired woman with brown eyes. That contrast to the fair blondes alone would have caused observers to say that she was ‘dark’. I do think the Hoskins portrait and the portrait in the Elizabeth ring are very likely accurate portrayals of Anne and they both show auburn hair. Also, I believe that Anne, being the sportswoman she was with many an afternoon spent hunting on horseback with Henry, was probably tanned. Women who hunted like Anne did had virtually no protection for their faces and though it may not have been fashionable, Anne’s ability in the hunt field and hawking,at the shooting butts etc was attractive to Henry. I think she had what we might view as a golden tan much of the year. And in fact such coloring may have been very striking.
A tan always looks better than white skin, except on babies and young children, and the elderly too who tend to look like wrinkled prunes, in fact in Jane Austens Pride And Prejudice Mr. Darcy comments on Elizabeth Bennetts tan and states he finds it quite attractive, not in keeping with 18thc fashion, and Annes skin tone especially yes as you mention Sandi was possibly tanned due to the long time she spent outdoors, we know she looked exotic next to the English ladie’s and its this difference also that could have appealed to Henry, no matter what the fashion dictated at the time it’s what the eye finds appealing, Lucy Worsley on examining Jane Seymour’s portrait said that she actually had strawberry blonde hair as traces of it can be seen under her headdress, yet it is always believed that she had fair/ mousy hair, there is a locket containing a strand of Catherine Parrs hair which is very white blonde, a type of Scandinavian blonde which is rare in England, yet the painting of her after she married shows her with brown hair, it is certainly baffling!
According to Dr Clare Rider (Archivist and Chapter Librarian) at the College of St George, Windsor Castle, ‘The first of the Tudor Kings, Henry VII, was the last to act as patron to these Ladies, honouring his mother and two of his daughters with Garter robes.Sadly, the award of the status of Lady of the Garter lapsed under Henry VII’s successors, and was not to be revived until the early twentieth century.’
I have always doubted that the ring showed s picture of Anne and Elizabeth. When I saw it at close quarters I was struck by the likeness of BOTH portraits to Elizabeth herself: one in her youth (which is the one said to be Anne) and the other at the peak of her power as queen. I wonder whether perhaps she wore the ring to remind herself of the distance she had come from threatened girl to magnificent queen. However everyone seems to want to think it is her mother. I wondered if anyone knows where this assumption first came from and what justification it has? As far as Anne’s colouring is concerned, if her hair had been noticeably red or fair this is how she would have been described by contemporary writers. I can’t imagine that they would have deliberately falsified her hair colour for whatever motive. It doesn’t seem logical to me. I think it must have been very dark (with possible reddish highlights in sunshine) which were not noticeable as it would have been mostly hidden under a French hood. Not many people would have seen her full head of hair anyway so their observations would surely have been from the bits they could see showing ie at the front which looked dark brown or black in most lights.
Hi Daphne, the painting in the ring is generally assumed to be Elizabeths mother Anne Boleyn as the sitter closely resembles the portrait at Nidd Hall, for instance she wears the same gable hood which was fashionable in Anne’s day, the features are very alike and I doubt Elizabeth would have two pictures of herself in the same ring, facially Elizabeth took after her mother, they had the same shaped face, small mouth and huge dark eyes, in looks she only resembled her father in colouring and had inherited his long hooked nose, she is said to have had the ring with the portraits commissioned during the middle half of her reign and most historians are satisfied it was a poignant gesture to her mother.
Hi Christine I take your point in some respects but it is a French hood on the ring and also a French hood that Anne wore. The portrait on the ring reminds me of the painting of Elizabeth as a young girl, also wearing a French hood and exhibiting the same centre parting and her red hair showing; the ring seems to show the younger woman having red or bright blonde hair which fits more Elizabeth than Anne. I agree it seems a bit weird that Elizabeth would wear two portraits of herself but she was vain and as I said before it may have been her way of reminding herself how she had overcome the terrors of her youth and transited into the great queen she became. It would be nice to think she kept a picture of her mother and of course historians may well be correct but there has to be an element of doubt as none of us really know the truth. I wish we did! I think half the fun is trying to work these things out and not always going with the accepted but Unauthenticated route. It must be the amateur detective in me!
Hi Daphne I stand corrected it is a French hood the lady’s wearing, I was confusing it with the medal which shows Anne wearing the same gable hood as the Nidd hall portrait, iv just studied the ring and yes she does appear to have blonde hair, but maybe the pigment in the paint has discoloured down the years, Anne has never been painted with light coloured hair, we all know she wasn’t a blondie! Maybe as you say it could be Elizabeth when she was young but if it was for that purpose, she had many other portraits to look at, for example her coronation portrait and the one where she was a teenager of thirteen, I like to think it’s Anne for sentimental reasons, she was never heard to utter her name in public and we have no idea how she felt about her, we have no idea if she believed her to be guilty of the crimes she was condemned for and she never moved her body from her traitors grave, therefore i think it’s nice to assume she did respect the mother who she owed her very existence to and although she was silent on the subject, if it is indeed Anne in the ring which she never took of it also speaks volumes of the love she must have had for her.
Here’s my take on the locket ring:
Hi Roland I have read your wonderful post thank you and I am now satisfied that the sitter is indeed Anne Boleyn.
Sorry missed a bit. As portraits are inevitably very ancient and some discoloured I don’t think we can judge actual colour in great detail especially where blonde hair is concerned as paint fades or gets grubby. The term strawberry blonde probably didn’t exist in Tudor times so you were either fair, blonde, red headed or brunette when described. In many paintings Henry’s eyes appear dark but in others are clearly blue. It depends on which painting you study and decide to believe where colouring is concerned perhaps.
Christine yes it was the painting of Elizabeth at 13 that I felt resembled the ring portrait. You may well be right about the colouring wearing out. It’s been a fair old time since it was made! I liked Roland’s article and can identify with his and your reasoning but I still confess to a small niggle of doubt.. Possibly this is me being an old cynic but if my father had authorised the execution of my mother and she had been accused of all manner of nasties I don’t think I’d have wanted to immortalise her in a piece of jewellery. Especially not if I idolised my father as Elizabeth did. Having said that I agree it would be rather sweet if it was Anne Boleyn. Unless some reference is turned up to confirm that this is so I don’t suppose we can ever be 100% sure. It has to just be a matter of opinion or conjecture. I’ve been reading a book about great ladies of the Tudor court which seems to indicate that Elizabeth surrounded herself with her Boleyn blood relations and that some memorabilia of Anne’s was cherished by them including her comb. If this is a fact rather than wishful thinking, then your take on the ring does indeed hold water. I do wish we could find some record of who made it and when and what their brief was in its construction!!!!
It would be exciting Daphne.
A wonderful and well-researched article, Roland! It is a pity the sitter’s features are indistinct although there is a suggestion that she is indeed pregnant.
Not long ago and for the first time I saw the Jacobus Houbraken etching of Anne Boleyn (1738) said to be possibly done after a lost Holbein portrait. Immediately she looked familiar to me and sure enough I found the same face in the Holbein sketch at the British Museum identified as Anne Bullen. Neither may be the true visage of Anne Boleyn, but in my eyes they are one and the same. Someone said the Holbein sketch I refer to is too young a woman to be Anne, so I mentioned that I believe her birth year to be 1507.