Saturday 30 October 2021

Katherine Howard or Anne of Cleves - The Debate Continues


 Unknown Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard (by Hans Holbein). Royal Collection


Recently,  in an article entitled Pandemic Sleuthing to Re-identify a Tudor Queen, Laura Loney and Ashley Risk have supported Franny Moyle's claim (made in her book The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein) that miniatures of an Unknown Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard in the Royal Collection and in the Buccleuch Collection), were actually those of her predecessor Anne of Cleves. (1)

Apart from reinforcing the notion that the Holbein sitter supposedly resembles Anne of Cleves (as proposed separately by Moyle) and using Adobe Photoshop manipulation to match the two ladies, Loney and Risk took a novel approach in looking for secret symbols in the sitter's jewels and clothes.

Incredibly, in the lady's pendant, they have found a hidden Saint George's Cross and red dragon, indicating the sitter's royal status. In truth, this is highly imaginative, subjective, and difficult to see - like looking for images in inkblot test or in clouds. The so-called cross and dragon are merely light reflections off the ruby and emerald. As well, the claim that there are four empty casings in the sitter's  French hood to imply that she was Henry VIII's fourth wife, is a stretch to say the least. Holbein was painting a straightforward portrait. There is no evidence of any secret messages here.

The authors also claim to see design motifs associated with Anne of Cleves on the Holbein sitter's clothing. Again, this is simply wildly imaginative.

Also, it was argued that 'the coloured gems worn by the sitter are predominantly red and black, colours seen in Anne’s family heraldry'. In actuality, the 'black' gems were not meant to symbolize her family ties. The seemingly black stones were diamonds. In the way they were cut in the 16th century, their facets reflected the light on their surfaces as areas of black (and white at times).

An image of Anne as a child in a family portrait from the Cathedral of Saint Lambert in Düsseldorf has been presented by Loney and Risk to how Anne's hair color. The photo shows hints of yellow and brown, so ultimately, it does not settle the matter once and for all - for or against- the Holbein sitter being Anne.


Unknown Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard (by Hans Holbein). Buccleuch Collection


Anne's hair color was described by Edward Hall as 'fair, yellow, and long' at her wedding day (not merely 'long fair hair loose' as reworded by Moyle) (2), and he was almost certainly there in person as he wrote of the ceremony in very great detail. (3) However, there have been attempts to downplay this statement as it was incompatible with the Holbein sitter who is a brunette. Explanations of Hall being mistaken, Anne using hair dye, etc. are unconvincing. Hall was merely stating a simple fact - Anne was blond - and there is no reason to disbelieve him just because it's an uncomfortable fact in reconciling the miniatures of being of Anne of Cleves.

While the prospect of a new portrait of Anne of Cleves being discovered - or rediscovered - is most attractive, the new evidence being presented does not provide a good case. A labelling of the Holbein miniatures as that of an ' Unknown Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard' should remain. (4).



2. Franny Moyle, The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein, London: Head of Zeus, 2021, pp. 525-531/621 on Kindle e-book.

3. Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle; Containing the History of England, During the Reign of Henry the Fourth and the Succeeding Monarchs, London: printed for J. Johnson, 1809, p. 836. Online at:

4. For previous arguments, see: and



Monday 20 September 2021

The Emmy Awards 2021

Actress Emma Corrin (Princess Diana in The Crown) borrowing a look from Lynne Frederick (Queen Catherine Howard in the 1972 film Henry VIII and His Six Wives).



Wednesday 8 September 2021

Joan of Arc in the 17th Century


🎶 Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her, she was a sister who really cooked! 🎵
 (Theme song from the tv show Maude
 Later imaginings of Joan of Arc (by Leonard Gaultier, 1612).



Thursday 19 August 2021

Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Queen Catherine Howard?

Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein


Mary Tudor, Catherine Howard, Margaret Douglas, or Anne of Cleves?

Learn about this miniature at:



Friday 30 July 2021

The Modern Day Mystery of Anne Boleyn's 1534 Medal

Portrait Medal of Anne Boleyn, 1534 (The British Museum)


One of the few surviving artifacts of Anne Boleyn's 'thousand days' is a portrait medal of her made in 1534.

Cast in lead and measuring 38 mm in diameter, it presented Anne as Queen of England ('A R', that is 'Anne Regina') with her motto 'The Most Happy'. The medal was almost certainly made as a prototype in anticipation of the child she was carrying in the spring of 1534. But then in the summer, the pregnancy was entirely hushed up, and it is believed that Anne sadly had a miscarriage. As a result, the medal was never mass produced for distribution.

It has been suggested that because of Anne's unpopularity as queen, the medal was deliberately damaged  - the nose flattened and a side of the face scarred - after her fall. (1) In May 1536, Anne was accused of high treason and executed. Portraits of her would have been taken down and probably destroyed, and it is thought that the disfigurement which appears on the medal was part of this purge. However, evidence from the late 19th century suggests that no such harm had been done to the medal at that time, and in fact, the defacement - actually unintentional - was relatively recent.

The medal came into the collection of The British Museum through Edward Hawkins, Keeper of the Department of Antiquities from 1826 to 1860. It was later shown to George Scharf, the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, in 1866 or sometime before. Scharf remarked that it was 'brought to my notice, a leaden medallion preserved in The British Museum. It is possibly a cast from a carving in hone-stone, or wood, and measures 1 1/2 inch in diameter; the sculpture in rather high relief... the face is turned slightly sideways, and rather looking up towards the left. The letters A.R. in the field, and the legend "THE MOOST HAPPI ANNO 1534," round the margin, show that this figure must have been intended for Anne Boleyne'. (2)

In 1885, the medal was included in the book Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland to the Death of George II by the late Edward Hawkins (he died in 1867) and edited by Augustus W. Franks, and Herbert A. Grueber. Hawkins, before his passing, described it as 'a bust of Anne Boleyn, three-quarters, l. (left), pedimental headdress, with a large veil at back, cross hanging from necklace, low dress and mantle over shoulders. In the field A.R. Leg. THE MOOST HAPPI. ANNO 1534... Probably cast from a carving in wood or hone-stone'. (3)

One of his editors, Grueber, who then wrote an exhibition catalogue about the museum's medals in 1891, had this to say - 'Anne Boleyn, 1534. Obv. Bust of Queen, nearly full face, towards l. (left), wearing coif with veil, &c., in field A. R. THE MOOST HAPPI. ANNO 1534. Reverse plain. Lead. Size 1.5. Cast'. (4)

Repeatedly, none of the writers made note of any damage to the medal. Hawkins in particular, who was very meticulous in including condition issues where necessary - for example: 'very much worn or rubbed' for a medal of Edward VI, a 'decay of the surface' (Elizabeth I), 'badly executed' (Mary Queen of Scots), and 'extremely course workmanship' (Charles I) - made absolutely no comment about the Anne Boleyn medal being in poor shape. (5) Likewise, Scharf, who was a great connoisseur of old portraits (particularly from the Tudor era) and who even liked to make his own sketches of them, said nothing as well. (6)


Portrait Medal of Anne Boleyn, 1534 (Woodcut from Edward Hawkins' Medallic Illustrations, 1885)


Hawkins' book included a noteworthy woodcut illustration of the 1534 medal with the sitter's face fully intact. (7) Interestingly, there was no disclaimer or indication whatsoever that the drawing of the medal was an artist's re-imagining of what it formerly looked like. By all appearances, it was a straight forward depiction of its current state at the time (before the soft lead was somehow later squashed). 

The unintended defacement of the medal would have occurred sometime between the exhibition of it in 1891 and 1920 when Sir George Francis Hill described it as 'so hopelessly battered about the nose that what may once have been an attractive portrait has become the most pitifully grotesque of caricatures'. This was apparently the first mention of any mutilation. (8)

In summary, observations about the medal, beginning in 1866, strongly suggest that the damage to the Anne Boleyn medal was not done in the 16th century, but much later.  It would seem that when George Scharf saw it, the piece was still in good condition and in 'rather high relief' as he stated. Regrettably, some accident must have befallen it between 1891 and 1920, and it appeared as it is today. (9)

Still, we can be grateful that the medal has survived at all despite its appearance, and that it was properly documented with a drawing showing what it looked like, thus preserving the features of the elusive Anne Boleyn. (10)




1, Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p. 42.

2. George Scharf, 'Notes on several of the Portraits described in the preceding Memoir, and on some others of the like character', Archaeologia, Vol. 40, Issue 01, January 1866, p. 88. Note: Scharf has used the older alternate spelling of  'Boleyne' here.

3. Edward Hawkins, Augustus W. Franks, and Herbert A. Grueber, Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland to the death of George II, Volume I, London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1885, p. 34.

4. Herbert A. Grueber, A Guide to the Exhibition of English Medals, London: Trustees of the British Museum, 2nd edition, 1891, p. 2.

5. Edward Hawkins et al, Medallic Illustrations, p. 58, p. 100, p. 121, and p. 367. The woodcut is on p. 4.

6. Interestingly, in his remarks about an image of the Lady of the Garter (from The Black Book of the Garter at Windsor Castle created in 1534), whom he accepted as Anne Boleyn (see note 2 above), Scharf opined how there was 'not much character in her countenance'. But with the 1534 medal, he had no comment at all about Anne's shortcomings (the very obvious damaged face), implying that the disfigurement was not there in 1866.

7. Edward Hawkins et al, Medallic Illustrations, p. 34.

8. George Francis Hill, Medals of the Renaissance, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920, p. 151. After Hill's publication, awareness and interest in the medal waned considerably. It was not brought back to public attention until 1972 when Marie Louise Bruce reproduced a photograph of it in her biography of the queen (Anne Boleyn, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan).

9. My appreciation to The British Museum's Department of Coins and Medals for its correspondence with me. My tracking down the medal's history remains ongoing.

10. For additional observations of the 1534 medal, see sculptor Lucy Churchill's study of it and her physical reconstruction:


Saturday 24 July 2021

The Lygons and the Flytes

On May 31 1533, one Richard Lygon was created 'a Knight of the Sword' in the Tower of London in celebration of Anne Boleyn's coronation. 

His descendant was William Lygon, Lord Beauchamp (1872-1938), the model for Lord Marchmain in Evelyn Waugh's classic 'Brideshead Revisited'. His family home, Madresfield Court, inspired Brideshead.

Like Lord Marchmain who left his family to live with his mistress in Italy, Lord Beauchamp was exiled from England, though in his case for his same sex attractions.


William Lygon, the 7th Earl of Beauchamp at a  fancy dress ball in 1897.



Madresfield Court (Malvern, Worcestershire)

 The private family chapel at Madresfield Court.The Lygons were actually an  Anglo Catholic family, not Roman Catholic as depicted in 'Brideshead Revisited'.

Beauchamp's son Hugh Lygon (1904-1936) was the model for Lord Sebastian Flyte. 



 Hugh Lygon


Thursday 8 July 2021

A Podcast on The Portraiture of the 6 Wives of Henry VIII


It was a pleasure discussing the portraiture of Henry VIII's 6 wives with 'Talking Tudors' wonderful host Natalie Grueninger at:



Sunday 30 May 2021

June 2021 issue of 'Tudor Life'




The latest issue of Tudor Life is out, and is about 70 pages long.

Check out a sample copy here:

To learn more about The Tudor Society:



Monday 17 May 2021

Podcast: 'Anne Boleyn Special 1: Life and Afterlives'

Do join host Suzannah Lipscomb, authors Claire Ridgway and Natalie Grueninger, historian Dr. Stephanie Russo, and myself for a podcast 'Anne Boleyn Special 1: Life and Afterlives' at 'Not Just the Tudors'.



Monday 3 May 2021

Anne of Cleves or Catherine Howard?


Catherine Howard(?) by Hans Holbein, The Royal Collection


An upcoming biography on artist Hans Holbein the Younger by television producer and author Franny Moyle has received much attention in the past few days (1).

In The King's Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein, Moyle has made the claim that a portrait miniature - one version in the Royal Collection and the other in the Buccleuch Collection - of an unknown lady, commonly called Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, is actually that of her predecessor, Anne of Cleves.


Catherine Howard(?) by Hans Holbein, The Buccleuch Collection


Moyle believes there is a strong similarity of appearance between the two sitters. Such observations are entirely subjective, and Moyle has offered more substantial evidence in the Catherine Howard(?) miniature itself. On the back of the Royal Collection version, a playing card was stuck onto the vellum surface to give it support; it is a 4 of Diamonds. As Anne was Henry VIII's fourth wife, Moyle opines that the card was intentionally used by Holbein to identify her as such.

Furthermore, as the sitter is wearing a French hood (as opposed to the more cumbersome headdresses associated with pictures of Anne of Cleves), Moyle suggests that this was Anne's attempt to be more pleasing to her new husband, who disliked her Germanic clothes.



Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein, The Victoria and Albert Museum


While it is known that Anne of Cleves adopted fashions au courant in England while she was Queen, her actual appearance does not conform to the so-called Catherine Howard(?) miniatures. On her wedding day, the chronicler Edward Hall, who gave a very detailed description of the ceremony and of what Anne was wearing, described the bride as having her 'hair hanging down, which was fair, yellow, and long' (2). Thus Anne was blond, not a brunette as depicted in the Catherine Howard(?) miniatures. 




Jane Small by Hans Holbein, The Victoria and Albert Museum (front)

Jane Small by Hans Holbein, The Victoria and Albert Museum (back)

Besides being ambiguous, the 4 of Diamonds (why not an unequivocal queen card instead?) used by Holbein is actually insignificant in light of other pictures (3). In his portrait of Jane Small, a 5 of Diamonds was placed on the back with no perceived meaning. And on a miniature of young Henry Brandon, the son of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, 'part of a king' served as the backing (4). Such a card would have had no connotation to the boy (5).


Henry Brandon by Hans Holbein, The Royal Collection


I'm sure Moyle has other evidence to back up her theory, and I'm eager to read the book to find out more. But for the present, I have my reservations that the Catherine Howard(?) miniature is actually of Anne of Cleves.




(1) 'How Holbein left clever clue in portrait to identify Henry VIII’s queen', The Guardian, (by Dalya Alberge), May 1, 2021: (accessed May 3, 2021)

(2) Edward Hall, The Triumphant Reigne of Kyng Henry the VIII, London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1904, II, p. 302.

(3) Art historian Karin Leonhard has argued that there is a correlation between the backing cards and  sitters: (accessed May 3, 2021). Even if true, this was inconsistent. While Nicholas Hilliard did put 'part of a queen' on the back of a limning of Elizabeth I, he also used a 'playing card with a queen' for his picture of an unknown lady (perhaps Frances Clifford). See Roy Strong, Artists of the Tudor Court, London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983, p. 177 and p. 77.

(4) Roy Strong, Artists of the Tudor Court, pp. 50-51.

(5) According to Karin Leonhard, a king card for Henry Brandon was suitable 'as the boy’s father, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, enjoyed quasi royal status'. This is overreaching. Brandon's prominence was due only to his former marriage to Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor. But she died in 1533, and Suffolk then married Katherine Willoughby, who later gave birth to their sons Henry and Charles. The two boys had no claim to royalty, and therefore, the king card was insignificant to Henry Brandon.


Friday 23 April 2021

A Seal for Queen Mary

My illumination of a royal seal for Mary Tudor, Queen of England. 

Inks, watercolors, 23K gold leaf, shell gold and shell silver on calfskin vellum. 3.5" diameter. 

For the original 1558 drawing of the seal: