Beauty or Beast – Part 1
Posted By Claire on February 26, 2009
“What did Anne Boleyn look like?” is a question that has been debated for centuries.
There is a shortage of portraits or likenesses of Anne, probably because they were destroyed by her enemies, so we have to rely on what’s left and on historical descriptions of her appearance, but what do we believe?
Some quotations point at her being a deformed “monster”, others talk of her being beautiful – she couldn’t be both!
Was Anne Boleyn a beauty or a beast?
Anne Boleyn – the Monster
Many would have us believe that Anne Boleyn was a monster or beast who somehow managed to bewitch Henry VIII. Let’s look at some descriptions:-
“Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth.” Nicholas Sander “The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism”.
How could Anne be both deformed and be “handsome to look at”? How could she have a protruding tooth and have a “pretty mouth”? Strange and unlikely!
An observer at Anne’s coronation reported that she was disfigured by a wart and that she seemed to be suffering from goitre, which she attempted to disguise with a high collar or ruff.
Francesco Sanuto, the Venetian diplomat, said of Anne:-
“Not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, a bosom not much raised and eyes which are black and beautiful.”
I think we can safely say that Anne Boleyn was not ugly or deformed and that history has been twisted by her enemies.
Ugly? Not Likely!
A deformed girl or woman would have been hidden by her family, not sent to the French and English Courts. If Anne’s looks had been marred by goitre, a wart and an extra finger, she would not have served the Queen of France or Catherine of Aragon, she would never have played instruments in company and would certainly not have taken part in court Masques. We can also be sure that an ugly Anne Boleyn would never have caught the eye of Henry VIII! Henry pursued her for many years, sending her love letter after love letter, so she couldn’t have been a monster.
It may be that Anne Boleyn did have some minor defect to one hand. George Wyatt, who knew Anne well, wrote:-
“there was found, indeed, upon the side of her nail, upon one of her fingers, some little show of a nail, which yet was so small, by the report of those that have seen her, as the work master seemed to leave it an occasion of greater grace to her hand, which, with the tip of one of her other fingers might be, and was usually by her hidden without any blemish to it. Likewise there were said to be upon some parts of her body certain small moles incident to the clearest complexions.” George Wyatt in “The Life of Queen Anne Boleigne, quoted from “The Life of Cardinal Wolsey” by George Cavendish.
However, the defect sounds small and insignificant, and was obviously not noticed when Anne played the lute and other instruments.
In my next post, I will be looking at sources, quotes and other evidence that contradict the Anne as a monster myth.