Today, I’m diving into the intriguing history of Anne Boleyn’s iconic B necklace.

What happened to Anne Boleyn’s B necklace? Did Elizabeth I inherit her mother’s necklace? Could pieces of it be in the crown jewels today?

Let me tell you more…


Welcome to the second video in my series on Anne Boleyn artefacts.

Today, I want to look at Anne Boleyn’s B necklace. I receive so many questions about it – what happened to it? Did Elizabeth inherit her mother’s necklace? Has it survived? Are pieces of it in the crown jewels today?

So, I thought I’d delve into what we know about Anne Boleyn’s famous B necklace, and I’ll talk about other items of jewellery that are linked to Anne Boleyn another day.

Nicola Tallis, in her excellent book “All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445–1548: Power, Majesty and Display” explains how “initial jewellery came into fashion throughout Europe during the latter part of the fourteenth century”, and gives the example of Mary of Burgundy, who is thought to have been given a ring by her husband Emperor Maximilian I featuring a diamond M. Tallis writes that the couple’s daughter, Margaret of Austria, also owned initial pieces.

Then we have Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and wife of Charles the Bold.

In this zoom-in on a portrait of her, you can see a B pendant attached to the veil of her hood. B for Burgundy, or Bourgogne.
Tallis goes on to say that initial pendants became popular in the 1520s, peaking in popularity in the 1530s and 1540s, and that both men and women wore initial jewels and pendants, which they’d attach to their collars or wear on necklaces.

And that fits with Anne Boleyn and her famous B necklace. And I think there is little doubt that she wore a B necklace. Although all the portraits of Anne wearing it appear to date to Elizabeth I’s reign, that would have been in living memory so it was surely known that Anne Boleyn wore such a necklace. There would have been plenty of people to correct it, if it was a misconception.
Here are a few such portraits…

[Collection of B necklace portraits – see video]

There is a theory put forward by historian Susan James that the Anne Boleyn B necklace style portraits are actually based on an original portrait of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and that the B stood for Brandon – her second husband being Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. However, that doesn’t make sense to me. Mary was never known as Mary Brandon, or even as the Duchess of Suffolk, she was always referred to as the Queen of France, even when she was the dowager queen of France. I really don’t think Mary would have demeaned herself by making use of the name Brandon in any way. She always chose her higher title.

Back to Anne Boleyn’s B necklace.

As you can see from this zoom-in of the National Portrait Gallery portrait of Anne, Anne’s famous necklace featured a gold B pendant attached to two pearls on a long pearl strand. I think it looks like one very long pearl strand that she’s twisted and doubled, but it could be two. The pendant also had three drop pearls hanging from the B. It is the same in all of that style of portrait.

I really do feel that Anne owned this necklace and that the B stood for Boleyn, a name that she was proud of.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the necklace’s provenance. We don’t know anything about it. Perhaps it was a gift from a family member, I’d like to think so, after all it was a reminder that she was a Boleyn.

But what happened to the famous B necklace after Anne’s tragic fall in 1536?

Well, I’m afraid we don’t know.

In May 1536, Anne was found guilty of high treason and executed. Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London and Anne’s gaoler, was given 100 pounds “for a composition for such jewels and apparel as the late Queen had in the Tower,” so Anne’s belongings in the Tower, including her jewels, were inventoried and taken. Anne’s B necklace would have been a personal possession, unless it had been given to her by the king and so count as one of the Queen’s Jewels, that belonged to the Crown. However, as she died a traitor ALL of Anne’s possession were forfeited to the Crown and so the king would have taken them.

Nicola Tallis notes that we know that Henry VIII chose to distribute some of Anne Boleyn’s personal belongings to the Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, but that evidence for the fate of her other possessions is obscure.

I really can’t imagine Mary being given Anne’s B necklace, can you? She really didn’t like her stepmother, but perhaps she took it for Elizabeth. I can’t imagine Henry thinking to save any pieces of Anne’s personal possessions for Elizabeth. But did Elizabeth manage to inherit an A pendant from her mother?

This idea has been put forward by a few different people, including historian Siobhan Clarke, who is also a costumed guide at Hampton Court Palace. When she guided a group I was with a few years ago, she pointed out the necklace that Elizabeth is wearing in the Family Portrait of Henry VIII that hangs in the Haunted Gallery in the palace. This portrait was painted in around 1545.

We all got as close as we could to the portrait without setting the alarms off, and the pendant did resemble an A, but could also have been some kind of religious cypher or just a shape. It’s really hard to know.

Would Elizabeth, who would have been about 11 or 12 at the time, have dared to wear something associated with her mother? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting, and I do hope that Elizabeth was given some of her mother’s possessions.

There is this idea that some of the pearls from Anne Boleyn’s famous necklace ended up in the Imperial State Crown along with other jewels like the Black Prince’s Ruby – which was owned by Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III – and also the Stuart Sapphire.

However, I just can’t see Anne’s pearls surviving the Interregnum, if they even made it that far. The crown jewels were broken up and sold during Oliver Cromwell’s time in charge, and the imperial state crown dates back to only 1838, when it was made for Queen Victoria. Could Anne’s pearls really have survived like the Black Prince’s ruby? I really doubt it.

As I said earlier, the Queen’s Jewels were crown property and Nicola Tallis, who studied the inventories of the jewels belonging to Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, notes that “matching items found among Katherine Howard and Kateryn Parr’s queenly jewels confirm that both queens had access to the belongings of their predecessors, and thus that jewels were frequently recycled”. We also know that Henry VIII ordered Catherine of Aragon in 1532 to return the royal jewels she had in her possession, so that he could give them to Anne for their forthcoming trip to Calais to meet Francis I. They belonged to the Crown, not Catherine. Anne was going to be his queen and so was to be given the queen’s jewels. It was the norm for jewels, like items of clothing too, to be passed on.

So I feel that it is more likely that Anne’s B necklace, which became crown property after her fall, was recycled. I expect that the gold B was melted down and used for something else and that the pearls were used as a necklace or used individually to decorate items of clothing. I think that is the likeliest scenario, unfortunately. I just can’t see it having been kept complete, can you? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please do share them.

Do you have a B necklace or a necklace like Anne Boleyn’s with your initial on? I’d love to know.

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One thought on “The Mystery of Anne Boleyn’s B Necklace”
  1. I agree it is a mystery what happened to her famous necklace, I have a theory, maybe her paternal grandmother bestowed it on Anne and the B actually stands for Butler? But more than likely it represents Boleyn and could have been a family heirloom, I think the Mary Brandon theory is way of, as you state, Mary always styled herself as Queen consort of France and why would it have any link to Anne?Anne had many jewellery which the king gave her but she is only ever depicted wearing the B necklace, and although it’s nice to think that the necklace found its way into Elizabeth’s possession, it’s highly likely it was melted down and the pearls used in ornamentation, in all the portraits of the virgin queen there is none of her wearing any jewellery resembling it, but there is the interesting study of her in the family portrait where she does appear to be wearing pearls with some sort of emblem, really I cannot see Henry allowing his youngest daughter any of her mothers jewellery, he certainly would never have wished to see her parading around in it and we must remember, he moved all trace of her from his life, her painting her emblems everything, so poor Elizabeth was not going to be allowed any relics of Anne Boleyn, very sad as jewellery is personal, but she did have other of her belongings, like the silver goblet that was presented to her at her coronation , and the beautiful carved bed she was born in, Elizabeth did favour pearls and maybe this was in homage to her mother more than as a genuine likeness for them, did they find themselves into the Crown Jewels we have today, I doubt that a disgraced queens pearls would have survived this great distance in time, because of their connection Henry V111 could really have in a fit of temper thrown them away, it’s strange to think of his successive brides handling these costly jewels that their predecessors had worn one by one, when it came to his sixth and final queen, what did she think when the king handed her these glittering gems necklaces and rings and brooches and told her to wear them with joy, imagine him beaming at her, she must have felt they were bad luck, for none of his queens had been happy, I do like pears they are classic, but I don’t possess Anne Boleyn’s one, however I am fond of brooches so I would love a brooch in the shape of a falcon, Anne’s own emblem, set with a crown of course!

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