A facial reconstruction of Anne Boleyn? No!

Posted By on June 7, 2016

Anne Boleyn by Emily PooleyI’m not sure how it started, but a photo of a wax model of Queen Anne Boleyn keeps being shared in social media as a facial reconstruction of Anne Boleyn, done from her skull. I keep commenting to correct this, but it doesn’t seem to change anything, so I thought I’d write this post. Please share this article and please do correct those posting about it being a facial reconstruction – thank you!

What is a facial reconstruction?

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website explains what a forensic facial reconstruction is:
“In facial reconstruction, a sculptor […] familiar with facial anatomy works with a forensic anthropologist, to interpret skeletal features that reveal the subject’s age, sex, and ancestry, and anatomical features like facial asymmetry, evidence of injuries (like a broken nose), or loss of teeth before death.” The article explains that there are five main steps:

  1. Markers are used to “indicate the depths of tissue to be added to the skull [or cast].”
  2. The artist applies strips of clay, building layers to the depth shown by the markers.
  3. Features are refined around the eyes, which are, of course, artificial.
  4. The lips are shaped.
  5. Following a smoothing of the facial contours, subtle details are added “to personalize the reconstruction”.

It is a fascinating process and is done from skeletal remains.

So, was the waxwork done in this way? No!

The origins of the wax model

Emily Pooley, a special effects artist, made a waxwork of Anne Boleyn back in 2011. In an email to me in June 2011, about her waxwork being on display at Wimbledon University of Art, she wrote: “My Anne Boleyn figure is set at the time when Anne receives another love letter for Henry that confirms his burning desire for her, determination to have her and the turning point in Anne’s life which lead to her downfall… and if you look hard enough, you will see her alleged 6th finger upon her hand which holds a real Tudor rose!” When I commented on the extra finger, she explained that “the extra finger is there to symbolise the negative propaganda that was circulated about Anne by her Catholic enemies shortly after her death as part of the ‘monster legend.’.. however, from my research I have found that this is the only inpediment [sic] that seems to have any authenticity as it was described by a friend of hers in quite a complimentary manner. It is also the only representation of her with the added finger that I have come across other than Charlotte Rampling’s portrayal in the film Henry VIII & his Six Wives (1972).”

No mention of Emily digging up Anne’s skull from its resting place at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula then!

Emily’s model was later put on display at Hever Castle as part of their “A Royal Romance” exhibition, and Emily was interviewed by Natalie Grueninger of the On the Tudor Trail blog. Natalie asked Emily about the process of making such a waxwork and Emily explained that she based her Anne Boleyn on the Holbein sketch and then chose a university friend who “looked remarkably similar to Holbein’s sketch” to act as a model. She went on to explain that she took lots of photos “360 degrees around the model” and also took measurements of her friend’s face and head with calipers before starting work on the waxwork. We can safely say that Emily’s Anne Boleyn is a reconstruction of her friend’s face, a young woman who Emily thought looked like the Holbein sketch. It’s a creative work, not a reconstruction of a skull.

Sketches by Holbein of an unknown woman some believe to be Anne Boleyn*

Sketches by Holbein of an unknown woman some believe to be Anne Boleyn*

Anne Boleyn’s Remains

The skeletal remains of a woman thought to be Anne Boleyn were exhumed during restoration work on the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in 1876 and 1877. The remains were found in the spot recorded as being the resting place of Anne Boleyn, and they were examined by Dr Frederick J Mouat (professor of medicine) before being reinterred. Dr Mouat’s findings were carefully recorded and a report made for Queen Victoria on the whole restoration project by Doyne C Bell, Secretary to Her Majesty’s Privy Purse, in the 1877 book Notices of the Historic Persons Buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, With an Account of the Discovery of the Supposed Remains of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn’s skull was reinterred with her body, and no cast was taken of it.

I have a copy of this book, and I’ve written two articles on the exhumations, which you may find interesting:

I’ve also received a few messages recently about an image that is claiming to be Anne Boleyn’s death mask. I haven’t seen the image, but it is definitely a hoax as we know from contemporary sources that Anne’s head and body were taken to the chapel on the day of her execution and buried. There is no evidence whatsoever that a death mask was made. See Anne Boleyn’s head was not put on a spike for the primary sources regarding her burial.

You can read Natalie’s interview with Emily at http://onthetudortrail.com/ and see photos of the waxwork on Emily’s website at http://www.emilypooley.co.uk/anne-boleyn/

The Smithsonian article on facial reconstruction can be found at http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone/facial_reconstruction.html

*One of the sketches is labelled “Anna Bollein Queen” but this label was added later, by Sir John Cheke in the reign of Edward VI. Art historian Bendor Grosvenor believes that the sketch on the right is indeed Anne Boleyn and you can read how he came to this conclusion in his article Anne Boleyn regains her head.

38 thoughts on “A facial reconstruction of Anne Boleyn? No!”

  1. CatalinadeAragon says:

    Hi Claire

    do you know of any reconstruction that may resemble the six wives?
    I would love to see them (or more or less how they looked when they were alive)-

    This face of this figure reminds me of an actress or somebody I cannot quite name….

    1. kloe says:

      Kind of remind me Carice Van Houten!

      1. Christina says:

        Me too – just what I thought!

    2. Colleen says:

      Madame Tussaud’s in London had an exhibit of the wives at one point. I’ve got the photos pinned on Pinterest. They weren’t there when I visited in 2014 (and Ms. Pooley’s beautiful waxwork wasn’t at Hever then, either, unfortunately) but you can probably still find them if you Google.

    3. Claire says:

      I think it looks like Carice van Houten, the actress who plays Melisandre in Game of Thrones! No, I don’t know of any proper reconstructions of any of the six wives I’m afraid. Various waxworks have been done, for example those at Hever and Warwick Castle, but they’re not based on real life or their remains.

  2. Sandra Brunette says:

    Thank you so much for the update. I saw it and went ahead and shared. Thank you for putting us straight. Love your site.

  3. Jennifer Dunne says:

    This head reconstruction is very similar to the red witch from game of thrones lol

  4. Tina says:

    Was she buried in haste in the clothes she died in or would there have been care taken to clean and re-dress Anne? Do you think there will ever be another occasion where she would be exhumed?

    1. Jaye R. says:

      Tina, to the best of my knowledge, at the time she was hastily buried, and very sadly, accorded no dignity. Another poster below, ‘Banditqueen’ mentions an arrow box, and that is something I have heard several times before, so it may indeed be the closest to the truth. However, we could take some comfort from the fact that there was an exhumation in the 19th century of which was thought to be Anne’s remains, and which were re-interred with the respect which she (and indeed, any remains for that matter) deserved. On the matter of colouring, a red-haired and black-haired pair of parents will often produce a blonde child. Elizabeth Tudor was a red-head. I have never read or heard of Anne Boleyn being fair. Henry 8th was fair when young and I believe tended to auburn hair.

  5. Candace Wilson says:

    Although I know this is not a true historical wax done of her I myself like to think that maybe this is what she looked like. With everything I have read (trust me a lot) on Queen Anne they make her out to be ugly or not a pretty as people would think. In my head she is dark and beautiful like this wax not the normal (blond blue eyed) English nnormal lady. No matter what she was still the most interesting and the one true love in Henry’s life I think anyways.

  6. Elizabeth Mannox says:

    Just Googled Anne Boleyn’s death mask and found many images of the death mask of Mary Queen of Scots. Wonder if it’s a genuine mistake or someone ‘having a laugh’?

  7. Joska says:

    I think both sketches look like they could be from the same sitter…

  8. Leslie says:

    Ha! Just goes to show you how misinformation can spread like wildfire on social media. I remember this wax figure, and your post about it. It was fascinating at the time, I think Emily did a great job!

  9. Christine says:

    It’s a very striking wax work and I have seen this before on pin interest.

  10. Ann says:

    Candace, blonde hair and blue eyes are not dominant English coloring.

    1. Sandra Freeman says:

      Very True!

  11. Banditqueen says:

    I think the waxwork is very striking. Was it done on measurements from the original reports on the exhumation? A construction of the face of a saint was done last year from the reports of his measurement and skull drawings from a report done in 1955. The bones are now too poor a condition to exhume so the measurements were put in the computer and hey presto a three D model made, then the model skull. I have just been to Leicester and seen the very detailed reconstruction of Richard lll, it is complex. The computer lets you have a go but mine had too much flesh and a thick neck. I need a different career. But yes, I completely agree, if the skull of Anne Boleyn had been found and used, the media would be going potty. The information needs to be corrected on the appropriate site or article, we cannot be having nonsense out there. This is an excellent work of art and waxwork and the artist should be praised for her skill. The likeness to some portraiture is striking. Excellent article and beautiful waxwork.

    1. Claire says:

      Emily’s waxwork was done using measurements from her friend’s face and head, so was never meant to be a reconstruction as such, simply a creative work of art.

      Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle on social media, it’s just a roundabout of misinformation! It drives me mad some days!

      1. Are you, like me, still fighting a losing battle over Katherine Howard?

      2. Cora Sutherland says:

        Claire she certainly does look like Melisandre of Game of Thrones. Just from all I have read over the years, all that you have written and investigated, I don’t believe for one minute that whatever it may be is a reconstruction of Anne Boleyn’s face. Certainly has brought a lot of attention however to Ms. Pooley, perhaps that was the intent. I don’t find it remotely how I picture from all I’ve read, to be Anne Boleyn. Interesting reading though.

      3. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks Claire, this makes Emily’s work even more creative and remarkable, a true original. Social media drives me mad as well.


  12. Jason Hoole says:

    Hopefully this fake wax work model being paraded about on social media will encourage people with a genuine interest in the Tudors to seek out the truth. I’m no expert on Anne Boleyn’s appearance but know enough from family holidays to various places connected with her to know different.

    I would be interested to know what kind of buriel she received: would she have had a coffin or just a simple shroud?

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I don’t know about a shroud, but she was placed in something like a large bow and arrow box. Now such a box would be about six foot, also wide enough to be a coffin. The ladies wrapped up the head and I assume the body. The body was placed in the ground and later exhumed. With the other bones, her bones were measured and examined and identified by the doctors. The findings may not be completely positive as positive identification was not possible, but the evidence gets very close. Each person, including Anne Boleyn were then carefully wrapped, placed in a sealed bone box, a plate with her name on placed on it, it was placed into the grave and the Victorian name marking placed over each grave. Anne Boleyn was reburied as a Queen. In the chapel in the Church of Saint Peter ad Vincula, there is a lovely alter and memorial. It is very peaceful. Every year on her anniversary of her death, somebody gives the wardon a beautiful bouquet of flowers, to place on her grave. This has been done for about 300 years and nobody knows from whom, but Anne is remembered and always will be. The articles on her exhuming above link may have more information.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        It may be also of interest to know that the coffining of Kings and Queens was not common as they were normally placed in a tomb or vault which was led lined. However they would normally have a shroud or other preparations. Coffins were just starting to come in. A coffin in the Middle Ages would be used to transport the body over great distances, but as many people were buried close to where they died, a temporary tomb was made before the full one was completed. Also in many cases an ostuary or bone box was used, not a long coffin. Henry Viii was coffined, as was Jane Seymour, but royal burials before this time did not always use a coffin. Anne Boleyn was innocent, but in the eyes of Henry, a disgraced Queen, so he did not provide a coffin for her or a tomb.

      2. Christine says:

        The flowers sent to Anne are said to come from members of her family, I read somewhere they managed to trace them to an address I think in Kent or Sussex Bandit Queen.

  13. It’s a shame this sculpture was misconstrued because it detracts from its excellence. The sculptor has imagined Anne as a not conventionally beautiful, but strong and interesting character. She looks like a real person (the sculptor’s friend in fact), not a vacuous mannequin. I guess this is why so many people thought it was a facial reconstruction of Anne herself. Unlike the embroidery that many believed to have been made by Anne’s mother (and is widely repinned as such), I don’t think that Emily Pooley, the sculptor, had any intention to mislead the public for publicity purposes and it’s a shame this misguided excitement detracts from her lovely artwork.

  14. Steve says:

    Has a remarkably modern feel to me – in style to me, lipstick (or lip shape, eyebrow shape, hair etc. Rather like TV or film historical dramas where the makeup hairstyles etc just do not work.

  15. John. Boulter says:

    As I u understand, she was placed in the arrow box straight way.

    Re Thomas Cromwell Little Tommy Tucker sat in the corner eating his Christmas pie is about hum

  16. Lisa H says:

    Social media can be as frustrating as it is helpful. I always feel like I’m trying to fight my way uphill in an avalanche to correct errors like this, especially on Pintrest. One that is currently chafing me raw is an image that is labelled as a portrait of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, when anyone with a more than passing acquaintance with the portraits of the time can see that it is a composite of the NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn and a portrait of Elizabeth I.

    I’ve been reading quite a bit this year about Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Wydvill/Woodville. Their are two images being passed around labelled as Jacquetta. One is actually Isabella of Bavaria and was used as a cover on Dorothy Davies novel about Jacquetta, and the other is the tomb of Jacquetta’s daughter and namesake; this is a bit more understandable since this daughter’s name is Jacquetta Woodville, but a glance at her husband’s name would quickly alert anyone who it really is.

    Unfortunately the errors multiply faster than we can correct them.

  17. Sharon Hutchinson says:

    It’s a nice work of art, but taking it to be of Anne would be a real stretch. Besides, there would never have been a death mask of her since I would think taking one would be not only frowned upon but looked upon as traitorous as well. One has to consider the times, Henry’s attitude etc. A person who would attempt that would be very brave or, conversely, very foolish.

    1. Lisa H says:

      I agree. Especially since Henry made such an effort to erase Anne – which is why we’ve had such a hard time finding an authentic contemporary image of her! One can imagine how many portraits Henry must have had Anne sit for which he later destroyed. ~shudders at the loss to history~

  18. Miladyblue says:

    What I would like to see would be an artist who could figure out how to make a complete 3D sculpt based on either the famous National Portrait Gallery painting, or the Hever Rose painting.

  19. Sandra says:

    In the book “The Wars of the Roses” by Dan Jones there is picture of a facial reconstruction done from Richard III’s skull and it is very realistic. I saw a painting or drawing of him somewhere else from his own time and the two look alike. I don’t think the wax figure looks like the portraits of Anne Boleyn at all. Was it a sixth finger because I read it was a double fingernail on one of her fingers.

  20. I think the wax model looks just like anne boleyn’s painting

  21. Emily Pooley says:

    Thank you for this!

    It’s incredibly frustrating seeing her out there as a ‘facial reconstruction’… I’m not sure how this started either! Now I know to watermark my future images I guess! *sigh*

    Let me know of the places you see these faults and as the person who owns the image, I can hopefully put a stop to some of them or at least educate!

    Thanks again,

  22. Lilly says:

    Thanks for writing this, and thank goodness this is the first result on google! This wax figurine is very beautiful but doesn’t look much like the portraits. Also it is said that Anne Boleyn was not a remarkable beauty, but of course beauty standards change.

    However I do hope to see some more actual reconstructions of skulls come from the Tudor period. They make such an impression on our image of history!

  23. GM says:

    This is beautiful work! Ive come across it many times and even have it saved. Anne may have looked similar to this. We dont know!

    I disagree with the descriptions we have of Anne (mainly by men) that she wasnt attractive. I think she was beautiful, graceful, intelligent, sexy and at the same time modest, pious and good hearted and I also disagree with labeling Anne as ambitious and cruel upstart.

    She knew her value and was intelligent enough to maneuver in a world of male dominance where women were goods for use, sale and trade and rarely more.

    It is easy to smear a person when little evidence is left in time….And easy to judge Anne by today’s standpoint…but courageous women often become a target.

    She had the misfortune to fall in love with the King of England and thus open herself to hatred and criticism and put herself in a position where no matter what she did, it was met with prejudice…hers was a hard task, trying to have a meaningful relationship, while being pushed by factions, a husband, public opinion, issues of legitimacy…..all this stress and they wonder why the girl kept having failed pregnancies.

    I can talk about her all day 🙂 She will always be an inspiration to me, my only sorrow is that her life ended the way it did and way too early.

  24. Jeff Leiboff says:

    That’s Karen Gillan

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