La Jeune Anne Boleyn – Her Early Life in The Netherlands and France

By Mercy Alicea Rivera




Anne Boleyn, a woman ahead of her time, was wise, charming, determined, pious and brave. She was a woman who suffered a tragic end, but left an enormous legacy. Little is known about her childhood, but it seems that her time in the Netherlands and France was of huge influence in her formation. While I was searching about that time in her life, I felt that the Netherlands and France were a key in the development of Anne. She learned what she needed to climb to the top, to conquer a king and become a legend. Let’s take a look at those years when Anne Boleyn was the star of foreign lands.

Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond

Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, was a man of incredible charm and talent to win people’s trust, especially of those with a pure amount of royal blood. He was a very good diplomat and thanks to these great skills, he became one of the best in the court of King Henry VIII. By winter 1512, Thomas Boleyn arrived to The Netherlands, to the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. She ruled the Netherlands on behalf of her nephew. Thomas Boleyn managed not only to earn the trust of the Archduchess, he won also her affection, she was so impressed with Thomas’s charms, talent and skills as a diplomat, that she immediately showed interest in giving a place in her household to his younger daughter… Anne.

Margaret of Austria
Margaret of Austria

Anne was just a child, between 10-12 years old, and was under the care of her Mother, Lady Elizabeth Howard at Hever Castle. By the summer of 1513, the young Anne Boleyn arrived to the Palace of the Archduchess’s in Mechelen. The meeting between Anne and Margaret for sure was a happy one. It is clear that the girl impressed the Archducheess positively, proof of this is placed in a letter that Margaret of Austria sent to Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn:

“I have received your letter by the Esquire [Claude] Bouton who has presented your daughter to me, who is very welcome, and I am confident of being able to deal with her in a way which will give you satisfaction, so that on your return the two of us will need no intermediary other than she. I find her so bright and pleasant for her young age that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me than you are to me.”

Anne Boleyn not only arrived to a magnificent palace ruled by a gentle lady who showed her affection from the start, she arrived to a “Princely School and a place of high culture and advanced civilization”, as it was described by the Belgian Historian Ghislain De Boom. Indeed, this was true. The Palace of Mechelen was visited often by Erasmus and other well known humanists. The Archduchess owned a superb library, full of poetry, missals, and historical work. This library also owned a lot of writings from Christine de Pizan, who was known for challenging misogyny and the stereotypical views of women by men. The works of Boccaccio, Aesop, Ovid, Boethius and Aristotle were also part of this incredible library.

Margaret of Austria
Margaret of Austria

Margaret of Austria was a patron of the arts and her court was also known for her great collections of paintings by masters such as Jan van Eyck, illuminated manuscripts and music books. She surrounded herself with men of letters, poets and painters. The Archduchess also enjoyed the tradition of courtly love, which according to her, it was “an integral element in chivalry”. Without doubts, the young Anne arrived to a place full of wisdom, with enough power to show her a different world and infinite possibilities. She continued to grow under a roof of not only knowledge, but also of more open ideas. The strict codes of conduct, behavior and limited freedom of thinking ordered to women specifically, was far, far away, and Anne had all she needed to be different, to be better and successful in her future life.

Even when we do no have records that can tell us how Anne Boleyn was in her childhood, we can tell, by how the Archduchess doted on her that for sure she was a sweet and well behaved little girl, charming like her father and with a great potential. Since the beginning, the Archduchess refer to her as “La Petit Boulin” in a very affectionate tone. The Archduchess assigned Anne a tutor, name Symmonet, to help her improve her French. With him she also learned the art of deportment conversation, art and dance. In the Archduchess’s household, Anne received constant examples of the great taste in all related with art and music, and soon, the young Anne along with the other ladies under the Archduchess’s care started to show what they were learning, winning the approval and cheers of not only their mistress, but from everyone at court. This fact is validated by Jane De Loghn, Author of Margaret of Austria, Ruler of the Netherlands, who quoted: “The Nobles and Ladies of her court reflected the influence of the taste and preferences of their mistress”.

Anne_Boleyn_B_Necklace_by_darena13In time, Anne’s development in the Archduchess’s household was so impressive, that she was made “demoiselle d’honneur” or “fille d’honneur” . She continued to grow beautifully under the wings of the Archduchess, who was filling her mind with everything she needed to be a future jewel of a royal court. Art, music and poetry were her favorites. Anne learned the ways of a Renaissance Court, the arts of a good conversation and courtly “discreet” flirting. She developed a special love for tapestries and paintings, while starting to understand music. Anne improved her singing skills and wrote pieces of her own. Her dancing skills were delicate and gracious, pleasing the Archduchess very much. Anne Boleyn also showed a great interest in architecture. She openly spoke about her love for Michelen Palace and often compared it with Hampton Court when she returned to England, because both palaces were constructed with patterned bricks.

Historian Eric Ives wrote that Margaret of Austria marked Anne Boleyn’s life deeply in all related to fine art. Proof of it is that while Anne was Queen of England, she was patron of many artists, Holbein among them. Many musicians also received patronage from her. Hugh Paget wrote about how Margaret of Austria influenced Anne Boleyn in a way that made her a Lady that would be the envy of any other noble woman:

*Her time in the Netherlands with the Archduchess marked the foundation of her French knowledge and love for it. With Margaret of Austria Anne also learned “Other Courtly Accomplishments” that made Mary to pick her as one of her ladies in waiting in France. Anne’s time in Mechelen was productive, since increased immeasurably her love for music and talent for it, also her interest in arts and poetry”.

With Margaret of Austria Anne learned to have a mind of her own. She took the privilege of learn from humanists, writers, artists to the highest expectations. Anne also started to develop a style of her own, far from the English codes and more and more connected to the French manners. She also learned that appearances matter and are taken seriously in every Royal court. But not only that, thanks to what she lived and learned in the court of the Archduchess, the young Anne discovered something that indeed would mark her life forever. She found out that a woman was capable to have her own opinions, ideas and beliefs and surely, could be independent owners of their lives.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Anne Boleyn spent only a year in the wise guidance of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, but in that year, Anne learned valuable things that for sure made her greater and brighter than before. At that time it was impossible for the entire Boleyn family to imagine that someday the young girl would become Queen of England, since King Henry the VIII at that time was happily married to Catherine of Aragon, Still, with this new air of wisdom in this young child, Thomas Boleyn for sure knew that his daughter would bring good fortune to the family. With this in mind, Thomas Boleyn started to work hard in England to find a place for Anne in the household of the future Queen of France and he succeeded. Sadly for the Archduchess, Thomas Boleyn sent her a letter, asking her to release Anne to a chaperone sent by him. The Archduchess had no choice, and she replied on a note that “I could not, nor did I know how to refuse”. The Chaperone arrived to take Anne to France and serve Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry the VIII as lady in waiting in 1514. During her travel to France, the young Anne wrote her first letter in French to her father:

-Anne-Boleyn-natalie-dormer-as-anne-boleyn-27820344-519-555Sir, – I understand by your letter that you desire that I shall be a worthy woman when I come to the Court and you inform me that the Queen will take the trouble to converse with me, which rejoices me much to think of talking with a person so wise and worthy. This will make me have greater desire to continue speaking French well and also spell, especially because you have enjoined it on me, and with my own hand I inform you that I will observe it the best I can. Sir, I beg you to excuse me if my letter is badly written, for I assure you that the orthography is from my own understanding alone, while the others were only written by my hand, and Semmonet tells me the letter but waits so that I may do it myself…Written at Veure by Your very humble and very obedient daughter, Anna de Boullan.

There is a detail that creates confusion, and it is about which of the Boleyn sisters was taken first to the French Court. In his writings, Eric Ives points that the records are not clear about this, but one mentions only “Marie Boulone” among the list of ladies in the company of Mary Tudor in her travel to France. Anne is not mentioned. So, it is probably that Mary was with the Queen in her crossing to France for her wedding in October 9 1514, and then Anne caught up in Paris for her coronation in November 9 1514. The marriage of Mary Tudor was the event that reunited the Boleyn sisters after a year of distance between them. There are not much records about how the sisters used to get along but, so far it seems they were loving to each other, even when there were huge differences between them. Mary Boleyn was a well educated girl, but she did not have the major advantages that her younger sister had. Both had different visions of life and behavior, something that would later come to light.

King Francis I
King Francis I

On January 1st 1515, only three months after their marriage, the 52 year old King Louis XII died, leaving his 18 year Queen a widow. The King had no male heirs and the Salic Law prevented his daughter Claude to become Queen. It is was also clear that Queen Mary was not pregnant either, so, Claude’s husband, who was also a cousin of the late King, became King Francis I of France. The old King’s death was indeed a relief for Mary Tudor, who already gave her heart to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk before her marriage. She never wanted to be the Queen consort of an old and ill King, so as soon as the young and virile Duke of Suffolk went to France by order of King Henry the VIII to bring back his sister, Mary took the chance to make her dreams come true, and both got married in secret in France. This was an act of treason against King Henry VIII. He banished both from court but, in time he found the kindness to forgive them, and both got an official wedding in Greenwich Palace later in the same year.

claudeAnne was lady in waiting to Mary, but she did not returned to England with her. She stayed in France at the service of Queen Claude. The reason is unknown, but it is believed that Queen Claude chose to keep her for her fluent French and the fact that she was a valuable translator for her when English ambassadors visited France. Besides, the Queen and Anne were of similar age, and Anne’s talents, personality and demeanor seemed to please Her Majesty. Anne in her part, was also content with her place at court. Her mistress was an example of what a Queen is in all the senses. Queen Claude was gentle, proper, elegant and virtuous, and Anne was copying that behavior perfectly. France was placing a mark on Anne very deeply, she forgot her English fashion roots and adapted in the style of the French court. Not only that, even from the beginning of her time in France, Anne was already inspired by the strong tempers of the noble ladies around her besides the queen.

Louise of Savoy
Louise of Savoy

Anne had the chance to meet Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I and Marguerite of Angouleme (later Marguerite of Navarre). Louise was a wise and astute woman. She had no problems with expressing her ideas and feelings openly. Anne witnessed that, so she started to see that it was possible for a woman to show what she was capable to do and think. Louise also served as Queen Regent on behalf of her son whenever he was away, and with the assistance of her daughter, Princess Marguerite, they ruled France in his absence. That made them the most powerful woman at court. This was the first example in Anne’s early years in France of how powerful a woman could be. This fact opened her eyes to new ideas and feelings of how she herself could be in the future. The wisdom and character of Louise at court inspired Anne to learn and increase her skills. Perhaps that way, she could be at least somehow closer to those great women.

Princess Marguerite
Princess Marguerite

Young Anne Boleyn also had the opportunity to spend time with Princess Marguerite, who was described by many as a woman of incredible beauty and rare charms. Marguerite was also very eloquent and overshadowed her brother in the area of language. She spoke Latin, Hebrew, Greek among others. It was not only her beauty and intelligence what made Princess Marguerite so advanced, however. It was her religious fervor and spiritual ideas, something that immediately captured Anne’s attention. It is seriously believed that Anne in no way, not in any moment was at the service of Princess Marguerite but, being the sister of Queen Claude, it is almost impossible to denied the constant and close contact between them at court.

Even though Anne never served Marguerite directly, it is documented that their relationship was a very good one. Anne Boleyn herself in 1535, wrote to her declaring: “My greatest wish, next to have a son, is to see you again”. With this, it is clear that both had a close and friendly relationship. Marguerite was also very close to Claude and her younger sister Renee, so is undoubtedly that Anne and Princess Marguerite indeed had a special relationship. Thanks to this, the young Anne had the chance to capture many aspects of Marguerite’s religious beliefs. The Princess was a famous Renaissance figure, and she was known for her patronage of the arts, her strong religious views and her religious poem “Le Miroir l’âme pécheresse” (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul), the same poem which Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, translated as a gift for her stepmother, Catherine Parr. This poem is a mystical poem that combines evangelical Protestant ideas with Marguerite’s idea of her relationship with God in her symbolic view of Him as family.

anne boleyn miniature

Anne was like a sponge, absorbing all these new ideas and loving every element of them. She loved the French fashion, court freedoms that even when they were controlled by the strict codes of conduct and morals of Queen Claude, it was a brighter way compared with English court at that time. To add more advantage to Anne’s increasing knowledge in France, she ended up taking her lessons with Princess Renee of France. They were placed under the tutelage of the Countess of Tonverre, Francoise De Rohan. Lancelot de Carles wrote a poem where he confirms the close contact of Anne with the French queen and her sister Renee.

Lancelot De Carles also commented on how Anne “zealously watched and imitated Claude’s maids of honor in order to learn how to conduct herself properly at court.” In The pilgrim: a dialogue on the life and actions of King Henry the Eighth, William Thomas stated ,“She was indeed with as many outward good qualities in playing on instruments, singing, and such courtly graces, as few women were of her time; with such a certain outward profession of gravity as was to be marveled at.” With the help and watchful eye of the Countess of Tonverre, Anne and Renee were taught how to play the lute as well as other instruments. They also learned how to improve in dance, converse elegantly and fluently in French, and do needlework.

GW194H243Anne continued to grow in knowledge and age, her charms admired, her skills praised and recognized. In time, Anne proved to everyone that she was of great value. That fact helped her to increase her mind in knowledge and her soul. In a most stable phase, she was more clear on how she would manage herself in the future. Thanks to her amazing development at court, Anne was present in every single event with Their Majesties. This gave her the privilege to meet many important figures like prominent scholars such as Guillaume Bude, poets such as Clement Marot, and artists like Jean Clouet of Flanders.

Clement Marot perhaps was the one who played a special role in Anne’s views about religion, because he was under the patronage of the Duchess of Alencon and had a strong support on Protestantism. To add more interest in Anne’s spiritual formation, the Duchess of Alencon strongly supported religious reform. She wrote religious and secular literature that contained “mystical and Neo-Platonic theme”. Through her French education, Anne developed a taste for Franco-Flemish music, and her French sense of fashion was now as impeccable and magnificent as the queen herself. Anne was also under the guardianship of very strong female role models, “ladies with drive and ambition but they also served as regents, wielding considerable political power adroitly.” – Rise to The Power (Life Of Anne Boleyn)

This portrait is thought to be Mary Boleyn Stafford Artist: Unknown
This portrait is thought to be Mary Boleyn Stafford

Around the beginning of 1516, Mary Boleyn returned to France by order of her father and joined her younger sister Anne in the Court of Queen Claude. After a time, Mary started to show her true colors. She was well educated, fluent in French, a splendid dancer, but she had a problem. Mary was unable to control her extreme flirtation skills. Mary became very popular at court, but not in the most elegant terms. Rumors of escapades from her chambers to have romantic encounters and worst, through all this, intense speculations that she was mistress of King Francis himself started to boil, causing serious damage to Mary’s reputation.

Anne however, kept herself away from her sister’s matters. She never rejected her, but she managed to stay unstained by her sister’s actions. Anne already knew how important it was for a woman to keep her status and morals high at all cost. She learned how to impress men without going too far. She kept herself untouchable to their eyes. She won respect and admiration, while her sister was sadly winning a label of whore that was spreading already to the ears of the English Court.

imagesCAEBBXS6While Mary worked on her own way to climb in life, Anne continued her nourishment in how to be the “perfect lady”. She became an accomplished musician and dancer and was constantly present in the visits of ambassadors and prominent figures. On the other side, the rumors of Mary’s escapades and naughty behavior reached the ears of her father, Thomas Boleyn, who immediately took matters on hand. Almost in total moral disgrace, Mary returned to England and took a place as lady in waiting in Queen Catherine of Aragon’s household. Following her own guidelines of how a woman could be the brighter and more desirable star in a court’s constellation, Mary became King Henry VIII’s mistress. This totally erased her father’s disgust towards her, since while the king was happy with Mary, his fortunes increased. But after some time, and as it was almost a routine, King Henry lost his interest in Mary, and stopped calling her at night. When Thomas Boleyn knew about this, he immediately went for a solution. He was not ready to loose his place and new ranks at court. He was not on the top or side by side with his brother in law, the proud and vain Duke of Norfolk, but at least he had a very respectable status thanks to Mary. And his solution was only one… Anne.

Catalina de Aragon Artist: Lucas Horenbout
Catalina de Aragon
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

In 1522, Anne Boleyn finally returned to her birth land, with no idea of what will be her fate since her father said nothing about why she was ordered to return. But once she returned and was reunited with her family again, she knew the purpose. The king grew tired of Mary and for sure she will be used as a replacement. For a little while Anne managed to avoid court, at least in full terms, but she was there enough to capture the attention of ladies, courtiers and prominent men. She especially captured the attention of a young courtier, named Henry Percy. They started a relationship, part hidden and part public, always taking care of appearances considering the difficulties of a relationship in the grounds of the court. After a time, Thomas Boleyn managed to find a place for Anne as a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. This of course presented more difficulties for her sweet relationship with Percy. And more, when King Henry the VIII placed his eyes on the young and striking Anne…all would change drastically.


To please the king was the major goal for Cardinal Wolsey, and since he felt the love vibe of the king towards Anne Boleyn, he immediately dissolved the proposed engagement of Percy and Anne, leaving her free for the king. This action showed Anne that her family had a huge plan to not only denounce and drag Cardinal Wolsey down. They wanted more than that. Anne was at first disgusted with the whole idea, but she had no way to escape or run against the tide. She took the task seriously, even when her heart was not involved at first. She played as Perseverance in a masquerade where the king was also part of, using the flirtation skills she learned in France to enchant the King smoothly… tempting yet decent; tools that she knew would turn him mad in love for her. Anne worked hard to impress everyone at court, because she knew that all concerned to her would reach the king’s ears. She walked the path, fulfilled the task, gave her heart, body, soul and in the end… well, we all know the tragedy that erased such wonderful life.

Anne Boleyn was raised without intentions to act like a Queen someday, she learned all she needed to climb high, to be admired, respected and remembered. She used everything, all the resources that were given to her and she succeeded in many ways. Sadly she was a victim of the greed, ambition and betrayals of the English Court; her King was a selfish and ill minded man, who wanted his welfare and desires fulfilled and protected above the lives of those he supposed to love and care about. But in the end, I can say, that Anne Boleyn was a woman beyond her era, she was brilliant, elegant and dedicated. She was raised to be Queen without even know it, she became one wanting it, and died like one, under charges and shame that she never deserved.


BBC History: Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, Margaret of Austria and Queen Claude: The Anne Boleyn Files

Harlets, Harpies and Harridans: Infamous Women in History

On The Tudor Trail: Retracing the Steps of Anne Boleyn — an Immortal Queen, Palace of Mechelen

Under These Restless Skies: Anne Boleyn’s Role Models

The Early Life of Anne Boleyn Part Two — The Court of Margaret of Austria

Picture: Anne Boleyn Necklace by: daren

Mercy Rivera

Mercy Rivera is a popular short deep introspection fiction and non-fiction history writer composing in both English and Spanish. Mercy is also well known for her beautifully crafted historically themed videos.

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