I’ve just published my latest “Questions about Anne Boleyn” video over on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society YouTube channel. It’s a topic that I’ve handled before, here on the Anne Boleyn Files website, but I just had to talk about it again after receiving that message.

In the video, I answer the question “What was Anne Boleyn’s real name?” by looking at how her surname was spelled in the primary sources, such as letters and documents, as well as how Anne signed her name and how it appeared on family brass memorials, and taking into account Tudor spelling, or lack of it! Tudor spellings do make me chuckle!

I also considers the myth that the Boleyns changed the spelling of their name.

Do check out the other videos in the Questions about Anne Boleyn series too – just click here to have a browse.

Links for further reading and viewing:

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28 thoughts on “Boleyn or Bullen – What was Anne Boleyn’s real name?”
  1. Your question as to whether or not Anne Boleyn was a home wrecker —- I used to think she was but as I have matured and learned more about Royal dynasties , I think Anne was a pawn of her ambitious family.who used her to gain favoritism with Henry’s court. She and her brother definitely got the shaft in that kangaroo court . Basically she was murdered by Henry’s insatiable ego. I’m grateful I’m living in modern times when women are protected against abusive men. It must’ve been frightening for a women who took a misstep in her behavior..

    1. Hi Honey, yes indeed Anne was not a home wrecker and she and Henry were both responsible for their relationship and marriage, but we have some tentative evidence that Henry was looking for an annulment before he fancied Anne. He had already questioned his marriage to Katherine, privately, although it didn’t stay quiet for long. The Secret Matter was soon the Great Matter and was common knowledge in a very short time. Once Henry and Anne developed a relationship, they were soon applying for a case for them to be able to marry. However, the evidence shows that the Boleyn family didn’t use either of their daughters as pawns and they didn’t use them out of ambition to gain favour at Court. Thomas and Elizabeth were rising stars at Court while their children were tiny. They were successful before Henry Viii even came to the throne. Thomas was a man who had diplomatic and language skills and was a good administrative expert. The young Henry Viii prompted him because of those skills. I would recommend the book by Lauren Mackey on Thomas and George Boleyn and the videos on here on Thomas and Elizabeth. Thomas gained favour through his service on a diplomatic mission which lasted more than a year in the Netherlands, which resulted in Anne’s appointment at the Court of Margaret of Austria and then in France, where Thomas B served as well. Of course the family were ambitious and rose as Anne rose, but Henry noticed her by himself: she wasn’t pushed towards him by her father or uncle. Anne was sophisticated and well educated and knew her own mind, she was ambitious and had much in common with the King. She refused to be his mistress, so if she was a pawn she would have been forced to sleep with the King, but she wasn’t and their relationship became a passionate love affair. Yes, the Boleyn family gained very much from their daughter being the favourite of King Henry, but then so did the Seymour family and the Howards and Parr family, when Henry married their female members. Thomas Boleyn was successful before the relationship between Anne and Henry or his daughter Mary’s marriage to his cousin, William Carey, being made Controller of the King’s Household, among other things. He gained more prestigious titles afterwards, like a peerage and the title Lord Privy Seal, losing the latter after Anne and George were executed, but that was normal at Court. He was a talented man and there is also evidence that he didn’t entirely agree with Anne’s marriage to the King.

      Yes, Anne was most definitely a victim of Henry’s ego and growing paranoia and the charges against her and George and the others were unjust and false. It is indeed good to be a woman in a time when we don’t have to worry about breathing in the wrong way or our behaviour will be judged to be contrary to the law or nature. At the end of the day, Anne was cast aside as Henry was fed up with certain aspects of her character and because it was her primary duty to give him a male heir and as the woman she was judged to have failed in that. Henry had given himself too much power and could no longer take any opposition and everything which Anne had pleased Henry with, her fun side, her intelligence was turned against her at what was certainly a kangaroo court.

  2. Firstly I would like to say it’s a very real pity we have such rude comments from some people on this site, luckily it’s quite a rarity but the person who did not have the guts to sign their name thinks it’s quite acceptable to post rude insulting remarks, the spelling also was atrocious and appears to have been written by a minor, no punctuation no use of Capital letters and in fact I spelt better than that when I was nine, as I’m sure many other people did as well, if that person or persons is reading this I would like to say this to them, your comments are pure drivel, as Claire rightly informed you, she has never accused Anne of being a home wrecker, note the w not the r? And then you tell her to get her storytelling right, Claire is not a storyteller she is an author of historical works she is an historian, she has also been a teacher and is well respected by everyone on this sight and many many other historical authors as well, her fountain of knowledge is vast and far superior to yours, therefore your comments are plainly just laughable, people on here seeing your message will merely treat them with the contempt they deserve, I suggest you learn how to spell the Queens English properly before you post again, and if and when you do post, please do not be so rude it merely exposes your ignorance and lack of knowledge and intelligence. Now back to the video, it was very interesting, I have seen the different spelling people used and it is baffling why they could not just use one form like we do today, on referring to the monarch I have seen king spelt Kyng sometimes and thought it looked quite quaint, as to the spelling of Anne Boleyns name, when I was younger in the first biographies I bought of Anne her name was spelt Boleyn, which is the standardised spelling used today, but in old despatches I noticed she was called Anne Bullen and I thought was that the correct way, also when you say Bullen it sounds different like its spoken of as Bu – llen, in her letter to her father from the French court she signed her name Anna de Bouillan which I find enchanting, the French twist romanticises her name, but she did write her name as Boleyn and this is why the letter she is said to have written to the King from the Tower, when she was imprisoned there makes me feel it was not genuine as she signed her name Anne Bullen, unless it was dictated, in my own family research there were several family pedigrees drawn up in the 16thc and some of the members surnames were spelt differently to the others who had the same name, so yes we can see that people just wrote how they wanted to, also there was an interesting article done I think last year about how the people spoke English in Elizabethan days, it was an article on Shakespeare and the Globe theatre and it was suggested that the Elizabethans pronounced words differently to how we do today, so we can assume therefore that in Tudor times and the medieval period English was spoken differently, I recall seeing a video of a man speaking and his speech was baffling to me, I think if we were to take a trip back into the past we would be at a loss how to understand the citizens of that era, Claire mentions the Boleyns could have descended from the Counts of Boulogne, well they could have, the English surname Clarke is said to have derived from Clare and then from De Clare, the wealthy Norman family, most English families are descended from the Normans and their allies who took part in the 1066 invasion, Anne declared she was a descendant of the French counts something her aunt, the Duchess of Norfolk scoffed at, but in fact it was not uncommon for a new family at court to give themselves an ancestor of some note, as the older nobler families sneered at their lack of noble lineage, Annes maternal ancestry was something she took pride in but maybe the Boleyns felt they needed someone higher up they could call their own, Boleyn does sound French and Bullen does sound English, it’s very interesting to but I think that surname is quite rare today, however it’s spelt I have only known one person called Bullen who was an author in a woman’s magazine years ago, I have certainly never heard of another person called Boleyn, maybe that form of spelling died out in England?

    1. Doesn’t the angry troll realise that this excellent site is dedicated to doing anything but bringing down a great family and is trying to dispel the myths about Anne Boleyn and her family? Anyone coming to this site for the first time will very shortly find it is balanced and well researched and gives a good idea about the truth behind Anne Boleyn and their families and will find that the outrage of this rude person is unjustified. On the contrary, Claire and guests give a very positive view of Anne and look carefully at the evidence. Far from bringing down the good name of this ancient family, this site does everything it can to put them in a proper historical light and present them fairly.

  3. it’s interesting that Claire mentions how ‘Boleyn’ is pronounced with a soft ‘uh’ in the first syllable among British speakers.

    Here, across the pond, we generally pronounce it with a strong long ‘o’ sound.So it rhymes with the word ‘go’ for example.

    Just to add more confusion, when the play ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ came out on in New York City in 1948, the play program advised the audience that the proper pronunciation was to rhyme ‘Boleyn’ with the word ‘swollen’. So it sounds like ‘Bullen’.

  4. History = change through time and thus even names must evolve with the ever so slow passage of our linguistic history. Most of us already know that the surname of our national poet, Shakespeare, had no single form of spelling, whether written or printed, during his lifetime .. probably into the 19th or 20th centuries. One name, however, which transitioned from the Welsh, seems to have held true and that was ‘Tudor” from the time of Edmund, son of Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr. So perhaps it helps stabilise a name when it becomes royal?

  5. Spelling back in the day wasn’t standard and every name was spent several ways, even in the same sentence. However, I do believe the Boleyn form appears more times from the 1520s onwards and the family are gentrified in accordance with their rising status. Let’s face it Anne Bullen sounds common, but Anne Boleyn sounds more middle class which is what the family were now, minor nobility. They had the status and wealth of a knight and gentleman and the right to flaunt it. The spelling does appear to settle down during their rise to power. Our own name has changed and is still pronounced incorrectly and spelling depends on the English version, who can’t pronounce anything or the Scottish or Irish version. For example Mahone, McMahon, MacMahon, Macmahan, M’cMarhon, MacMahon, MCMahon, MacManahon or various other pronouncements. McMahon or MacMahon are the only correct ones. Simply son of Mahon. Boleyn and Bullen are simply the same name with various spellings being used over time and with a French invention as well as Anne signed herself “Anna de Boulaine” or something like that. And good on them because we have all poshed ourselves up a bit, not that the family needed poshing up because Anne would not be in France had her father not been in the position of special envoy and a knight and in favour with the King. The Archduchess and French Queen didn’t take Jo Blogs from the farm or factory, but the educated sons and daughters of the gentry and nobility who had connections at Court or in the law, so obviously the Boleyn family qualified on all the requirements.

  6. First my thanks to Samuel Johnson for making our lives so much easier.
    Second Ariadne was complaining because she couldn’t believe you were making a video without a cat in it.

    Very interesting. Many of those spellings I’ve seen and others I had not. I agree with you Claire, reading contemporary documents in original vernacular is a challenge. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If I read at normal speed I’m less apt to get hung up. I must say though that I have certainly learned to spell words that I didn’t know could he spelled that way.

  7. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Ariadne, and what an enchanting and unusual name, – Ariadne was the unfortunate daughter of King Minos of Crete who was used and deserted by Theseus.

  8. Are we time travelling today, then, Christine? Give my regards to Ariadne and King Minos and if you see the guys from Atlantis tell them they still owe me £100. Don’t do any bull leaping, they look very dangerous beasties lol.

      1. I love that tale, especially the ending, lots of tragedy and broken hearts and death and life lessons. Jason is my favourite tale but I love most of them, the fantastic beasties and goddesses and warriors, golden fleeces, family weird dynamics and the great adventures and quests. Troy being a real place makes it even better. I have been to the site many years ago and to the tomb of Agamemnon and his successors and the museums were their death masks are. I would love to travel to Georgia some day to visit the place were the Argos would have sailed to. Ships actually did go there from Greece in the fourteenth century B.C, the time period the tales are set. Ram fleeces were cured with special oils and in the morning dew hung out as offerings and shone in the sunlight, so people thought they were magic and the priests of Hekate convinced traders that they had special powers and would turn golden so they could sell them at a premium. One of the best O Levels I took was Classical Studies, absolutely loved it and learned some Latin and Greek along the way. Went on to do it at A level. Well you have to study one thing for fun. Did you ever watch Atlantis the BBC series? I loved it.

        1. I wished I had taken classic studies whilst at school, I came upon the Greek myths by chance many years ago when I was sifting through my dads old Westminster encyclopaedia and found these wonderful stories of gods and monsters, handsome heroes and beautiful maidens and some not very nice ones, I was hooked no I didn’t see the Atlantis series but if it comes around again I will, I loved the series Troy Fall Of A City which was on last year, and my fave movie when I was a kid was Jason And The Argonauts, I am the only one in my family that is fascinated by the Greek myths, they don’t understand it, but yes Troy stood where the Dardanelles are now in Turkey and there is evidence that it did fall, how fascinating that you have been to the tomb of Agamemnon I’m envious!

        2. Hi Christine, there is evidence that nine cities stood on the site, the Troy of legend and the war being about the fifth and largest site. The people who followed were the subjects of the Hittites to whom they paid tribute and may have asked for military aid from them. The war with the Greeks lasted about ten years or more and Mike Loades has demonstrated the weapons they had based on archaeological finds on the plains in front of the city. You may have seen him on TV, he is an expert with ancient weaponry.

          There are also similarities between the Hittite cities and Troy, as well as Mycene, the Lion Gates are not just the same period, but the same style. The casement walls are the same, as are the religious buildings and tunnels. The Hittite laws are a great read and give a comprehensive insight into their everyday lives. Their language has the same roots as English, as does Persian (Iran), which takes us back to what is now Russia. The island of Santorini is meant to be what caused much destruction to the civilization of Midas and his people and caused problems as far as Egypt when its volcanoes erupted. The architecture around the Aegean and Mediterranean at this time is remarkably similar and goes to show it’s not just conquest but a general exchange of influence and ideas which spread cultural art forms. The Greek myths all have a degree of historical truth within them and the art of storytelling conveys that truth in their literature. When you think about it, it’s a very clever way to preserve the past, even during a cultural dark age. It’s even more amazing when you think that for hundreds of years before they wrote things down these marvellous cultures preserved memory and history in the oral tradition. People taught the young word for word, generation after generation, and kept the stories of their ancestors alive. I can’t recall what I was told earlier today, let alone the entire history of my race! It was an amazing achievement and the books we now have those fascinating tales in are beautifully illustrated. The wall paintings on the Temples are in vivid colours. You can still see drawings of bull leaping and women with fabulous hair styles and jewellery and athletes competing. I just love the past.

        3. What has always fascinated me is how Aenas Prince of Troy, after the fall was told in a dream by Athena to travel west beyond the land of Gaul( France) and build a city which will be hit by fire thrice, that city was London and of course she did suffer the devastation of fire, once when Boudicea ransacked the city with her tribes and then in 1666 in the great fire, and the third is attributed to the blitz in the Second World War, I find that tale absolutely fascinating because it means that dear old London Town has links with the fabled city of Troy, I am sure I read once that some old pots and urns were found in the Thames which came from Asia Minor it is certainly fascinating.

        4. I also love the tale of Pantheon son of Helios the son God, and how he begged his father to let him drive the chariot of the sun across the heavens, it ended in disaster with the foolish youth being too young and inexperienced to control the unruly horses, he found it frightening having to avoid the figures of the zodiac and he burnt the earth as he was too close to the ground, and Mother Earth cried out in despair to Zeus who fired a thunderbolt at him, some nymphs found his body and buried him, a sad tragic story there is a sonnet which goes something like this, ‘here lies Pantheon, he could not drive his father’s chariot of fire, yet whas it such so nobly to aspire’ , it has a moral undertone to it as well, as it was saying do not run before you can walk!

        5. I watch a series called Blowing Up History on Yesterday (recorded overnight as on at 5a.m) which literally takes historic places apart digitally and looking at them as archaeological people examine the site. On one last week they went to Knossos the heart of the Minoen civilization and the site of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. Under the palace complex is a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors and dead ends and you could easily get lost. There are sacred symbols all over the walls and alters to the bull, on which the Minstaur was based, representing Poseidon the god they worshiped. The complex is far more extensive than has ever been believed before and it is now accepted that the Minoens ruled and traded with a vast Aegean and Mediterranean culture. The King is believed to have been a spiritual leader rather than a warlord and the paintings of their women show highly successful and sophisticated ladies of power and wealth. The culture of Mycene is similar in some ways, although their gates represent the lions of the Hittite cultivation but later cultivation in Knossos and Crete and the islands around show that the Mycenaeans took over and probably destroyed them, replacing their own ways with what we would now generally call Greek culture. The programme also showed small statues and pictures of sea creatures that are much later than the volcanic explosions which destroyed Santorini and parts of Crete, which was actually damaged by a tsunami and so they didn’t think the bull would protect them anymore. Sadly in excavations over the years skulls and bones proving humans were also sent to pacify the gods around the time of these earthquakes and the tsunami. The Greeks are known for human sacrifice, the Minoens are not, its a myth, but like all people when things got desperate, the ultimate blood sacrifice, that of a young man or a girl was offered as the only pure sacrifice the gods would accept. We have to remember these were high and very sophisticated societies on the verge of collapse and in real danger: they didn’t know you can’t stop a volcano or what it was. They reacted to terrible, frightening situations in the only way they knew how and when the mountain goes quiet again, as it will for a time, it must have seemed that the offering was accepted, until a combination of human and natural threats become so destructive that the only thing left is to run away, which in the end is what the survivors did, taking their civilisation with them and leaving us their stories in stone and paint and in the famous memory of the later Greek classical tale of Atlantis.

  9. You know Christine, I used to think that our BQ is a history buff. Today I think it is more serious than that. She’s a paleophile, pure and simple. Like Claire.

    1. Just come back from a party and iv sore feet! Yes Bq freely admits that she has other interests, football and cricket, now I know she’s a lover like me of the Greek myths – fascinating.

      1. Hi Christine, yes the modern moral of the tale of Pantheon is don’t give your kids the keys to your car, or anyone under 25 who is an inexperienced driver lol.

        My current obsession is the Knights Templars, brought back to life by Knightfall on history, set against their order in France after the fall of acre at the end of the last Crusade and their fatal run in with King Philip the Fair who had them all tortured and many of them burned or imprisoned from 1307 to 1310, in the biggest miscarriage of civil and religious justice in history. The reasons behind the assault on the Paris Temple and the rest of the Templars in France and later elsewhere ranging from greed, bankruptcy, personal vengeance and genuine accusations of heresy but the truth was Philip needed money and guess where he got it? From the Templars who were bankers and he couldn’t pay so hence his ridiculous assault on the Templars and the Inquisition took on a life of its own. The Templars kept many of their rites a secret, although they had a written rule the same as every order and that made them an easy target for the ridiculous accusations against them or which they were forced to confess under torture. A number also escaped and later gave dispositions to the Papal Commission in defence of the order. The Chinon Documents released by the Vatican in 2007 also showed the Templars being absolved in 1308 and many exonerated and allowed the Sacraments. The order was still suppressed and the last grandmaster burned by the King in 1314, although Jacques de Morley cursed him and the Pope before his death. The Templars ever since have been the subject of every conspiracy theory going and ten thousand books and documentaries. The most enduring legends associated with them are the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Jesus and the Templars in America are the usual subjects covered, but they probably didn’t have anything to do with either relic. It isn’t impossible that the descendants of some knights who left the order went to America and some very odd symbols have been found scattered across early sites but it’s doubtful the order itself continued in America. Survivors went to Portugal and Spain were the order remained for two more decades and we now know, that suppression aside in England that Templars continued in small groups in Scotland and Ireland and Germany. Roslyn Chapel, although it doesn’t have secret symbols as is often claimed, but typical Medieval decorations, was founded by a Templar and the current family who own the land and the Chapel are his descendants. A few typical authentic Templar symbols have been incorporated in the stone work.

        In Knightfall the order are shown in a very positive and sympathetic light and are the heroes, popular and although they are associated with the Holy Grail, the assault by Philip iv called the Fair is due to personal reasons and the entire case against them invented. Landry the hero falls in love with Queen Joan of Navarre, his King’s wife and fathers her child. Philip finds out and kills the heavily pregnant Joan, whose child is born from a caecarean after her death. Landry takes the child and is expelled from the order. This lays the foundations for King Philip taking revenge on the order with the Inquisition which followed. A number of facts are true and so are a number of characters, Princess Isabella the Fair, William de Nogaret for example and Queen Joan did die in mysterious circumstances, but many have been invented for the story, which it states at the start of each episode. The series has given rise to a flourish in new Templar series and literature and several books have been republished. I was always interested in this and now my interest has been rekindled. I am a little obsessed and enjoying every moment.

        1. Every now and then I get obsessed with a different era of history, it could be the medieval period, or the Anglo Saxon period, or the Tudors or the court of Charles 11, whatever takes my fancy, I could be reading about an historical figure from any of those periods and then my interest in that period gets me hooked.

  10. Hi Christine. On archive.org I found a book you may be interested in (free of course) ” William Marshal The Knight Who Saved England (The French Invasion, 1217) by Richard Brooks published 2014. I just started it so no opinion yet.

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