Anne Boleyn's Visit to Calais

Anne Boleyn spent her early years on the Continent as a maid of honor in Austria and France. It was essentially her era's version of an Ivy League university, where she received not only a stellar education, but on-the-job training in their version of the corporate ladder.

Thomas Boleyn had sent Anne originally to the court of Archduchess Marguerite of Austria. It was a boon for the Boleyn family to have one of their daughters take such a coveted position. Thomas was serving as an ambassador, and it seems that he had made such a good impression on the Archduchess that she agreed to take one of his girls into her court.

Ordinarily, a maid of honor needed to be twelve or thirteen years of age to serve at the court. Anne may have been younger, because the Archduchess referred to how bright and pleasant Anne was "for her young age" and Thomas Boleyn called her "la petite Boullain" in his letter requesting Margaret release Anne from her service.

When Princess Mary Tudor wed the King of France in 1514, Anne was sent to attend her, likely because she was fluent in both English and French. After the soon-widowed Mary returned to England, Anne remained behind to serve the new queen, Claude.

Claude was not a glamorous queen. She was very short of stature and afflicted by what was likely juvenile onset scoliosis (the same ailment which affected Will Somers, my hero in Under These Restless Skies.) 

Despite her poor health, Claude would give her husband seven children during their ten year marriage. Descriptions of her laud her piety and good works, as well as her gentle nature. But she was strict when it came to moral decorum in her court. In some respects, Anne's court would resemble Claude's in the queen's insistence on circumspect behavior and religious devotion.

The king's mother, Louise, and his sister, Marguerite d'Angoulême, completely outshone the quiet Claude at court. Louise served as the king's regent during his absences, and so Anne would have learned much from watching this example of female political power. Marguerite was highly educated and intensely involved in the reformed faith. It's hard to imagine Anne was not influenced by her, as well.

These three women seemed to have helped shape the young Anne into the courtier - and the ruler - she would one day become. Erudite, glamorous, but intensely pious.

Anne was called home from France in late 1521 or early 1522. She may have expected never to see France again, because her father was working on a marriage for her. She left France a polished young woman with exquisite manners and graceful charm, but she was only a minor courtier. When she next laid eyes on its shores, she would be the Queen of England in all but name.

On October 11, 1532 Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII landed at Calais. Anne wore the crown jewels of England, pried away from a protesting Katharine of Aragon. Katharine had at first refused to give up the gems to adorn "the scandal of Christendom," but would not disobey a direct order from the man she still saw as her husband. Henry had the choicest pieces reset to Anne's taste. (In the portrait medallion, Anne Boleyn may be wearing what is known as the "consort's necklace" which almost all of Henry's queens were painted wearing.)

With Anne was a royal-sized retinue of high-born ladies. She was queen in every respect but one. For six years, the king had been fighting to rid himself of his wife in order to marry Anne. But now he had a new plan in mind. This trip was intended to introduce Anne to the European stage as England's queen consort, but it had hit a few snags.

Anne was the scandal of Europe at this point. Few believed her to be a virgin. She was seen as Henry's mistress, usurping the rightful place of a good and pious queen who had strong international ties. Acknowledging Anne would be to create hostilities, especially with strongly Catholic nations.

King Francis was in a delicate position. To receive Anne was to openly accept her, and that opened not only a diplomatic can of worms, but potentially could be seen as a challenge to the authority of the Church itself.

Queen Claude had died in 1524, and King Francis had remarried. His new wife, Eleanor, was the sister of the Emperor - and Katharine of Aragon's niece. Eleanor flatly refused to receive Anne Boleyn.

Francis's sister, Marguerite d'Angoulême, also demurred. While she was no friend of Katharine's nephew, the Emperor, Marguerite did not agree with the annulment, nor the way Henry was bullying the clergy in order to set up the next stage of his plans.

Marguerite's refusal is said to have wounded Anne, because she had great respect and affection for Marguerite from her days at the French court. She was also deeply insulted when the Duchess of Vendôme was suggested to receive Anne. The duchess was considered to be a woman of loose morals, and to be received by her would be to agree their status was similar.

And so, Anne would be left behind on English territory - Calais - while Henry traveled onward into France to meet with its king. During the few days he was absent, Anne was regally entertained by the people of Calais.

The festivities were somewhat more low key than Henry and Francis's famous meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, but Henry and Anne spared no expense or effort when it came to entertaining Francis when he reciprocated with a visit to Calais. The cost of this extravaganza, including the lavish gifts given by Henry to Francis and his courtiers, came to around £4,000.

Before he arrived, Francis sent a messenger with a large diamond as a gift for Anne Boleyn. As he entered the gates of Calais, three thousand guns were fired in salute. He was led to Staple Hall, where the walls had been covered with silk, and the floor was carpeted in cloth of gold, embroidered with silver flowers. Edward Hall later wrote:

It was in a chamber hanged with tissue, raised with silver, paned with cloth of silver raised with gold. The seams of the same were covered with broad wreaths of goldsmith's work, full of stones and pearls. In this chamber was a cupboard of seven stages high; all plate of gold, and no gilt plate. Besides, that, there hung ten branches of silver gilt, and ten branches all white silver, every branch hanging by a long chain of the same sort, bearing two lights of wax. The French king was served three courses, and his meat dressed after the French fashion; and the king of England had like courses after the English fashion. The first course of every kind was 40 dishes, the second 60, and the third 80, which were costly and pleasant.

 But the festivities were only beginning.

A masque began, and Anne Boleyn entered, trailed by seven ladies. Her sister, Mary, walked right behind her. They were costumed in lavishly expensive materials and wore masks to hide their features.

After supper came in the Marquess of Pembroke, with seven ladies in masking apparel of strange fashion, made of cloth of gold, compassed with crimson tinsel satin, joined with cloth of silver lying loose, and knit with laces of gold. They were brought into the chamber, with four damsels in crimson satin, with tabards of fine cypress.

Each lady chose a partner to dance with. It's doubtful that Francis was actually surprised when Anne removed her mask to reveal he had been dancing with her. He knew her, after all, and at this point, Anne was the most famous woman in Europe. There would have been no mistaking those distinctive black eyes, peeking from behind that mask.

After the dance had ended, Anne and Francis retired a short distance away from the other guests for a chat. We don't know what was said during this conversation, but it seems to have been a positive experience for everyone. Anne and Henry had what they had come for - Francis's tacit seal of approval on their union, even if it had to be accomplished by this ruse.

Anne and Henry had planned to depart for England right after this visit, but poor weather delayed their trip home.

Some claim it was during this time of idleness that Anne finally surrendered her virginity to Henry. I doubt it. For all her faults, Anne was an intensely religious woman. Her refusal to become Henry's mistress was not because of her ambition for the throne, but because of her religious principles. She would only sleep with her lawful husband, no matter how close that wedding might be.

The king's privy purse records show they spent their time playing a card game known as Pope Julius. Henry lost quite a bit of money to Anne. When the weather cleared, they sailed back to England. There, on November 14, Anne became Henry's wife, and the secret Queen of England.

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