This is Not Anne Boleyn

This "new portrait of Anne Boleyn" has been making the rounds in social media, and now several news articles

It is not Anne Boleyn.

The picture you see above is a copy of a copy of a copy of a painting that used to be in the collection of Horace Walpole. He was given it by a woman of the court who identified if as Joan, Baroness Bagevenny. Walpole had no reason to doubt this identification, and added it to his collection. The painting was sold in the 1840s, and has apparently vanished from existence. (UPDATE: The painting has not vanished. It still exists and is in a private collection. Art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor has examined the original painting years ago and searched it for any hint it can be connected to Anne Boleyn . Spoiler alert: He didn't find any.)

Now, a historian has identified it as being Anne Boleyn. But there are serious, serious problems with this identification, which I will break down here. Buckle up, campers, 'cause this is gonna be a long post.

First of all, the earliest sketch of the painting is this one from the Walpole collection. Looks a little different from the one above, even in the facial features.

You'll notice that the "R" insignia on the collar that caused so much excitement is nowhere to be found. That's because the original painting didn't have it, either, as shown in the catalog description of the painting when it went up for sale:

Here is another version of the same sketch.

The "R" insignias are the invention of the third sketch artist. They do not appear in the original sketch, nor in the painting upon which the sketches were based.

Now, on to the details. (I warned you this would be long.)

The style of the hood puts the image firmly in the early 1520s. The lappets in this image almost reach the woman's collarbone. In the 1530s, lappets were chin length (as you can see in Anne's portrait medal.)

Here is a Holbein sketch from the 1530s said to be Anne Boleyn. Note the lappets.

This is the Anne Boleyn Nidd Hall painting (sometimes said to be Jane Seymour re-purposed.)

Again, note the lappets.

They got shorter every year. By 1536, they were at mouth level.

 It was also fashionable in Anne's time for the veil to be pinned up to the side of the hood, as you can see in the medal. The sitter in the sketch has a veil hanging straight down. (Look at the portrait medal and see how the veil is clumped on the left side of the head. On Jane Seymour's sketch above, it's clumped on the right side.)

The gown itself dates more to the 1520s, as well. The neckline is square and not as low as the necklines in the 1530s. Compare the upper image to the images of  Jane and the Annes. The necklines in the 1530s had gone wider, making them more rectangular and revealing more of the shoulders. You can see a similar neckline in Mary Tudor's childhood portrait.

Anne Boleyn was known to be at the height of style and an innovator in fashion. She would not have worn something so out of date as queen.

Anne Boleyn was not rich enough in the early 1520s to afford the jewels the sitter wears, nor would she have been able to wear them due to the sumptuary laws. In the Hever/NPG portraits, Anne is wearing jewels more appropriate to her station.

Anne was either thirteen years old or twenty years old in 1520 (depending on the birth date you believe.) The sitter in the sketch is clearly a middle-aged woman, not a young girl.

Even the description of the painting says the sitter is a middle-aged woman.

The hood has the letter "I" and "A" repeated. The "I" initials are larger than the "A"s. This lady's given name started with an "I" or a "J." "A" was a secondary name, given less importance.

There is no way to explain the "I" insignias in the context of Anne Boleyn. 

Anne favored the HA cipher after her marriage. She and Henry put it on everything from her personal jewels to the buildings erected during her reign. If it wasn't "HA" it was "AR" or "ARS" for Anna Regina Sovereign. It's inexplicable for her to revert back to a simple "A" with no mention of her marriage or royal status - via crown jewels or other symbols - anywhere in the image. The sitter in the sketch is not royal. She's obviously rich and titled, but she has no indications of royalty whatsoever.

In twenty years of studying Tudor England, I have never heard of the carnation standing for "coronation" as Weir claims in the article. The carnation was a symbol of betrothal or marriage. (And Anne Boleyn certainly would not have had her coronation image painted wearing a headdress and gown almost thirteen years out of style.)

If this really was a coronation portrait, Anne would have worn some of the crown jewels, such as the “consort’s necklace” all of Henry’s queens after Anne are painted wearing.

She would have had “HA” in her headdress instead of just her maiden name. She could have been painted with the crown of St. Edward beside her as her daughter, Elizabeth, did.  She would have used the RAS (Regina Anna Soverign) insignia designed for her, or SOME reference to her royalty, not just her maiden name.

In the Nidd Hall painting, she's wearing the Consort's Necklace, plus three strands of pearls Jane Seymour is later seen wearing in the Dynasty portrait (obviously a royal set.) She also may be wearing the Consort's Necklace with a cross pendant in her portrait medallion... It's hard to tell.

But note the initials Anne chose as queen: AR. She signified her royalty in her post-marriage portraits.

Walpole had good reason to identify the painting with the Bergavenny family. Joan FitzAlan (the reported sitter) was the daughter of the Earl of Arundel (accounting for the "A"). She married the Baron of Bergavenny (the "B".) Her first name accounts for the "I" insiginas. The purpose of this image, whether or not it was painted after Joan's death, was to celebrate the uniting of those houses, Arundel and Bergavenny, and the woman who made it happen - Joan - by dint of her marriage. The design of the image itself screams its purpose.

Though Joan was deceased at the time this image was painted, but posthumous paintings were often done with the current fashions (see the painting of Mary Tudor with Charles Brandon for an example.)

I cannot say for certain the identification is correct and the sketch is Joan. But I'm willing to bet the farm it's not Anne Boleyn.

Read Dr. Bendor Grosvenor's blog article here.
Claire Ridgeway of the Anne Boleyn Files gives her opinion (and was kind enough to link my article!)


  1. Has anyone remarked at the similarity between the medal with Anne's portrait and the portrait of her sister Mary? Even the hood I store in the same manner as you mention here. I imagine Anne resembled the Mary more than the supposed drawing. Interesting read. Thanks

    1. Hello,

      We don't have any confirmed portraits of Mary Boleyn. There are a couple that have been claimed as being images of her over the years, but we can't make a definitive identification of any of them.

      I know it sounds harsh, but Mary Boleyn just wasn't important enough for a portrait. Before her sister became queen, she was a very short-term mistress of Henry VIII and then married to a relatively minor courtier. In the Tudor era, miniatures were incredibly expensive works of art and while not exclusive to the royal family, they were usually restricted to the highest echelons of the nobility. They were usually commissioned for a specific reason (such as marriage negotiations/betrothal gifts for a person who didn't know what their intended spouse looked like, etc.) At the time most of these images that are supposedly of Mary were commissioned, she was either too poor, or in disgrace. After William Carey died in the late 1520s, Mary struggled on a small pension that her sister had to more-or-less force out of their father by appealing to the king. Soon after Anne's coronation, Mary remarried without the family's permission and was expelled from court, and was back in financial struggle.

      While it's not IMPOSSIBLE that any of these images could be Mary, it's unlikely.