The Mystery of Anne Boleyn’s Engagement Ring: Anne Boleyn Artefacts

In today’s video, I dive into an intriguing Tudor mystery sparked by a question from Chris Celsie about a ring supposedly given to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII. This diamond ring was displayed at an exhibition in Toronto in 1994 as Anne’s engagement ring. But did such a ring really exist?

I dig into the records to see what we know about the jewellery Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn…


I’m carrying on my series on Anne Boleyn artefacts today by answering a question from Chris Celsie.

Chris emailed me about a ring from an exhibition in Toronto in 1994. The diamond ring was displayed as the engagement ring that Henry VIII gave Anne Boleyn. Chris sent me a newspaper clipping from The Toronto Star, which said, “Six Centuries of Diamonds: The Diamond Information Centre presents a six century retrospective of the engagement ring. Pieces on display include the ring King Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn.”

Chris can’t remember exactly what it looked like but now can’t find anything about it online, no mention at all, and it definitely wasn’t the Elizabeth locket ring. And I’ve never heard of Henry giving Anne an engagement ring. They weren’t even a thing then.

So what was this Anne Boleyn ring?

I did some digging and found a book called “The Power of Love: six centuries of diamond betrothal rings” by Karen Levi, which was published in 1988 by Christie’s and the Diamond Information Centre, but that only included a copy of a ring featuring hogback diamonds made to celebrate the union of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria in 1477, Albrecht V of Bavaria’s wedding ring and several Renaissance rings whose original owners aren’t known. No mention of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn.

In “Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewelry: 1381-1910 by Herbert Tillander, all I found was the mention of a bowl commissioned by Henry VIII from Holbein, which was thought to have been made in 1540 and featured five single diamond rosettes, and a large tablet cut diamond in a pendant which was offered for sale to Henry VIII in 1546. Again, no mention of a diamond ring commissioned for Anne Boleyn.

But Henry VIII did lavish jewellery on Anne Boleyn. Historian Eric Ives in his biography of Anne, explained that goldsmith Cornelius Hayes’ bill for the year to May 1532 included “three dozen items for ‘Mistress Boleyn’, costing almost £100.” The largest of those items was “a girdle of crown of gold billed at £18 10s 4d” and the list also included “a Catherine wheel of gold set with thirteen diamonds” at just under £4. In the list of King’s Jewels from October 1532 (LP v. 1376) is “20 rubies and 2 diamonds reserved for my lady Marques” which were delivered by Cromwell, who was Master and Treasurer of the King’s Jewels, to Cornelius Hayes. We don’t know what these were used for.

A 1537 list of jewels found in a wooden desk, included two diamond rings with the letters HA on them, for Henry and Anne, and one with the word “Moste” from Anne’s motto “The Most Happy” engraved on it. In another box were a number of pieces of jewellery with HA on them and a brooch with RA, the abbreviation for Regina Anna, on it. (LP xii. Part 2. 1315)
These items are now lost, though.

We also know that Hans Holbein the Younger designed pieces of jewellery for Anne. These included a pendant which Ives describes as having “a central stone and the initials ‘H’ and ‘A’ intertwined and a shield with the same cipher.” The design you see here is one by Holbein from the period when Anne was queen, so perhaps this pendant was for her.

In the inventory taken at Henry VIII’s death in 1547, there are also a couple of jewelled items featuring Henry and Anne’s HA motif.
Item 2863 – “one Tablet of golde set with small Emerauldes perles and one Dyamounte with H and A.” found in a coffer from the King’s Secret Jewel House, Westminster
and in a coffer in the same jewel house:
Item 2914 – “a dust boxe of golde with a Crowne on the Couer enameled with H and A.”

Another piece of jewellery linked to Anne is a Whistle pendant which can be seen at the moment on display at the National Portrait Gallery’s special exhibition “Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queen” and is from the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s described by the exhibition as a pendant “combined with cosmetic implements” and is made of gold and dates to 1525-30. They explain that, “This pendant is thought to have been one of Henry’s earliest gifts to Anne. Small jewels of this type were often made to adorn the participants’ clothes at revels and masques.” It’s in the form of a pistol and has tooth and ear picks that fold out from it.

So, Henry VIII definitely gave Anne Boleyn jewels and jewellery, both before and after their marriage, but I can’t find any mention of a diamond ring that has survived and that definitely links to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

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