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 and see photos of the waxwork on Emily’s website at

The Smithsonian article on facial reconstruction can be found at

*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.

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