Sunday 21 June 2020

'Anne of the Thousand Days' - A Look Back

Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn

 Film, Memory, & The Beauty Of ‘Anne Of The Thousand Days’, article by Kristen Lopez at Forbes.

Friday 19 June 2020

Actor Ian Holm (1931 - 2020)

Actor Ian Holm (September 12, 1931 - June 19, 2020) as David Ricchio in Mary Queen of Scots (1971).

Friday 12 June 2020

A Portrait of Mary Boleyn - A Remembrance of a Life at the Court of Queen Anne Boleyn

Mary Boleyn (by an Unknown Artist), Hever Castle

Mary Boleyn has been in the headlines recently. 

The heroine of the racy The Other Boleyn Girl, Mary, in truth has been a rather obscure figure in Tudor history. Her claims to fame are that she had bedded Henry VIII, and that she was the sister of the famous Anne.

Historian Eric Ives has commented that with little information on Mary's life, it 'could be written on the back of a postcard with room to spare'.[i] That said, her likeness would be equally obscure.[ii] For a long time, a portrait at Hever Castle, Kent (with copies in the Royal Collection, etc.)  has been called Mary, though with scant evidence. In fact, at one time it was even identified as Anne Boleyn.[iii]  

However, The Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (JVDPPP) - an art research group primarily interested in studying the works of Jacques Jordaens and Anthony Van Dyck - has announced that it has confirmed the portrait of Mary Boleyn as truly being of her, based on scientific analysis and provenance. See: 

This is exciting news, and has even been picked up in mainstream media. Assuming that the portrait is of Mary Boleyn without any doubt, there is still the question as to when the original (now lost) was painted. Based on costume evidence, it was not when Mary was the King's mistress in the 1520s, but later during  her sister Anne's queenship, specifically within the span of one year, between summer 1533 and summer 1534.

Anne Boleyn (from The Black Book of the Garter), St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle


Mary was Henry VIII's lover sometime between 1520 (when she returned from the French court) and 1527 (when she was eclipsed by her sister in the King's affections). Mary's likeness was certainly not taken when she was in special favour with Henry VIII. Her costume, as shown in the painting, is of the mid 1530s. The frontlets of her English style gabled hood extend down to her mouth. This was a feature of such headdresses as seen in an illumination of her sister Queen Anne enthroned. As depicted in the 1534 Liber Niger - or the Black Book of the Garter - in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Anne (identified by the A R - Anna Regina - cipher on her pendant) wears a comparable gabled hood with the frontlets aligned to her mouth as well.[iv] The changing length of frontlets over time is evident from a miniature of Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon from the 1520s. In Katherine's portrait, her frontlets go down to her shoulders.

It should be mentioned that Mary also has one of her lappets pinned to the top of her hood. This fashion, which started in 1520s (as in Queen Katherine's miniature) and extended into the 1530s, can also seen in a portrait medal of Anne made in 1534.[v]

Katherine of Aragon (attributed to Lucas Horenbout), The Buccleuch Collection

Portrait Medal of Anne Boleyn (by an Unknown Artist), The British Museum

 Most likely, Mary sat for her portrait when her sister (and by extension her family) was at the apogee of power, that is after she was crowned Queen on Whitsunday 1533. Mary attended Anne at court until she incurred a scandal. In September 1534, she was seen to be with child. Mary had been widowed since 1528, and she finally found love again with one William Stafford. He was not a man of significance and he was younger than she, but as Mary herself stated in a letter: 'love overcame reason... for well I might have had a greater man of birth and a higher, but I ensure you I could never have had one that should have loved me so well, nor a more honest man'.[vi] It was addressed, not to Anne or to any other of the Boleyns, but to Thomas Cromwell, the King's minister. Banished from court for her secret marriage and pregnancy, Mary was reduced to seeking his help as a 'poor humble suitor' for a reconciliation with her family.

Given Mary's circumstances, she would not have commissioned a portrait of herself after her dismissal.[vii] She was in disgrace, and less than two years later, the Boleyn name was further tainted. In May 1536, her siblings Anne and George were executed for high treason, and as a result, their father Sir Thomas Boleyn, once so highly regarded by Henry VIII, was ejected from his circle.

In Mary Boleyn's remaining years, her time at her sister's court - albeit brief - would be but a memory, one preserved in a painted portrait as a remembrance. She died in some obscurity in 1543.



[i] 'Mary Boleyn – One Big Boleyn Myth' (posted on February 19, 2013) at The Anne Boleyn Files: (accessed June 2020).

[ii] Possible earlier portraits of Mary Boleyn are two miniatures of a sitter, age 25, attributed to Lucas Horenbout:

[iii] 'Mysterious woman in Royal Collection portrait identified as Mary Boleyn' at JVDPPP website: (accessed June 2020).

[iv] For Anne Boleyn appearing in the Black Book:

[v] Interestingly, Anne's frontlets in the medal are slightly longer, going down to her chin.

[vi] Mary Anne Everett Wood (editor), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, London: Henry Colburn, 1842, II, pp. 193-197.

[vii] In her letter to Cromwell, Mary wrote of living 'a poor honest life' with William Stafford. Their financial situation would not have allowed Mary to commission a painting of herself; a costly extravagance.