Monday, 17 June 2013

Queen Elizabeth’s Napkin

 I envy my friend Martin living in Germany.

 As a fellow Anglophile and a researcher, he goes to England a lot (I haven’t in years!). Martin writes me about all the interesting and unusual things he comes across in his museum treks. His latest ‘find’ is this curiosity from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Treasures of the Royal Courts exhibition.

 The item is a napkin - of Flemish origin – probably used at the Elizabethan court, perhaps by the Queen herself. It is remarkable in two ways - that it has survived so well, and more so, for its design. Upon the linen damask are facing portraits of Elizabeth, along with heraldic images associated with her mother Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth I's Napkin, Flemish, circa 1558-1580. The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 The napkin was made between 1558 and 1580 according to the V&A. An earlier date is more likely given the image of Elizabeth. It was almost certainly based on an engraving, attributed to Frans Huys, dated 1559. This was a very early portrait type of the Queen showing her in a black hood and a black gown with a furred collar. Other examples of this kind include the Boughton House Henry VIII and His Family with William Sommers picture, and a likeness in the National Portrait Gallery, London.1

Elizabeth I, engraving attributed to Frans Huys, 1559.

Henry VIII and His Family with William Sommers, by an Unknown Artist. Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch, Boughton House, Northamptonshire.


 Below the repeated likenesses of the young Queen, are Tudor roses, and the coat-of-arms and the white falcon badge of her mother Anne. We can only guess at Elizabeth’s feelings towards her controversial mother, but that the napkin was presumably made for use at her court, or gifted to Elizabeth herself, indicates a rehabilitation of Anne’s former notoriety.

 Besides the napkin, Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge has reappeared elsewhere during her daughter’s reign. A set of virginals made for the Queen, bears Anne’s device, as does a banner from a book with Elizabeth’s E.R. initials.  

The Queen Elizabeth Virginal (detail), made by Giovanni Baffo. The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Book Banner with the Elizabeth I's initials.

 All these artifacts, and the Chequers locket ring, suggest that Elizabeth was far more sentimental about her late mother than often supposed.



1 The NPG refers to the picture (NPG 764) as being of an unidentified sitter. However, the similarities between  the young lady to Elizabeth in the Houghton House family portrait, suggest it probably is of her.



  1. This is an excellent post on an artifact that few people know about; I will be sharing it on all of my BeingBess social media handles so that more people can learn about Queen Elizabeth's Napkin!

    Indeed, Elizabeth was far more sentimental about her late mother that is commonly stated. I have assembled and synthesized an extensive amount of evidence that proves that Elizabeth I felt positively about her mother, Anne Boleyn in my article "Death Could Not Separate Them: How Elizabeth I Connected to Her Deceased Mother":

  2. Hello Ashlie,

    Your observation about Elizabeth's ’A' pendant (in the royal family portrait) is an excellent one!


  3. I have to say, the Steven Van Der Meulen portrait of Elizabeth I which was exhibited here, was an absolute stunner. I loved the fact that James I "re-homed" various bits of silverware which was why one bit ended up being given to the Russian Tsar. And the current exhibition of Tudor and Stuart costume at the Queen's Gallery another treat.


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