Friday, 16 July 2010

Anne Boleyn's mother

Above: Kristin Scott-Thomas as Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Ormonde in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl (for my review of the movie, click here.)

"There are many people in history whose stories have been lost in time. Although we know about the exploits of Thomas, Mary, George, and Anne Boleyn, by all accounts little is known about the wife and mother of the infamous Boleyn family. How did she feel about her daughter Mary’s reputation? Did she support Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII? Did she watch her children’s executions at the Tower? What happened to her in the aftermath of the scandal that ruined her family? Just who was Elizabeth Boleyn?"

Claire Ridgeway's The Anne Boleyn Files has posted Sheena Reekie's thoughts on the enigma of Anne's mother, Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Ormonde and Wiltshire.

I have been researching Elizabeth heavily for my own work on Anne's life and legend and I will at some point post some of my thoughts about this least-known of a famous family. However, I'm pleased that someone else has picked up on the fact that Elizabeth chose to be buried in the Howard burial ground, rather than next to her husband, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire. It suggests to me that the couple's marriage broke-down irretrievably following the executions of their two youngest children.


  1. I am looking forward to your book more than I have ever looked forward to any book on Anne before, and I have been in her thrall since 1972, when I was seven years old.

  2. Lisby, thank you so much, that's very kind to hear. Research for my biography will take another few years, but I hope to keep sharing the journey with people on this blog.

    Thank you so much for your kind post. I was also exactly the same age as you when I first "fell" for Anne Boleyn.

  3. I always felt that it was kinda strange that Elizabeth Boleyn is mention as being at court with Anne while Henry VII was courting Anne, but there is no mention of her attending baby Elizabeth Christening, nor on her thoughts on her grandchild. I haven't came across a single statement attribute to Elizabeth Boleyn. There is no records of how she felt about Henry VIII and Anne, about Mary and George, nor about how she felt about her granddaughter. The only one who had mention her was Nicolas Sander, who claim that Elizabeth was against the marriage at first, but when she saw that the king and Anne was serious she went along with it. but other than Sander, no one really mention her, besides her being at court with Anne. There are accounts of how Anne's aunt felt, but yet, there is no account of how Anne's mother felt about anything.

  4. Luv, hi. We do know a little about Elizabeth's feelings and her closeness to her daughter. The fact that she was Anne's chosen chaperone suggests intimacy, as do various comments made later in Anne's reign.

    I touched briefly on them here: -


    The Countess's absence from her granddaughter's christening may not be too important. She may have been in attendance on the Queen, that day, who could not attend her daughter's christening due to reasons of etiquette. But, I agree - it's frustrating that we don't have more about Elizabeth's personality and feelings.

  5. Your book will mostly likely be extremely interesting, Gareth. It will also be enjoyable for a new person to write a book about Anne, apart from the regular ones that currently exist!

    Out of interest, you say you have been researching this book on Anne for years; while I am 16 - not sure of your age however - and you have somewhat inspired me to write a book about Katherine Howard at some point. I find Anne extremely interesting, but there are so many books, theories and papers about her that I thought I'd like to try someone just as tragic, just as compelling and someone who lasted an even briefer time on the English throne than her brilliant cousin.

    What I am puzzled about is, however, how do you find the sources that exist from the 16th century? In books written by the likes of Alison Weir and Joanna Denny, they list sources from the time in their 'Notes' at the back.

    Yet do you have to travel to certain houses, castles etc to get them? Do you have to pay to see them? Is anyone allowed to if they are interested?

    I only ask because I highly doubt that authentic sources from the time exist on the modern Internet.
    Please help and good luck!

  6. Hi Conor. You are correct in saying that many of the main primary sources are difficult to access. I studied History at Oxford, so I was able to use their archives and resources to further my research. Most archives, which hold the primary sources, will only allow access to someone who has at least a BA from a reputable university and references from professors supporting their access to the sources.

    Some historians, like Joanna Denny, prefer to use the 19th century's printed versions of the original sources - things like the collected letters and papers or state papers collected by historians like Gairdner and Froude in the time of Queen Victoria. They can be bought but usually are very expensive, several hundred pounds in many cases.

    The best thing to do at your age - I'm in my early 20s at the moment, so I can remember what it feels like to want to write but be hampered by sources - is to focus on secondary sources and read as many and as much as you can, jotting down your thoughts and theories. When I was 17, I wrote a 100 page biography of Catherine Howard, so I really do understand why she's the perfect choice for someone starting out on their writing ambitions to begin with. Make sure to look at older or more obscure secondary works like Lacey Baldwin Smith's "A Tudor Tragedy" and Karen Lindsey's "Divorced Beheaded Survived." In time, you learn which historians are more balanced and more well-researched and you hone in your analytical skills. Then, when you can finally access the primary sources, you've built up enough skills of scepticism and analysis technique to engage with the often very tricky sources from the 16th century. Good luck and thanks for reading!

  7. Hi Gareth,
    I apologise for this, because I know Anne Boleyn is your forte, and I love her too, but I am so intrigued by Katherine Howard.
    I'm sure you have heard, but recently David Starkey identified this picture as being Katherine:,
    because of the fact she wears similar jewelry as the miniature which is claimed to be her.

    Alison Weir told me she agrees with him, because the fact there are other copies of this portrait mean it must be someone very important, e.g. Katherine. It was painted between 1540-41, when the sitter is supposedly 21, giving Katherine a birthdate of 1520-21.

    I don't know what to think. I am beginning to be swayed that it IS Katherine; yet the sitter looks much older than 21 and wears funeral clothes! Yet I do see a similarity in the 2 portraits to suggest it is the same person.

    What do you think? I am intrigued.
    Thanks - Conor

  8. Conor, I have to say I completely and totally disagree with them. Antonia Fraser and Roy Strong have made a very compelling argument that it is probably Lady Elizabeth Cromwell, Jane Seymour's younger sister. The portrait belonged to the Cromwell family and it's difficult to see why they would keep one of Catherine Howard. Moreover, if you look at the face of the lady and then that of Jane Seymour in Holbein's portrait of her, they do look very similar. Finally, you're quite right - she's wearing widow's clothes and it's my own hunch that Catherine Howard never reached the age of 21. I'm surprised Alison Weir agrees with Dr. Starkey, since she has argued persuasively for Catherine being in her mid-to-late teens at the time of her death.

    So glad you're interested in Catherine's story and I do plan to tackle the issue of her portraits and date of birth at some stage on this blog!

  9. Thankyou, that would be great!

    Do you plan to tackle Anne Boleyn's portraits? Not sure if you have already, I think Eric Ives in particular wrote a great deal about them, as did G.W. Bernard - I'm going to try his book for Christmas, even if it does assert Anne's guilt, which seems ridiculous!

    I can't wait to read your book. The glimpses of it you show on here makes it sound very well-written, researched and very original.


Related Posts with Thumbnails