Is it Really Anne Boleyn?
R. E. Bruyère
During the week of 24 April 2017, an article began circulating on Facebook that a portrait of Anne Boleyn had been identified, or re-identified, in the Liber Niger. The Liber Niger is better known as the Black Book of the Order of the Garter. Given as evidence that the sitter is Anne Boleyn, we have the English gable hood, the “AR” on her pendant, and that the book was completed in 1534. How can it be certain that this is indeed the elusive Anne Boleyn? It simply cannot.
The Liber Niger was started by Dr. Robert Aldrydge, Canon of Windsor and Provost of Eton. He had been compiling the rolls for members of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a chivalric order established in 1348. Dr. Robert Aldrydge was sworn in as the Register of the Order at the feast held by the Order of the Garter at Windsor on 27 May 1534. Dr. Aldrydge was the register of the Order from 1534 to 1538, when he was promoted to the See of Carlisle (1). The task was taken over by Dr. Aldrydge after the death of Richard Sydnor; the duty of the Register of the Order was first taken up by John Coryngham in 1417 or thereabouts, during the reign of Henry V.
The Liber Niger is a 321-page book bound in black velvet and written in Latin on vellum, and was transcribed by at least two different hands. One hand wrote the book until 1539, when another hand took up the project and completed the book at a point during the reign of Edward VI. From this, we can gather that the Liber Niger itself was not completed until sometime after January 1547, when Henry VIII died and before July 1553, when Edward VI died, with the accepted completion date being at some point in 1551. Further, the first individual who wrote out the Latin for the Liber Niger had that task until 1539, around three years after Anne Boleyn’s death in May 1536.
Turning to the illuminations themselves, Henry VIII in 1534 commissioned Lucas Horenbout to carry out the task, which would have been part of Horenbout’s regular duties as the king’s limner. Working for Henry since 1525, Horenbout in June 1534 was officially granted the office of King’s Painter and a small tenement in the parish of St. Margaret. However, it is unknown when the Liber Niger was completed, though it can be assumed that the illuminations were completed before Horenbout’s death in 1544.
Looking to Anne Boleyn specifically, it is simply unknown to the modern world what the woman looked like. The best extant contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn is the Moost Happi portrait medal, which was damaged by the ravages of time. Elizabeth I’s locket ring, containing a portrait of Elizabeth and possibly her mother, was created around 1575, almost forty years after Anne Boleyn’s death. We know from the Lumley inventory, a copy of which is in the British Library, that a contemporary three-quarter length portrait of Anne Boleyn existed at the end of the 16th century, but this has since disappeared. All other portraiture of Anne Boleyn is either a copy, or created after her death.
It is known from the royal accounts (2) that in September 1536 the king paid for all images of Anne to be removed from all palaces and hunting lodges, whether these images were stained-glass, carved wood, or painted depictions. Very specifically the stained-glass image of St Anne, Queen Anne’s patron saint, was to be removed from the window directly behind the altar in the chapel at Hampton Court Palace. Since King Henry was determined that any reference to Anne Boleyn, even if it were in the form of St. Anne, was to be removed from the expensive stained glass in the royal chapel. Despite the Liber Niger being the register of the Order of the Garter, if this were a portrait of Queen Anne, it can reasonably be deduced that Dr. Aldryge would have been obliged to remove illumination, no matter the cost.
Anne Boleyn may have been pregnant in early 1534, but there are some reports that this was either a false pregnancy, or it could have ended in miscarriage. (3) It is unknown, but what is known is that there is reference to Anne being very pregnant in July 1534, a subsequent letter from September 1534 stating that Anne may not have been pregnant at all, and no birth or miscarriage of a child was ever reported. It is documented around this time as well that Henry had taken up with another beautiful woman at court, which at least shows that Henry was willing to stray from Anne’s bed instead of being solely devoted to Anne. Thus, the year 1534 may not have been as triumphant a year for Anne Boleyn in the eyes of Henry, and there is no reason to believe he would request that she be depicted in the Liber Niger. As stated supra, the one contemporary image we do have of Anne from 1534, the lead Moost Happi portrait medal, was cancelled.
The woman depicted in the illumination is simply the Lady of the Garter. There are barely any women recorded as Ladies of the Garter, with the first Tudor king, Henry VII, appointing only his mother and two of his daughters. There is no record of Henry VIII appointing anyone as a Lady of the Garter, and the practice was not revived until 1901. (4) The hair of this woman appears to be blonde, like that of Philippa of Hainault, Henry’s beloved Jane Seymour whom Dr. Aldrydge served, or even Anne of Cleves, another of Henry’s consorts who would have been identified as “AR.” Looking at the meaning of the AR pendant, this item could have two meanings: either “Anna Regina” or “Anglia Regina (5),” Queen of England. Another reason for the “AR” pendant could simply be to identify the Lady of the Garter as a Queen of England, as opposed to Fortune, the Virgin Mary, or any other number of allegorical or religious women seen during the Tudor period as having dominion over men’s lives.
Per arguendo alternative identifications of the Lady of the Garter, it is relevant to look more at whether there is another model for the Lady of the Garter. Henry lost his beloved Jane Seymour, the mother of his much-desired legitimate son and heir, in October 1537. It is well-recorded that Jane was blonde, and Horenbout completed a miniature of Jane during her time as queen from May 1536 to October 1537. The 1536 portrait of Jane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, shows Jane wearing a necklace with letters on it. In both portraits of Jane, she is wearing an English gable hood.
Further, per arguendo, Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was completed by proxy in October 1539, and formally held in England on 6 January 1540. The marriage between Henry and Anne was annulled in July 1540. Anne of Cleves, whilst queen, had as a gentlewoman to the Privy Chamber Lucas’ sister, Susannah Horenbout. Susannah, herself a great painter, could have provided a simple description of Anne to her brother when he was working on the Lady of the Garter illumination. Anne was described by the chronicler Edward Hall as having long, blonde hair. And, of course, Anne of Cleves would have been another Anna Regina, or AR. Looking to confirmed contemporary portraits of Anne of Cleves, of which there are four, Anne of Cleves has an oval face.
Finally, there is the evidence of our eyes. Anne Boleyn was known for her dark hair and eyes, so why would Horenbout, known as an accurate painter of portrait miniatures, have painted Anne Boleyn with blonde hair in a document of this importance? And why Anne Boleyn when neither she nor any other of Henry VIII’s queens consort was fêted as Lady of the Garter? The Liber Niger has several identifiable portraits of individuals who were alive during Henry VIII’s reign, but the one of the Lady of the Garter was described in 1866 as having “not much character in her countenance,” or rather, not being readily identifiable as anyone.
While the idea of finding another contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn is captivating and romantic, a thorough review of the Lady of the Garter illumination in the Liber Niger leaves more questions than answers. The only pieces of evidence known that could point to Anne Boleyn as the Lady of the Garter are that the Liber Niger was started in 1534, when Anne was queen, the oval face of the Lady of the Garter, her English gable hood, and the initials “AR” on the woman’s pendant. As evidence against the identification of Anne Boleyn depicted as the Lady of the Garter, Anne had a miscarriage in 1534 and the Moost Happi portrait medal was cancelled, she met her end in May 1536, it is unknown when the Lady of the Garter illumination was completed, and the features of the Lady are non-descript, unlike portraits of various individuals found in other portions of the Liber Niger.
Moreover, the Lady of the Garter appears to have blonde hair, like Philippa of Hainault, Jane Seymour, or Anne of Cleves. The AR pendant could have referred to either Anne Boleyn or Anne of Cleves, or to the Angliæ Regina, Queen of England. We do know that Lucas painted Jane Seymour during her lifetime, and, through his sister Susannah, had a connection with Anne of Cleves, whereas no such connection other than his presence at court can be attributed to Lucas Horenbout and Anne.
Is it really Anne Boleyn depicted as the Lady of the Garter? No.
1. Dr. Robert Aldrydge became Bishop of Carlisle in 1537, and was an almoner to Queen Jane Seymour.
2. NA E36/239. 29th September – 21st October 1536
3. Chapuys reported to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, reported on 28 January 1534 that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. Another letter from Chapuys to Charles V dated 27 September 1534 mentions Henry’s suspicion that Anne was not pregnant, and that Henry had resumed relations with another woman at court.
4. Women were not officially admitted to membership of the Order until 1987, when the Garter Statute of Elizabeth II was passed. Until that time, women were not full members of the Order, but rather honorary associates of the Order via blood or marital relationship to a member of the Order. The number of members of the Order was strictly set out by statute, but no such statute applying to women existed until 1987, as mentioned supra.
5. The term “Anglie Regina,” “Angliæ Regina,” or “Anglia Regina” was used in official documents, an excellent example of which can be found in Catherine of Aragon’s appeal to Pope Clement VII in Rome concerning the annulment proceedings between her and Henry VIII, where Catherine is referred to in Latin as, “Catherina Dei gratia Anglie Regina,” or Catherine, by the grace of God, Queen of England; “Anglie/Angliæ/Anglia Regina” meaning, “Queen of England.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
R. E. Bruyère is a self-described rapscallion and jet-setter from a newer area of Jersey. Bruyère’s education was rounded out by time spent at undergraduate institutions in New York, USA and San Jose, Costa Rica, and doctoral courses taken in Bordeaux, France. Bruyère’s specific interests include illuminated manuscripts, sailing, and bird watching.
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- 1, Lady of the Garter https://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/archive-features/image-of-the-month/title1/Ladies-of-the-Garter-Image-of-the-month.html
- 2, “Moost Happi” medal http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2012/07/07/anne-boleyn-the-moost-happi-portrait-medal/
- 3, Chequers Ring https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jun/11/tudor-monarchs-elizabeth-i-possessions-portrait-gallery
- 4, Detail from Philippa of Hainault’s Coronation http://www.medievalists.net/2017/03/intercession-motherhood-queenships-philippa-hainault-anne-bohemia/
- 5, Jane Seymour Miniature by Lucas Horenbout https://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/jane-seymour/
- 6, Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger http://www.wga.hu/html_m/h/holbein/hans_y/1535h/02seymou.html
- 7, Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger http://www.wga.hu/html_m/h/holbein/hans_y/1535h/04cleves.html
- 8, Anne of Cleves by Barthel Bruyn the Elder http://tudorhistory.org/cleves/gallery.html