Monday 21 November 2022

Anne Boleyn: A Reconsideration of 1507 as Her Date of Birth



Anne Boleyn (by Robert White, after a drawing said to be of the queen by Hans Holbein)

Inscribed 'Born 1507. Married Nov. 14, 1532. Gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth Sept. 7, 1533. Beheaded May 19, 1536'


The birth date of Queen Anne Boleyn remains controversial. While sources from the late 16th and early 17th centuries have stated that she was born in 1507, modern scholarship has favoured an earlier date instead. The art historian Hugh Paget, in particular, had proposed 1501 as a more plausible year based on Anne's time at the Hapsburg court of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands. Anne must surely have been about the age of 12 in 1513 when she went abroad, Paget argued, as that was supposedly the required age to be in service to the archduchess.

However, a re-evaluation of Paget's reasoning, as presented here, casts doubt that Anne was born in 1501. The obligatory age of courtly service is questionable, as was Anne's purpose for being at the Imperial court in the first place. She was most probably not engaged as a lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Austria, but was rather boarded at the Hapsburg schoolroom with other 'enfants d'honneur'. Furthermore, evidence of Anne being listed as a maid-of-honour is actually incorrect. She was confused with another young lady.

There are also overlooked statements provided by Roger Twysden, the nephew of Anne's first biographer George Wyatt. Shortly before his death in 1624, Wyatt had entrusted his notes about the late queen to his relative. Twysden transcribed his uncle's work, which clearly stated - and confirmed - that Anne was born in 1507, rather than in 1501. 




When Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1536, she left no indication how old she was at the time of her death. During Henry VIII's courtship of her beginning in around 1526, there were various descriptions of Anne as a 'young' woman (1), but none of these have been helpful in pinpointing her age.

It was not until the early 17th century that attempts were made to establish the year of her birth. In 1615, the antiquarian William Camden published his Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha ad annum salutis - a biography of Anne's daughter Elizabeth I - in which he empathically stated that Anne was born in 1507 ('Anna Bolena nata M.D. VII'). (2) This date was supported by the recollections of Lady Jane Dormer, made before her death in 1612, that Anne was 'not 29 years of age' when she was beheaded. (3)


 William Camden (by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger)

However in 1649, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in his book The Life and Reign of King Henry the Eighth, was certain that Anne was born earlier. He claimed (though on what authority he did not say) that Anne, 'coming to the age of 15', was 'deflowered by some domestics of her father' and was thus sent to France in 1514 because of her bad behavior. That said, Herbert believed that Anne was born 'about or before 1498'. (4)

A date prior to 1507 was also accepted by later historians such as Agnes Strickland (who thought 1501 based on her interpretation of Herbert's book) and by Paul Friedmann. Friedmann opined 1503-1504, or even earlier as 'she may have been rather older, for women so vain as Anne generally give themselves out for somewhat younger than they are.' As well, Friedmann referred to a portrait type, supposedly of Anne by Hans Holbein no less, where her age is given as 27 in 1530. (5) However, this painting of 'Anna Regina' was actually of another Anne - Anne of Hungary, wife of Ferdinand (the future Holy Roman Emperor and brother of the other future emperor, Charles V). Nevertheless, the circa 1501 date was also argued for by historian J.H. Round in accordance with Friedmann. (6)


Anne of Hungary (by Robert Cooper after Hans Maler)


The 1501 date was raised again by art historian Hugh Paget in more recent times. In 1981, he argued - with much persuasion - that Anne Boleyn was born in that year as opposed to 1507.  Paget pointed out a letter written by her to her father Sir Thomas Boleyn from the Netherlands where Anne had gone to reside with the regent Margaret of Austria in 1513. As such appointments were supposedly only given to girls of age 13 to 14, Anne must have been born in 1501, Paget proposed. Also, he claimed that Anne's name appeared in a list of Margaret's servants. So apart from being in the Low Countries to improve her French, she was also in service to the archduchess as a lady-in-waiting. (7)

However, a reassessment of Paget's arguments questions whether the age of about 12 was actually a requirement at the Hapsburg court, and that contrary to his identification of Anne as an attendant of Margaret of Austria, she was actually not there.


 Margaret of Austria (left) with her aunt Kunigunde of Austria (by Gaspare Oselli and Francesco Terzio)


According to Anne's letter, she was grateful to her father, in his role as envoy to the Imperial court in the Netherlands, for sending her to Margaret of Austria and she would do her best 'to continue to learn to speak good French.' (8) She also made mention of how she looked forward to speaking to 'the queen'. This has been taken to mean Katherine of Aragon in England, but as Anne had newly arrived in the Low Countries and would presumably stay there for awhile, she probably meant Margaret, whom she mistakenly referred to as 'the queen' rather than 'the archduchess' or 'the regent'. Given that Margaret was appointed governor of the Hapsburg Netherlands by her father Emperor Maximilian I (until her nephew Charles of Ghent - later Emperor Charles V - came of age) and entrusted with great powers, it is likely that the youthful Anne confused her title.


 Eleanor of Austria, Charles of Ghent, and Isabeau of Austria (by an Unknown Artist)


But how young was she? Was she about 6 or about 12? The argument for the latter was that to be in service to the Hapsburgs, one had to be about 13 or 14. Paget pointed to a letter (dated January 13, 1512) from the Emperor Maximilian to his daughter where he asked Margaret to place the niece of the courtier Don Diégo de Guevara who was of that age in her household. (9) This has commonly been assumed that she was to be a servant to the archduchess. But a closer reading of the letter shows that the emperor was asking that the girl be placed with his 'most dear and much loved girls' his granddaughters: Eleanor (the future Queen of France), Isabeau (the future Queen of Denmark), and Mary (the future Queen of Hungary) at the regent's court in the city of Mechelen (Malines). It is not certain that Don Diégo's niece was meant to a demoiselle d'honneur to the three girls who were about her age. Rather than as a maid-of-honour, perhaps she was meant to be a live-in companion to them and was to finish her education with them as well. That she was being sent to Mechelen having reached the age of 13 or 14 might have been a proviso on the part of her family rather than the emperor.


Map of Mechelen (Malines)

The Court of Cambrai is indicated in red. The Court of Savoy (with its interior gardens) is indicated in green.




The Court of Cambrai (the Keizerhof) (by an Unknown Artist)


The Court of Savoy (by an Unknown Artist)


Anne Boleyn's own statement to her father that she was at her French lessons implies that she was in the Hapsburg schoolroom rather than in service to Archduchess Margaret. This was the opinion of historian Retha Warnicke who supported 1507 as Anne's birth date. Warnicke had also noted that Anne Brandon, the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was sent to the Imperial court at age 7, as was his ward, Magdalen Rochester, at age 8. (10)

What Anne also wrote to Sir Thomas Boleyn implied she had little engagement with her hostess Margaret. Anne stated that since her arrival, she had written a number of letters to him in French under her tutor Symonnet, and this was the first one composed by herself without her teacher's help. This would mean that some weeks or even months had passed. Furthermore, she had still yet to converse with 'the queen' (here taken to mean Margaret of Austria). Anne did meet the regent when she first arrived in the Low Countries, as the archduchess described her as being 'of such good address and so pleasing in her youthful age' when she was presented to her by the Imperial envoy Claude de Bouton. (11) But this audience appeared to have been brief, and then Anne was packed off to her lessons. That she was not with Margaret indicates that she was not in constant attendance upon her as a lady-in-waiting should be.


Castle Tervuren (by Jan Brueghel)


Then where was Anne? Her letter to her father came from La Veure (Tervuren) where Margaret of Austria liked to spend her spring and summer holidays with her young charges, her three nieces and her nephew at Castle Tervuren. (12) Most likely, Anne had met Margaret briefly upon her arrival overseas, perhaps in Brussels, where the archduchess was negotiating the marriage of her niece Isabeau to the King of Denmark. (13) She was then sent off to La Veure to be with the Imperial children. It is known that they were there, as a teenage Charles accidentally shot and killed a local with his crossbow there that spring on Pentecost Monday, as his aunt regrettably reported to her father the emperor. (14)

In the fall, Anne and the Hapsburg children were taken to Margaret's palace in Mechelen. The archduchess's headquarters was the Court of Savoy. But if Anne was in the schoolroom as a little girl, rather than in service as it is argued here, she would mostly likely have been lodged in the Court of Cambria directly across the street with Charles of Ghent and his sisters. There she would have shared lessons with the other enfants d'honneur; sons and daughters of the international elite invited to live and learn at the Imperial court. (15) Anne, as the child of an important man, the Ambassador of England, would have been welcomed into this circle.

However, Hugh Paget was certain that Anne was with the archduchess as a lady-in-waiting as he referred to a list of the regent's staff in which a 'Mademoiselle de Bullan' (obviously Anne Boleyn) appeared. (16) However, this was a 19th century misreading. The lady's surname was actually 'de Bulleux'; she being a relation of one Hugues de Bulleux who served Margaret of Austria. Also, this list was actually compiled in 1525, long after Anne had left the Netherlands. (17)


 Roger Tywsden (by an Unknown Artist)


Going back to Anne's age, there is also the statements given by Roger Tywsden to consider. Tywsden (1597–1672) was a nephew of George Wyatt (1553–1624) who had written a biography of the tragic queen in the late 16th century. By his own account, Tywsden received his uncle's manuscript, from which he did a partial transcription in 1623. Among Tywsden's marginalia were significant statements saying that when Anne was 'not above 7 years of age, Anno 1514' she went to France, and that 'Anne was born 1507'. (18) Wyatt, from whom these notes were derived, had reliable sources in the form of two ladies who had personally known Anne at Henry VIII's court. (19)


Memorial Brass of Thomas Boleyn (The National Monuments Record)


With these all factors taken into consideration, there is a good argument that Anne Boleyn had gone to the Netherlands at an earlier age than supposed. That she was deemed too young is a modern conception, and Sir Thomas Boleyn seemingly had no qualms about sending her abroad as a little girl. The invitation from the Archduchess Margaret was too good to pass up, and Boleyn was not going to lose the opportunity by waiting till Anne was older. He was ambitious for her as he was for himself.    




1. Examples given in Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p. 40, p. 45, p. 52, p. 63.

2. William Camden, Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha ad annum salutis M.D.LXXXIX, 1615, p. 2

3. Henry Clifford, The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, (transcribed by Canon E.E. Estcourt and edited by Rev. Joseph Stevenson). London: Burns and Oates Limited, 1887, p. 80.

4. Edward Herbert (Lord Herbert of Cherbury), The Life and Reign of King Henry the Eighth, London: printed by Mary Clark for Ann Mearn, 1683, pp. 286-287.

5. Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Philadelphia: Blanchard and Lea, 1856, IV, p. 124. Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History, 1527-1536, London: Macmillan, 1884, II, p. 315.

6. J.H. Round, The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay, London: Elliot Stock, 1886.

7. Hugh Paget, 'The Youth of Anne Boleyn', Bulletin of The Institute of Historical Research, Volume 54, Issue 130, 1981, pp. 162-170.

8. Jasper Ridley, The Love Letters of Henry VIII, London: Cassell, 1988, p. 31.

9. M. Le Glay, Correspondance de l'empereur Maximilien Ier et de Marguerite d'Autriche, sa fille, gouvernante des Pays-Bas, de 1507 à 1519, publiée d'après les Manuscrits originaux, Paris: Jules Renouard et Cie., 1839, II, pp. 81-82.

10. Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 12-17 and p. 259, note 17.

11. Philip W. Sergeant, Anne Boleyn, London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1924, p. 27.

12. As for the other siblings, Ferdinand (the future Holy Roman Emperor) did not join the court in Mechelen till later, and Catherine (the future Queen of Portugal) stayed in Spain.

13. M. Le Glay, Correspondance, II, p. 157.

14. M. Le Glay, Correspondance, II, pp. 155-156.

15. For the enfants d'honneur, see Samuel Mareel, (editor), Renaissance Children: Art and Education at the Hapsburg Court (1480-1530), Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2021, pp. 18-19.

16. M. Le Glay, Correspondance, II, p. 461, note 2. See also Le Baron de Reiffenberg (editor), Chronique métrique de Chastellain et de Molinet, avec des notices sur ces auteurs et des remarques sur le texte corrigé, Brussels: J.M. Lacrosse, 1836, p. 154 (but corrected as 'Bulleur' on p. 156).

17. The correct name of Mademoiselle de Bulleux appears in the direct transcription Margaret of Austria's  household ordinance found in Le Compte E. de Quinsonas, Materiaux pour servir à l'histoire de Marguerite d'Autriche, Duchesse de Savoie, Regente des Pays-Bas, Paris: Delaroque Frères, 1860, III, p. 282, p. 293, p. 295, p. 298, p. 313, and p. 314. ADDENDUM (Jan. 31, 2024): In their book Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Marriage that Shook Europe (New York: HarperCollins, 2023), authors John Guy and Julia Fox state that Mistress Bulleux was actually Mistress Bullan (Anne Boleyn). See pages 42 and 442 (note 13). This is incorrect. That Hugues de Bulleux served Archduchess Margaret indicates that 'Bulleux' was not a misspelling of 'Bullan'.

18. Roger Twysden,  An Account of Queen Anne Bullen: From a MS. in the Hand Writing of Sir Roger Twysden, Bart., 1623, (edited by Robert Triphook), London, 1808, p. 3, p. 14, and p. 15.

19. George Wyatt, ‘Some Particulars of the Life of Queen Anne Boleigne’ in George Cavendish, The Life of Cardinal Wolsey (edited by S.W. Singer), second edition, London: Printed by Thomas Davison for Harding and Lepard, 1827, p. 422.


'Anne Boleyn: An Illustrated Life of Henry VIII's Queen' - Ready for pre-order!



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Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers


‘Richly illustrated and full of fascinating detail, this is a Tudor book to treasure. Fabulous!’

Leanda de Lisle, author of Tudor: The Family Story


'The story of Anne Boleyn's life and death comes vividly to life in this illustrated biography. Enlivened with illustrations of people, places and objects intimately connected with Anne's story, this book is a must-read for Tudor enthusiasts.'

Sylvia Barbara Soberton, author of Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn


'Roland Hui has an eye for detail and a way of writing prose that is both authoritative and compulsively readable.  This illustrated history puts Anne Boleyn's life in context - her world fleshed out alongside the stunning artwork of the period. Absorbing and meticulous, this is a book you won't want to miss.'

Adrienne Dillard, author of Keeper of the Queen's Jewels


'Roland Hui's lavishly illustrated new biography is a must for every Anne Boleyn fan. Hui manages to make seemingly familiar material feel fresh and new, and the emphasis on Anne's early years and education is welcome. A compelling, lively biography.'

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'This is a treasure of a book: beautifully written, sumptuously illustrated, and deeply moving. Compulsive reading even for seasoned fans of Anne Boleyn and the Tudor dynasty.'

Steven Veerapen, author of Elizabeth and Essex: Power, Passion, and Politics





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Wednesday 7 September 2022

Happy 489th Birthday to Queen Elizabeth I!


From 'The Story of the First Queen Elizabeth' (Ladybird Books, 1958). Illustration by John Kenney.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

'Anne Boleyn: An Illustrated Life of Henry VIII's Queen' - Coming soon!