Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Debating Anne Boleyn as 'The Lady of the Garter'

An article about Anne Boleyn, written by Hilary Mantel, author of the popular 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies', was appropriately entitled 'Anne Boleyn: witch, bitch, temptress, feminist'.[i] Four hundred and eighty one years after her death, Anne remains divisive. What year was she born? Was she ambitious for a crown? What precisely were her religious beliefs? Was she indeed a 'public strumpet' who got her comeuppance on a scaffold in the Tower of London? 

During an ongoing debate about Anne's fall with an academic colleague, the late Eric Ives (author of the acclaimed 'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn') wrote that while he disagreed with the findings of Dr. G.W. Bernard who was convinced of Anne being guilty of adultery, he nonetheless welcomed a differing opinion from his own.[ii] In addressing the controversy over visual representations of Anne Boleyn, I share Ives' view. Recently, I wrote a posting claiming that a representation of Queen Philippa of Hainault as the 'Lady of the Garter' in the Black Book of the Garter (Fig. 1) had ties to Henry VIII's second wife. However, R. E. Bruyère in a response entitled 'Is it Really Anne Boleyn?' disagreed. 'It simply cannot', the author opined. In reading over Bruyère's points, I still maintain that the artist Lucas Horenbout used Anne Boleyn to represent the Lady of the Garter. 

Fig. 1  The Lady of the Garter, The Black Book of the Garter (detail)

Despite the date of 1534 appearing twice in the Black Book,[iii] Bruyère says that Horenbout may have worked on the illuminations well into 1544, the year of his death. Thus the A and R on the Lady's pendant did not stand for 'Anna Regina', but rather 'Anglia Regina', a non specific queen.  However, as the Lady of the Garter was clearly crowned and sceptred, there was no reason for Horenbout to state the obvious by having her wear a jewel saying she is 'Queen of England'. Bruyère mentions that the designation of the sitter as a queen was so that she would not be confused with 'Fortune, the Virgin Mary, or any other number of allegorical or religious women seen during the Tudor period as having dominion over men’s lives'. But seeing how Horenbout imagined the Lady, there would have been no question that she was a queen. Fortune or 'Dame Fortune' would have appeared with appropriate iconography (such as a revolving wheel of fortune with figures rising and falling according to their destinies) implying who she was (Fig. 2). As for the Virgin, she would have been attended by a celestial company of saints and angels, or by earthly donors invoking her intercession, not by Tudor courtiers.

 Fig. 2  Fortune (detail) from Le Roman de la Rose
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, 
Français 380, fol. 36v.

Because Horenbout's work in the Black Book might have extended into the 1540's as Bruyère believes, the 'Anglia Regina' was more likely to be one of Anne Boleyn's successors, Jane Seymour or Anne of Cleves. Both women were blondes as Bruyère thinks the Lady of the Garter is. But this is a misunderstanding of the drawing. That is not blond hair beneath the sitter's gabled hood, but bands of yellow fabric; probably rich cloth of gold matching the Lady's dress. Such bands can be seen in numerous portraits of women of Henry VIII's court, such as that of Jane Seymour (Fig. 3). That the sitter might be Anne of Cleves (another 'Anglia Regina', or even a different 'Anna Regina') is highly improbable. By the time Anne came to England to be the King's fourth wife in January 1540, gabled hoods were considered passé in style; rounded French hoods were all the rage.[iv] As well, Anne of Cleves was a most unlikely candidate for inclusion in the Black Book. Henry VIII loathed her at first sight, and the marriage was annulled that July.

Fig. 3  Jane Seymour (by an Unknown Artist), Chapter of Ripon Cathedral

While none of Henry VIII's six wives were known to have been elected as a Lady of the Garter, this does not exclude his second from being added into the Black Book. While the illustration was meant to represent Queen Philippa, Anne was included to represent her; the same way Henry VIII stood in for Henry V in Horenbout's rendition of 'Henricus Quintus' (Fig. 4).

 Fig. 4  Henry V, The Black Book of the Garter (detail)

Another one of Bruyère's arguments for the Lady not being Anne Boleyn is that after her fall in May 1536, images of her were destroyed. While efforts were certainly made to erase her memory, they were not fully implemented. At Henry VIII's death, some a hundred and twenty items of plate associated with his second wife were found in the royal inventory.[v] The so-called 'Anne Boleyn's Gateway' (Fig. 5) at Hampton Court and the choir screen at King's College Chapel, Cambridge (Fig. 6) both retain her emblems and ciphers. Such references to Anne can also be found in the stonework at St. Jame's Palace.

Fig. 5.  'Anne Boleyn's Gateway', Hampton Court

Fig. 6.  Choir Screen at King's College Chapel

It should be mentioned that pains to eradicate a displaced or disgraced Queen of England were never virulent as supposed. Take for example, Henry VIII's first consort Katherine of Aragon. One would think that public images of her still as Queen would be suppressed. But at The Vyne, a 16th century country house in Hampshire, a stained glass depiction of Katherine, paired with Henry VIII no less, still exists (Fig. 7).[vi] It was originally made for the nearby Holy Ghost Chapel, a place of worship for the Sandys family.[vii] One of them, Sir William Sandys, was Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain. As the windows survived in situ until the Civil War, Sandys obviously did not feel that an image of the former Queen, still shown as Henry VIII's lawful wife, gave offence.[viii] Katherine as Queen can also be seen in the glasswork at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster (Fig. 8).

 Fig. 7.  Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon (detail), The Vyne, Hampshire

 Fig. 8.  Katherine of Aragon (detail), St. Margaret's Church, Westminster

Bruyère's assertion that 'it is simply unknown to the modern world what the woman looked like' is an overstatement concerning Anne Boleyn's likeness. While the 1534 medal and the Chequers locket ring only offer vague impressions, the painted likenesses cannot be discounted. While the famous 'B' pendant portraits (Fig. 9) are posthumous - Elizabethan or early Stuart,[ix] they were highly popular and made in great numbers. That this particular image of Anne was used, showed that it was based on an established likeness, one that was accepted by members of Elizabeth I's court who still remembered her.[x]

 Fig. 9.  Anne Boleyn (by an Unknown Artist), The National Gallery of Ireland

That Anne Boleyn was included in the Black Book of the Garter indicated the favour she was in. Her inclusion may or may not have been on account of her short lived pregnancy in 1534[xi]. Put simply, Anne was depicted as Philippa because she was the present Queen of England. Her relationship with Henry VIII did have its highs and lows, but we need not be so pessimistic as to assume that the birth of the Princess Elizabeth - a girl - in 1533 led to an irreversible breakdown of their marriage. In 1535, there were reports that the couple were 'merry', and it was not until the following year did Anne's world crumble, culminating with her arrest and execution in May 1536. But until that fateful spring, Anne Boleyn, the King's 'dear and entirely beloved wife' sat enthroned presiding over her court, just as she did in the Black Book of the Garter.

[i] Hilary Mantel, 'Anne Boleyn: witch, bitch, temptress, feminist', The Guardian, May 11, 2012: (web site accessed May 3, 2017).

[ii] E.W. Ives, 'The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered', EHR, July 1992. 'It is good to have Dr George Bernard's lecture... in print', Ives wrote.

[iii] Erna Auerbach, 'The Black Book of the Garter', Report of the Society of the Friends of St. George’s, 5, 1972–1973, p. 149.

[iv] 'Then began all the gentlewomen of England to wear French hoods with billiments of gold': Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London, (edited by John Gough Nichols), London: printed for The Camden Society, 1852, p. 43.

[v] E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p. 231.

[viii] Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visited The Vyne in 1531 and 1535: (web site accessed May 3, 2017). It is not impossible that they stopped by The Holy Ghost Chapel which William Sandys had greatly extended years earlier.

[ix] Most such portraits date to the reign of Elizabeth I when images of the reigning Queen's mother were in demand. However pictures of Anne Boleyn were still made in the early 17th century as part of  'the Kings and Queens of England' sets, like the example at The Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: (web site accessed May 3, 2017).

[x] That the 'B' pendant portrait type was based on a lost original, and perhaps by Horenbout, see: R. Hui, 'A Reassessment of Queen Anne Boleyn’s Portraiture', Tudor Faces blog (Jan., 2015; originally posted in Jan. 2000): (web site accessed May 3, 2017)

[xi] That the Lady of the Garter is supposedly pregnant was not an observation I myself made. Nevertheless it is worth considering.


  1. An excellent rebuttal and I agree entirely.

  2. Your writing style is both enjoyable and measured. These articles are great. Lovely images too. Thanks for sharing your research Roland

  3. I actually was not even aware of this photo or anything about her being depicted in the garter. This is fascinating and I am so glad I found your blog and what you have written makes perfect sense. Why else would Henry not have included her. Despite her downfall, everyone seems to forget the elevation she was rose to even being crowned with St Edwards. I highly doubt the marriage even suffered at all from the birth of Elizabeth. Maybe a little disappointed at the time but certainly not a "blow" by any means. It meant she was perfectly able to bear a healthy child and had she lived longer I think she would have been able to have another healthy child. Miscarriages were not unheard of by any means for the time! I think God certainly had other plans for Elizabeth I. And to think that all of Anne's portraits were destroyed us absurd. Certainly, they survive just heavily debated. I think Anne wants to remain a mystery for us all and feel maybe she was a mystery for her time as well.


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