The Nidd Hall Portrait matches the 1534 Anne Boleyn Medal

Posted By on February 16, 2015

Nidd Hall Portrait

Nidd Hall Portrait

It has always been frustrating to me that the only contemporary likeness we have on Anne Boleyn is the Moost Happi medal which was struck in 1534 and which is now housed at the British Museum. There is controversy over all the other images said to be of Anne because they are all so different – the National Portrait Gallery painting, the Hever Castle one, the Holbein sketches, the Hoskins miniature and so on, but now it looks like one that is often dismissed could actually be Anne.

The Nidd Hall portrait, dating to the late 16th century, which many believe to look more like Jane Seymour, has been compared to the 1534 medal by Amit Roy-Chowdhury, head of the video computing group at the University of California in Riverside, using a facial recognition programme devised by Roy-Chowdhury. According to an article in “The Guardian” newspaper, reporting on Roy-Chowdhury’s presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose, “The system compared the Moost Happi medal image with four paintings from Tudor times, and failed to find a match with some portraits, including one from Hever Castle in Kent and another held at the National Portrait Gallery in London”, but it found that the medal was a close match to the Nidd Hall portrait. Interestingly, “The system struggled to shed light on the validity of three paintings that may be of Shakespeare after comparing them with a sculpted bust, an engraving and a portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.”

Most Happi Medal

Most Happi Medal

We cannot be sure, though. Professor Roy-Chowdhury did say:

“What the computer provides at the end is another source of evidence into the discussions that have been going on about these questions. It should not be construed that the computer knows the answer.”

So, it sounds like more work has to be done, but it shows that we should not dismiss this portrait.

Talking about the 1534 medal, stonecarver Lucy Churchill did an amazing job at replicating this medal and ‘filling in’ the parts that had been damaged. You can read about her research and how she went about replicating it at The Reconstruction of the Moost Happi Medal.

On this day in history…

  • 1547 – Henry VIII was interred in a vault in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Click here to read more about Henry’s funeral.

Notes and Sources

37 thoughts on “The Nidd Hall Portrait matches the 1534 Anne Boleyn Medal”

  1. Clare says:

    Anne Boleyn was only about thirty-five when she was killed. If this is Anne then it must have been towards the latter part of her life because it appears to be a portrait of a much older woman. Clearly, if it is Anne, the stress of the past ten years, and the pressure of trying to give Henry a son, had aged her considerably.
    Henry had fallen in love with a vivacious young woman. He fell out of love with a tired middle aged woman. Love can outlast the ageing process but infatuation doesn’t. We look for reasons for Anne’s fall, but perhaps the most pertinent reason can be seen in this portrait. It happens every day and is the most mundane of reasons, but no one ever said Henry wasn’t shallow.

  2. Nancy says:

    I’m kinda leaning toward the assumption that this portrait is of Anne…I mean, look at the “AB” pendant she wears on her dress….is that not hint enough?

    ~ Nancy

    1. Anyanka says:

      It’s not uncommon for paintings to be altered after they are finished, though. We can’t say for certain that the AB pendant wasn’t added at a later date.

      IIRC at least one portrait of Richard III has been altered several times to fit in with the then current theory of his apperance.

  3. Vermillion says:

    I saw this story on various newspaper websites this morning and it does come across as another of those ‘mountain out of a molehill’ claims, particularly as some are claiming that as a result this casts doubt on the Hever/NPG portraits being of Anne (completely ignoring the Chequers ring corroboration of those portraits).

    The Nidd Hall portrait has always to my eyes not looked incompatible facially with the Hever/NPG portraits – the sitter looks somewhat older, but the features aren’t dissimilar. It certainly looks nothing like Holbein’s Jane Seymour other than the style of headdress worn.

  4. Leah says:

    Do you think they could of used the medal to create the portrait? It does look so similar.
    It’s still not what Anne looks like in my mind Though haha!

  5. Gail Marion says:

    The Nid Hall portrait may well be the closest thing we have to a physical likeness of Anne Boleyn other than that appearing on a damaged lead medal, but disappointing for those wanting a glimpse of the seductive woman Henry fell in love with. Admittedly a copy painted after Anne’s death, the image is lifeless.

    Thank you Claire for bringing this latest analysis to our attention.

  6. Conor Byrne says:

    I am very sceptical of historians who claim that the Nidd Hall portrait actually depicts Jane Seymour. There are clear differences. The sitter in this portrait not only wears an AB pendant, but she has dark eyes, a sallow complexion and dark hair – all of which Anne Boleyn had. Jane was known for her fairness.

    I do think it’s interesting that historians are challenging the view that the National Portrait Gallery and Hever Castle portraits show Anne. G.W. Bernard argued that the sitter may actually be Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Certainly the sitter in these portraits bears little resemblance to the Nidd Hall sitter.

    In any case, all of these images were produced decades after Anne’s death, in the reign of her daughter, so they would not have been painting her from life.

    As controversy over alleged portraits of Katherine Howard, Katherine of Aragon, Lady Jane Grey and Frances Brandon show, there will always be uncertainty and doubt as to the true identity of sitters in Tudor portraits.

  7. Gail Marion says:

    A true likeness of Anne Boleyn? From the Guardian (2002) –

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/jul/26/humanities.monarchy

    1. Claire says:

      There’s controversy over that image too with some historians believing it to be a young Elizabeth or Catherine Parr. It’s so frustrating!

      1. Gail Marion says:

        Your reply prompted to search further. As you mention, another controversy brews with regard to the portrait in the ring purportedly belonging to Elizabeth I.

        http://tudorfaces.blogspot.ca/2013/03/the-chequers-locket-ring-mother-and.html

        1. Claire says:

          Yes and the miniature which is said to be of Anne Boleyn by Lucas Horenbout – https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-faces-of-thomas-boleyn-and-mary-boleyn/

      2. leahf says:

        Hi Claire, I was wondering what you think about the Chequers ring.
        I’d love to think it was Anne and at first I did. But I’ve been looking at close up pictures of it and kind of think it does look more like a young Elizabeth like in the Windsor Castle portrait in her red dress?

  8. Roland H. says:

    Knowing little about facial recognition software, I’ll leave that to the experts in the field. However, I don’t think that the ‘B’ necklace type portrait should be dismissed because of some ‘algorithm’.

    For various reasons, this portrait type is still probably the best existing likeness of Anne Boleyn. Truth be told, due to its damaged state, we really don’t know how accurate the 1534 medal really was in depicting Anne. Was it a true likeness taken directly from life, or was it generic – simply meant to show the Queen in majesty, with her actual facial features mattering less?

    I will correct one of the comments made above. It was not G.W. Bernard (‘Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions’, pg. 199) who said that the ‘B’ necklace type portrait wasn’t Anne Boleyn. He was referencing to what historian Susan James (though her name is not mentioned) wrote. In fact, Bernard points out that James’ theory – that the ‘B’ stood for ‘Brandon’ – is flawed, and he himself uses the famous National Portrait Gallery painting of Anne for the front cover of his book.

    About the Nidd Hall painting, I am the first to admit that it’s a puzzling image. Though the sitter has the dark eyes and dark complexion Anne Boleyn was known for, and the overall presentation is comparable to the 1534 medal, it ought to also be compared to the Basiliwlogia engraving of Anne, which is undoubtedly based on the Whitehall mural of Jane Seymour. See:
    http://tudorfaces.blogspot.ca/2015/01/a-reassessment-of-queen-anne-boleyns.html

    What would definitely shed more light on the Nidd Hall picture is a thorough scientific examination – algorithms aside – of the portrait; none has ever been done.

  9. Christine says:

    The picture is of a woman in middle age, you can see the appearance of a slack jowl and lines running from nose to mouth, whilst we all age differently according to bone structure and today smoking and drinking heavily does contribute a lot, Tudor people didn’t have access to cigarettes and the wine they drunk was probably weaker than today, they didn’t sunbathe either so to me the woman looks like she’s around thirty eight to forty, we know Anne was in her thirties when she died as historians believe she was born circa 1500 or maybe 1499, the date of birth would tie in with the sitter in the portrait, I believe it is Anne as she’s dark with the AB pendant even tho she doesn’t look particularly attractive in it, but the headdresses of the period which had all the hair scrapped back and hidden didn’t exactly flatter women anyway, and towards the end of her life all the stress and misery she’s suffered does tell on the features, I think it’s 99% accurate as it does resemble the medal and Anne did have a long oval face with huge dark eyes.

  10. Megan says:

    To me, this very well could be anne, Elizabeth resembles this portrait when she was an older woman. I can see it in te eyes and nose. I can see where stress could have aged anne, she had so much to lose, and really nothing to gain. Stress can age you terribly, and I think this is just that

  11. gemma says:

    I don’t think this picture looks anything like Jane Seymour it dose look similar to the other Anne picture s it so hard to tell but it fits the discription of Anne somewhat older but married to henry I expect that would age a person a great deal

    1. Christine says:

      Yes it’s nothing like Jane Seymour she had quite a fat face with a big nose and small eyes.

  12. Denise Hansen says:

    I still vote for the Holbein sketch of Anne wearing the cap and the fur lined nightdress (a rare item of clothing she was known to have possessed). Skeptical about this new facial watch up without seeing more details although the headdress and orientation of the sitter are similar.

    Does anyone know when the Nidd House portrait was produced? I thought it was the late 17th century.?

  13. Denise Hansen says:

    Oops Just noticed that the date of the painting was revealed in the post.

  14. Mary Ann Cade says:

    Claire: Just wondered if you would be in favor of the Government giving permission t some point to do analysis on Ann’s remains, similar to what was done for the remains of Richard III. They could do an analysis to find out her age and recreate what she would look like based on computer study of the head. I found that program of Richard fascinating because it put to rest many of the legends and myths and was able to provide concrete facts about his shoulder, spine and back as well as his war wounds. The biggest reveal was the recreation of his face based on his skeletal remains, they made him look so lifelike.

    Personally, I would love to see them do this for the little boys that were found in the Tower and interred in the 20th century. I think DNA testing might put to rest their actual identities and if they were the brothers of Elizabeth of York or other children that disappeared behind the walls of the Tower never to be seen again.

    1. Hi Mary Ann,

      I made the same suggestion for exactly the same reason to Tim Taylor, the producer of the very excellent and sadly no longer running archeology program. He was unequivocal that HRP would not allow the remains to be disturbed and gave several convincing reasons as to why not.

      It’s a shame because it would certainly resolve a lot of questions… but maybe it’s right to leave those poor bones, all of them, in peace.

      1. Sorry, I meant to say Tim Taylor of Time Team

        1. Christine says:

          Yes I think they should all rest in peace but it’d be lovely to have a reconstruction of Anne’s skull done to see what she actually looked like, it’s a shame as all the other people like Jane Grey and George Boleyn and his wife, Catherine Howard etc were such interesting personalitys it would be fascinating to see their actual faces, the portraits as we all know can be misleading as we don’t know who’s who, like the Nidd Hall painting and others said to be of Mary Boleyn, we have no portrait of George Boleyn or his wife, it was exciting when they modelled Richard 111s face and it did resemble the paintings of him but the actual reconstructions bring you nearer to the real person

  15. BanditQueen says:

    The portrait does look quite a bit like the coin, even though the nose has been flattened by time on the coin, it is clearly pointed and of a woman resembling Anne in her 30s. But we cannot be totally sure as analysis would need to be done not just of the structure of the face but of the image and the paints, canvess, and so on. It would be wonderful if we did have a picture of Anne.

  16. Roland H. says:

    About the ‘remains’ of Anne Boleyn found in the Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower of London – they were discovered in Victorian times when scientific standards were of course not as advanced as they are now.

    That the bones were even Anne Boleyn’s were really a guess on the examiners’ part. They could have been of some other person, as they were countless burials in the Tower chapel over the centuries.

    Nonetheless, at the time, they were accepted as the remains of Anne Boleyn. The bones (as with the other sets found) were placed into small boxes and reinterred before the high altar. Concrete was then laid on top, according to the examiners’ report, making the reburial a permanent affair. That, and refusal by modern officials to have any of the bones re-examined, make it likely that we shall never know more about them.

  17. Christine says:

    Yes they found the bones of a female who they identified as Anne Boleyn but there was no conclusive proof and Alison Weir believes they could have been Catherine Howard and that Anne lies under Lady Rochfords memorial as they found another female skeleton whose age they guessed to be around thirty ish which would be more Anne’s age than the previous skeleton, it’s a pity they can’t dig up Lady Rochfords memorial and examine the skeleton again, a hundred years later I’m sure they would find the real Anne this time then she could be re buried but I doubt the Queen or the Home Secretary would give permission.

    1. BanditQueen says:

      Before it is even possible to identify Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard or Jane Boleyn Rochford via the only possible method DNA; not available in the 19th century; we would first need to find the nearest relative via an unbroken line back to these ladies, or via a sibling. As two of the women did not have children; and Anne had no grandchildren (theories of a son by Dudley aside) we would need to look, as with Richard III via the siblings or the female line. Only having established a known relative via a sibling as no direct descendents can be traced; would it be even worth taking DNA for testing against the bones. DNA would need to be taken from all three skeletons, and as they have previously been handled, this is where more difficulty comes in; the DNA would most likely be contaminated, as I doubt the sterile conditions we use today were used in Victorian times; and identification made by a process of comparrison and elimination. This was done to identify the sister of Richard III and the neice of Richard III Mary of York in Mechelan in Germany. Three female skeletons were found and DNA and examination used to identify the Archduchess. This technique then led to the pioneering work which traced the line of Richard III via another sister Anne to the present DNA donor Michael Isben. If we could do similar genelology then perhaps a similar method could identify Anne Boleyn beyond a reasonable doubt.

      However, although we have a rough idea were Anne was buried and that the skeletons found in the nineteenth century are the two queens and Jane Rochford; their height and known ages; although these are debated; and other historical evidence to describe these ladies was all that the scientists then could go on. But as someone has rightly pointed out Anne may not be any of these women. The fact that they were beheaded and the status of the women, age of the bones; the health of the women, diet and isotope annalysis could all give clues to them being royal or noble women. Anne was also alone beheaded with a sword, and cleanly so. The evidence on the bones on the neck and vertabra from a sword blow is quite different to that of the less sharp axe. It can be proven if the skeleton was beheaded with an axe or a sword. Anne alone had this privilage so her skeleton, if in tact should stand out. However, if indeed the bones were gathered together then some work will need to be done in seperating them out in order to attempt to work out which individual is which; this again may have caused damage or DNA contamination. The bones may have been placed in a completely different space althogether, although one would think they are somewhere close to the place they should be. Finding Richard 111 500 years after his bones were according to legend dug up and thrown into the Soar gives one hope of success. So there is a hope of identification, but a lot of work needs to be done first.

      Having said all of this; the bones are buried within the grounds of a royal palace and that may or may-not require royal approval. If not, then the Queen does not need to be consulted as Anne Boleyn died more than 100 years ago. The Queen is a relative and it is certain her leave would be sought, but if she does not need to be consulted save over jurisdiction; there may be good reasons for a license to be granted. The Ministry of Justice only nominally grants licences; the local authorities grants them in the name of the ministry; on pre printed forms. However, given the ridiculous challenges to the burials of Richard III; caution would need to be done here; and although as a historian I would be fascinated by attempts to identify Anne or anyone else for that matter; I am also conscious of the fact that Anne was a human being and I am not generally in favour of disturbing her bones just to satisfy curisosity. I am concerned that if we did so we would open up a can of worms and calls would flood in to open up more and more royal coffins that have a ? mark over them in order to answer questions that may be better left alone. For now I for one would like to see Anne and the other ladies left to rest in peace.

  18. Christine says:

    Yes when they found the womens skeletons, were their heads lying next to them? If any of the skeletons had a clean cut on the neck than surely that would prove it’s Anne, it’s a pity they done that renovation work in the Chapel in Victorias reign as now they don’t want to disturb them, but if they hadn’t then to satisfy public curiosity I believe the powers to be might have opened up the graves sadly I don’t think they ever will now.

    1. Claire says:

      In the spot recorded as being the burial place of Anne Boleyn, the bones of a female were found at a depth of about two feet, “not lying in the original order, but which had evidently for some reason or other been heaped together into a smaller space.” Some of the vertebrae were missing and he made no comment on any wound to the bones so I’m assuming that those bones were missing. You can read more at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyns-remains-the-exhumation-of-anne-boleyn/

      1. Christine says:

        Iv read that report several times Claire, here and in Alison Weirs book ‘The Lady In The Tower, I know that Jane Rochfords birth is unknown but she was believed to be younger than Anne therefore the skeleton assumed to be hers which they dated to be about forty years of age when she died can’t be hers? I find it very likely they were Anne’s as they found the bones of Margaret Plantagenet who was about seventy it was easy to identify her, there wernt many females beheaded compared to the men, five in all including Jane Grey who I think was lying next to her husband, the arrow box Anne was buried in would it have rotted away I wonder and Catherine’s Weir said could have dissolved in limestone although Catherine could well have been the skeleton they identified as Anne, like many things about her, her burial also remains a mystery.

        1. Claire says:

          That is just Alison Weir’s theory and we don’t know either Anne’s date of birth or Jane’s date of birth to be able to say that and I don’t agree with her. I don’t believe we can challenge the findings of the Victorian team without exhuming the remains again. When the exhumations were done, the Victorian team used records of burials from the Tower of London and found remains of a woman where Anne was recorded to be buried, i.e. to the left of the chancel (as you look at it) and near the remains of a man thought to be about 50 years of age, who was thought to be the Duke of Northumberland. That would make sense as Somerset and Northumberland were said to have been buried between the two queens (Anne and Catherine). Jane Rochford was buried on the right hand side of the chancel (as you look at it) and nowhere near Anne’s burial position. Yes, Catherine Howard’s remains were not found but she would have been to the right of Northumberland.
          Obviously the Victorian team did not have the technology we have today so their dating of the age of the bones may not be accurate, but I think the fact that they used what records they could and were scrupulous in their investigations and writing everything down means that we should take their theories as to the identificiations seriously. They unearthed the remains of a woman exactly where they expected to find Anne.
          Yes, Anne just keeps escaping from us!

  19. Christine says:

    Yes in Noral Lofts biography of Anne she quoted that two Dukes lay in between two Queens, did they take any photos of the burial site do you know Claire?

    1. Claire says:

      I’ve got the full records of the 1876/7 exhumations and there is a burial plan, reports from Dr Mouat the pathologist, memorandums, all the details about reinterring the remains, but no photographs. Photography was still in its infancy then.

  20. Christine says:

    I read also that a woman called Hannah Beresford was buried on to of Anne in the 18thc I v tried to find her but I can’t and wondered why she was buried in St Peter Ad Vincula, if she was a traitor surely she would have been hung at Tyburn or Newgate and buried in the ground with the other felons.?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Hannah Beresford was laid to rest in that area in 1750. I’m not sure who she was but she didn’t need to be a traitor. The chapel is a royal chapel for the Tower and so is also the burial site of people like Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne.

      1. Christine says:

        Thanks for the info Claire

        1. Claire says:

          That’s ok, it’s something that I’m really interested in.

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