Tuesday 6 April 2010

The Age of Anne Boleyn

“But to come to her death... She was convicted and condemned [and] she was not twenty-nine years of age.”
- Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria (1538 - 1612)

“She would have been around thirty-five when she died, middle-aged by Tudor standards. Life had not been kind to her, and stress had aged her prematurely.”
- Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)

A mistress of King Louis XV of France always insisted that there was only one rule in polite society that could never be broken - and that was that you should never ask a pretty woman her age. So, it seems a tad impolite that for years historians have been trampling over such niceties, by debating back and forth about the age of Henry VIII's second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. But then, as with so much about Anne Boleyn, it may not be appropriate, but it's certainly important.

The issue of Anne Boleyn's age is one which is particularly important to me, because a research paper on the subject was one of those I submitted when applying to Oxford. In the course of recently researching my own biography of Anne Boleyn, which I believe may take me the next five or six years to complete, I returned to that paper and began to research in-depth the issue of Anne's birth. It is my conclusion that the current chronology of Anne's childhood that we have been given by most historians is utterly wrong and highly misleading. Anne Boleyn was, I believe, born six years later than most modern historians suggest - not in 1501, but in the summer or autumn of 1507.

Since parish records were not kept in England until later in the 16th century, we only have exact birthdays for Henry VIII's two foreign-born wives - Katherine of Aragon, who was born in Spain on December 16th 1485, and Anna of Cleves, who was born in Germany on September 22nd 1515. For his English wives, historians have had to use comments about the ladies' generic age and appearance, ambassadorial reports, family wills and even funerary details to try and guess the birth date of Jane Seymour (?1507 - 1509), Catherine Howard (?1521 - 1525) and Katharine Parr (?1512 or 1514.)

Of course, had Anne Boleyn lived out a normal life-span, the issue of when exactly she was born would have become less and less important with the passing years. For example, had she lived to the same age as her Irish grandmother, Lady Margaret, and died at the age of 83, Anne would have lived well into the reign of her daughter Queen Elizabeth and would have died sometime around the time of the Spanish Armada. By that point, Anne would have been the Queen Mother and her influence in politics, perhaps still considerable, would have been so long-lasting that the issues concerning her early rise to power in the 1520s would not have mattered so much. Furthermore, had she been properly buried her date of birth would perhaps have been recorded on the tomb.

But Anne Boleyn did not live into her eighties and she was buried in an unmarked grave. Yet, it matters very much to what we know about her, her marriage and the English Reformation that we accurately date her birth. Was she a young woman of eighteen when the King first began to pursue her or an accomplished, mature lady of twenty-five? Was she twenty-eight at the time she was executed or was she thirty-five? Because if she was 28, as one of her stepdaughter's ladies-in-waiting claimed, then the reasons behind her execution become infinitely more sinister - at 28, Anne Boleyn was still undeniably in her childbearing years. Yes, she would have been at the tail-end of them by Tudor standards, but she would have had at least four or five more years before she was considered infertile, and so the idea that it was just her "failure" to produce a son which led to her death in 1536 suddenly becomes a good deal less convincing and the idea that it was her husband who orchestrated her monstrously unfair death becomes infinitely more likely. However, if she was 35, then she was already practically middle-aged by Tudor standards and it becomes far more likely that the entire reason for her destruction was politics pure and simple, with Anne - and to some extent, perhaps, maybe even her husband - being victims of a savagely brilliant process of character assassination, lies, manufactured hysteria and a ruthless palace coup organised by the King's chief adviser, Thomas Cromwell.

This much about Anne Boleyn's life is certain - we know that she was sent abroad for her education in 1513, that she returned to London as a débutante in 1522, Henry VIII asked her to marry him in 1527, she was crowned queen and became a mother in 1533 and she was executed in 1536. If one follows the 1501 argument, then she was 12 when she went abroad, 21 when she came back, 26 when she was engaged, 32 when she was crowned and 35 when she died; the alternative scenario has her leaving England at 6 and returning at 15, betrothed at 19, crowned at 25 and dead at 28.

Anyone who is well-acquainted with the numerous modern books published on the Tudor dynasty will know that for the last twenty years - with the exception of the American historian Professor R.M. Warnicke of the University of Arizona - that all major writers and academics have argued that Anne was born in 1501. Joanna Denny in her highly pro-Protestant biography Anne Boleyn: A new life of England’s tragic Queen, wrote that Anne was ‘born most probably in the early summer of 1501’, whilst Lady Antonia Fraser in The Wives of Henry VIII went even further by dismissing the 1507 date as 'impossible.' Professor E.W. Ives in in his magisterial biography The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy concluded that it ‘is established beyond question’ that we should be ‘dating the birth of Anne Boleyn to 1500-1’ and Alison Weir, in her four books on the period, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Britain’s Royal Families, Henry VIII: King & Court and The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, has argued that Anne Boleyn was, without question, born in 1501, building much of her analysis of Anne's early romances and final years on the assumption.

However, despite this academic consensus, there are only two sources from Anne's lifetime (or thereabouts) which specifically mention her age and neither of them support such confidence in 1501 being the date of Anne's birth. The first source are the memoirs of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, who was a loyal lady-in-waiting to Anne's stepdaughter, Mary Tudor. Jane was actually born two years after Anne's death, but she was in Mary's service for the first twenty years of her life and Mary's tendency to talk about her hated, dead stepmother did not diminish with the passing years. Rather, as she got older, the memory of her feud with Anne seemed to haunt Mary more and more, further poisoning her already-fragile relationship with her half-sister, Elizabeth. After Mary died, Jane Dormer married a Spanish aristocrat and moved to Madrid, where she died in old age in 1612. Shortly before her death, she dictated her memoirs to her English secretary, Henry Clifford, in which she recalled her time as Mary's lady-in-waiting and told him the various recollections that Mary had told her of life during the time of Henry VIII. On the subject of Anne Boleyn, Jane was quite specific when she stated that when Anne had been executed on May 19th 1536 she was 'not yet twenty-nine years of age.' The implication is that Anne was nearing her twenty-ninth birthday at the time of her death, indicating that the Duchess knew she had been born in the summer or autumn of 1507. Given that it was such a specific statement, it is almost certain that this was the age Mary Tudor believed her stepmother had been at the time of her death and she had passed this information on to Jane. Some have pointed out that Mary hated her stepmother so much that she was apt to lie about her at any given opportunity, but even if that is true, there is absolutely no reason for her to have lied about her age (certainly not to the point of making her younger) and whatever one thinks about Mary and Anne's assessment of each other's personalities, the fact remains that neither can have been ignorant about their respective ages. Furthermore, that such a specific recollection from someone so intimately placed within the Tudor court as the Duchess of Feria, who was actually within Anne’s extended network of acquaintances, should simply be discounted as impossible, inaccurate or deluded is indicative of the worrying malaise of historical writing which assumes that historians must know more about the period than those who actually lived through it.

Independently of the Duchess of Feria, an English writer called William Camden began to write a life of Anne's daughter, Queen Elizabeth, at the end of the 16th century, with the backing of the English government. Shortly before his death, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, Lord Burghley, suggested to Camden that he should write a chronicle of Elizabeth’s life and reign. It was, if you like, an Elizabethan version of an "official biography." Burghley saw to it that Camden was given free access to his own personal papers and also many of the state archives, guaranteeing a degree of accuracy quite unusual for works of the period. Camden researched his subject heavily, but did not start writing until 1607, by which time Elizabeth had been dead for four years and Lord Burghley for nine. In the section of the Annales covering Elizabeth’s early life, Camden wrote in the margin that her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been born in 1507.

As I have said, Camden’s access to the original sources was better than anyone writing at the same time and given the intervening centuries and the destruction of the coming Civil War, it is perfectly possible that he not only had access to more sources than anyone writing at the same time, but also perhaps anyone writing since. The fact that he stated 1507 quite specifically cannot be dismissed, anymore than the Duchess of Feria’s pronouncement of the same date in her memoirs. In a rather lame attempt to explain away how someone with such excellent access to the original sources could have gotten it so wrong, modern-day proponents of the earlier birth-date have hypothesised that the number “7” has been misread in Camden’s manuscript and that it was in fact simply a curved “1.” Such an explanation would only work, and even then tentatively, if Camden had written the date in Arabic, which he did not. He wrote it in Roman numerals: MDVII. There is no room for an alternative explanation – writing just over a century after her birth and with unparalleled access to state papers about her, as granted by her daughter’s friend and adviser, William Camden explicitly stated that Anne Boleyn had been born in 1507.

What about the possibility that for some unknown reason Camden and the Duchess of Feria were influenced by each other's work? Well, Camden cannot possibly have known of the Duchess’s memoirs, since she did not dictate them to her secretary until the final year of her life, five years after Camden had started writing and fifteen after he had first begun his research. Moreover, the Duchess’s accounts were not actually published into general circulation until the 19th century. It is also equally unlikely that she could have read Camden’s work – for even if she had, her recollections would hardly have been altered to suit the words of a Protestant scholar and, moreover, the first instalment of his work was not published in England until half a decade after the Duchess of Feria’s death in Spain.

Proponents of the 1500/1501 date of birth often cite the fact that Anne was sent to the Hapsburg Empire as a young girl to become a maid-of-honour in the palace of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, in modern-day Belgium. The minimum age for a fille d'honneur at Margaret's court was twelve and since we know Anne was sent there in 1513, it seems logical to suggest that she was born in 1501. Yet, this argument completely ignores the fact that in a letter to Anne's father, the Archduchess wrote:

"I have received your letter by Squire Bouton, who has also presented your daughter to me, who is very welcome ... I find her so bright and so pleasant for her young age that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me than you are to me."

Why would the Archduchess have made a point of referring to Anne's age as being exceptionally young, if she was the same age as every other maid-of-honour? We also know that Anne was nicknamed "La Petite Boulaine" ("the Little Boleyn") by the Archduchess and whilst this may have been a reference to her delicate figure, it also offers further evidence to suggest that Anne was younger than most of the other girls in the Archduchess's entourage. We also know that whilst it was unusual to have someone as young as six or seven at the Court, it was not as impossible as some supporters of 1501 have claimed. There was, in fact, another English girl there at the same time - Anne Brandon - and she was born in 1506, meaning that it is possible Anne Boleyn was very young when she was sent abroad, something which the Archduchess's comments seem to support. It is also telling, I think, that Anne's escort from her family home in Kent to the Hapsburg Court in Brussels was Claude Bouton, a Flemish nobleman in the Archduchess's service. No reference is made of a female chaperone, which would almost certainly have been required if Anne had been anywhere near the age of twelve, by which point Canon Law at the time claimed she was legally and biologically a woman.

A letter the young Anne wrote from her time in the Archduchess's household is usually held up as incontrovertible proof that Anne was born in the earlier date of 1501. She wrote it from one of the Archduchess's hunting lodges, where the Court was summering during the particularly sweltering August of 1514. From there, Anne found time to write a letter to her father in London (young ladies were, in any case, discouraged from going out in the Sun too much in case they tanned). Since arriving at the Hapsburg court, Anne had been given rigorous instruction in learning French and some Latin as well and this was the first time she had ever written back to her father in the new language he wanted her to master. Some have claimed the handwriting in the letter is impossibly mature for a girl of seven and that Anne was therefore about thirteen at the time she wrote it. However, as Professor Warnicke has pointed out in her book The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, the letter actually consists of 'extremely bad handwriting ... like that of a small child'.

Either in the winter of 1514 or early in 1515, Anne left the Archduchess's household and was moved to Paris, where she joined the household of the Queen of France. Her father spent much of his time there as one of England's ambassadors to the French Court and given that his youngest daughter was by now fluent in French, it seems very likely that she acted as translator when her father had an audience with the Queen. From her time in France, we also know that Anne was clearly on friendly terms with the Queen's younger sister, Princess Renée, later Duchess of Ferrara, because forty years later the princess made a point of discussing her relationship with Anne Boleyn with Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, then the English Ambassador to Paris. The princess remarked to Sir Nicholas that she had a special fondness for his queen Elizabeth, due to her childhood friendship with Anne Boleyn and we know that Renée was born in 1510, making it highly unlikely that she would have been friends with someone nine years her senior.

What about the fact that Anne remained unmarried until 1526, when Henry VIII proposed to her? Anne was highly attractive, well-connected, vivacious and charming; attracting male attention certainly wasn't something she had a problem with. In fact, getting rid of it seemed to be the difficulty. She was also the daughter of the heir to the Ormonde earldom and the granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk, which made her a valuable catch. In Tudor terms, it seems frankly incredible that she would have made it to the age of 25 without being married. We know that Sir Thomas Boleyn had a habit of marrying his children at the age of about 19 or 20; Anne's elder sister, Mary, was married to Sir William Carey in 1520 and their brother, George, who was born in about 1504, was married to his wife Jane Parker in 1524. We know that there was talk of marrying Anne to one of her Irish cousins, the future Earl of Kildare, throughout the mid-1520s and, of course, most people know of her unlucky betrothal with the future Earl of Northumberland. Having reached the age of 25 without a husband, Anne would have been sailing dangerously close to the "unmarriageable age," something which it is almost impossible to believe her father would have allowed. However, if she was born in 1507, then she would only have been approaching 19 when the King fell so dangerously and obsessively in love with her, a much more believable age given the matrimonial careers of her siblings and attitudes towards suitable marriageable age at the time.

One question the 1501 side of the debate has never fully answered is the issue of Anne's suitability to be the mother of the King's children. In the half-decade-long battle with Rome between Henry's proposal to Anne and their actual marriage, every conceivable objection was thrown up at Anne Boleyn by those who did not wish to see her become queen. Her ancestry was queried as being insufficiently grand (although that argument was rather hampered by having to go back to one of her great-grandparents before you could find one who wasn't an aristocrat); her religion, her friends, her foreign sympathies, her sister's private life - they were all cited loudly and frequently as being reasons why Anne could not become the next Queen of England. When something new could not be found, it was simply made up - usually by the Duke of Suffolk or the Spanish Ambassador. And yet, Anne and Henry did not go through a marriage service until November 1532 and she did not give birth to their first child until September 1533. If she had been born in 1501, she would have been 32 years-old at the time she gave birth to Elizabeth - over-the-hill, by Tudor standards. Why did no-one highlight the fact that she was simply too old to be the mother of the next Heir to the Throne? Thirty-two was the age when Henry's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had gone through her last pregnancy and after that everyone assumed (rightly) that she would never fall pregnant again - why did no-one point out that the new Queen was going into labour for the first time at exactly the same age as the old "barren" Queen had gone through it for the last time? When Henry VIII married his sixth wife, Katharine Parr, in 1543, she was already in her thirties and twice-widowed; so everyone assumed that this marriage had been embarked upon because the King had finally given up on having any more children and he simply wanted a companion in his old age. When Katharine Parr married again after King Henry's death in 1547 and fell pregnant with her new husband's baby at the age of about thirty-five, panicked letters arrived from her friends and family pointing out that in a woman of her age, childbirth was likely to kill her - which, tragically, it did. Never, at any point, did anyone question whether or not Anne Boleyn would be able to have lots of children - like most of her Howard aunts and cousins, all of whom had started having children in their late teens or early twenties. In fact, in a rather gushing letter to the Vatican a few years earlier, one cleric had written in praise of: -

"the purity of her life, her constant virginity, her ... wisdom, descent of right noble and high thorough regal blood, education in all good and laudable manners, apparent aptness to procreation of children, with her infinite other good qualities..."

It is true that at the very end of her life, the Spanish ambassador, who hated her, referred to her as a 'thin, old woman' and this has been held up as proof that she was 35, not 28. Much has been made of these comments and yet, only a few months later, during her downfall, comments were once again being made about her youthful appearance - a French bishop described her as being a woman of almost 'fearful beauty' and a Portuguese merchant who saw Anne's execution wrote that on the day of her death: 'Never had the Queen looked so beautiful.' Clearly, the ambassador's comments about her looks having faded were inaccurate and spiteful; moreover, only a few months earlier he, and every other diplomat, had been describing her as still young. It may have been that the strain of her miscarriage in January had caused her to look haggard and tired (the ambassador's comment about her being old was made in February) - we know that she had to stay in bed for weeks after it and that for quite sometime she was incapable of walking, suggesting that the physical toll of this tragedy had been far worse than the one she had suffered through two years earlier.

Throughout the late 1520s, when Anne would have been in her late teens or early twenties if the 1507 date of birth is accepted, palace servants referred to her as 'young,' Cardinal Pole described her as 'very young,' a Cambridge don described as 'young and good-looking,' a palace priest as 'youthful,' and as late as 1529, Cardinal Wolsey was describing her as a 'girl,' something he was unlikely to have done had been 28 at the time. On the Feast of Saint Andrew in 1531, Anne complained that her youth was passing her by - a comment which would have raised eyebrows almost to the ceiling had she already been thirty, because by that point her youth would most definitely have left her behind a long, long time ago, particularly by Tudor standards.

Examining all the evidence impartially it is impossible, I think, to accept that Anne Boleyn was born as early as 1500 or 1501. Any piece of evidence that has been put forward to support the idea that she was born at the turn-of-the-century can be refuted, once common sense is applied to the problem. It is true that all the evidence I have offered here has been circumstantial - the comments about Anne's age, her place in the family marriage network and attitudes to marriagability at the time. None of them prove that she was born in the summer or autumn of 1507, as I stated at the beginning of this article. However, try as we might, we cannot get away from the testimony of two people who had no reason to lie about Anne Boleyn's age and who were both expertly placed to know the truth - the Duchess of Feria and William Camden - one of whom was a close friend of Anne's stepdaughter and another who was working on a book for Anne's daughter who, presumably, could have corrected him had he been wrong, as could the numerous grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Anne's sister, Mary, who were still alive at the time Camden was writing. Independently of one another and with absolute certainty, Jane Dormer and William Camden both stated that Anne Boleyn had been born in 1507 and to my mind there is no evidence whatsoever that has yet come to light which contradicts them.


  1. Absolutely brilliant research - a man of my own heart. I have always disbelieved the dominant discourse of 1501 for many of the same reasons that you have stated here. Superbly argued - I think Ives' 'authority' status may soon crumble if your biography follows suit. What, may I ask, do you make of G.W Bernard's research on Anne?

  2. Thanks, Owen.

    On the subject of Professor Bernard's research on Anne, it is difficult to be respectful of something so lamentably stupid and that's really the only way to describe his version of Anne Boleyn's fall. To base an entire analysis on a series of poems, either romanticised or pornographic, is not a little unlike trying to write a biography of Marie-Antoinette based on the libelles.

  3. Fascinating article- I'm glad you have started a blog. Good luck with the book!

    I suppose you are familiar with Claire Ridgway's site, The Anne Boleyn Files?


  4. An excellent article, Gareth, and you've convinced me to think twice about Anne's birthdate - hmmm...

    Would you mind me linking to this article from The Anne Boleyn Files or perhaps you could write an article on this for us with a link back to your blog? I've always been convinced by Ives's argument regarding Anne's age when she went to the Lowlands but you've made some great arguments for 1507 as a date of birth.

  5. Thank you, Claire. I'm very glad you liked it and that it provided food for thought!

    I'd be more than flattered, of course, if you would like to link it from your blog - which I love. This works out very well for me, because I'd love to link to some of your articles on Anne from here at some point, if you didn't mind?

    Laeken - thank you very much. I'm so glad you like it and the good luck wishes are very much appreciated.

  6. Thanks, Gareth, I will link to it tomorrow and of course you can link to mine, I'm glad you like the AB Files.

  7. Hi Gareth,

    Just to let you know that I have quoted you on The AB Files, linked to you and advised people to read your excellent article. Hope that's ok!

  8. Hi Claire,

    Thank you very much. Hope you're well.


  9. A fascinating insight, sir, with enviable detective skills. It was via Tea at Trianon that I discovered your article. What with one thing and another this sort of website (like T at T itself) is teaching me much more than my undergraduate years studying history in the 1980s (such "study" consisting mostly of absorbing seemingly endless Marxist babble) ever did.

  10. Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I always thought the 1501 birth date didn't make sense. Henry wanted a woman who would give him children and in Tudor times late teens/early twenties would have been considered the best age to do that. It's true that Eleanor of Aquitaine and Elizabeth Woodville had children in their forties, but those were not their first kids and I think people were amazed they lived through it. Even if Henry was too blinded by love to think Anne was too old surely someone would have pointed it out to him.

    You actually found some real evidence she was born after 1501, which is wonderful. Because of what I had read in other books I had just assumed the 1501 date was supported by some kind of evidence even though 1507 made more sense. I really enjoyed reading this.

  11. I always wondered about the 1501 date, because that would have made her very nearly an exact contemporary of Charles V, who was raised by his aunt Margaret of Austria.

  12. RJ and AugustaRose, thank you so much for your very kind feedback and I'm very glad you enjoyed the article. The examples cited of Eleanor and Elizabeth are perfectly relevant to this debate and, as you say, back up 1507 far more than 1501; RJ, Marxist babble is, of course, the worst kind of babble.

    Yes, Zoe, it is telling that the Emperor had no apparent recollection of Anne when she became famous in England years later and it's more likely he might have remembered her from Mechelen had they been exactly the same age, like the Duchess of Ferrara did in France. In fact, curiously few of the Imperial Family had any recollection of Anne - the future Emperor's three eldest sisters, Eleanora, Elisabeth and Maria were in the Netherlands at the same time as Anne, but having been born in 1507, she was younger than all of them. The only sister she would have been of an age with was the Emperor's youngest sister, the Archduchess Catherine, future Queen of Portugal. However, Catherine was living in Spain at the time, unlike the rest of her siblings, as a companion to her mother, Queen Juana, following the Queen's nervous breakdown.

  13. Wonderful post! I'd always believed her birthdate to be about 1501, simply because most Historians seem with reason to believe it so. However, after reading this post, I'm definatly more open to the 1507 birthdate. You've made it seem a lot more sensible. I look forward to reading your bio. when it comes out. As Owen said, I believe Ives' "authority" status will likely be replaced by yours. I've always found him alittle too biased for my tastes in any case. (Though he's no Joanna Denny! Her's is the worst bio. I've EVER read. Any chance she got to undermime, belittle, or just insult any Catholic or none Anne supporter she could, even for no reason at all, she took it!)

  14. I would propose one answer to your question: "why did no-one point out that the new Queen was going into labour for the first time at exactly the same age as the old "barren" Queen had gone through it for the last time?"
    That would have been a very dangerous comment, since Henry wanted no doubts about the validity of this marriage. It would have come dangerously close to breaking the law, wouldn't it--at least for an English subject? Chapuys certainly could have made such a connection, of course. Interesting post--makes me rethink the Alison Weir study on her execution I just read; thank you.

  15. Thank you, Stephanie - and welcome to the blog.

    You're absolutely right on the point and I should have been clearer. We would obviously have expected such an indelicate point to be made by either the likes of Cardinal Pole or, of course, as you say, Chapuys, whose silence on the issue of the new Queen's age suggests - to me at least - that there was nothing inappropriate about it.

    I've been a firm believer in 1507 for some time now and a lot of Alison Weir's conjectures and hypotheses about Anne - particularly during the period of her fall - are based on her equally strong belief in 1501. So, when I was reading "The Lady in the Tower," I was drawing a few different conclusions of my own.

  16. You are correct about Weir's conjectures and hypotheses: even the portrait of Anne suggests that she is older. I found reading that study a little too close to sausage making; perhaps I don't want that much information about how to interpret the information and misinformation we have about Anne Boleyn's fall! The analysis of the sources was confusing at times as Weir goes back and forth on whether a certain statement is true or not.

    Congratulations again on an excellent post.

    Thanks for the welcome--I came to your blog via of Tea of Trianon too. Are you working on a book? My profile website describes my first published book.

  17. I am, Stephanie, yes and I've just added your book, "Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation," to my Amazon basket!

    I have a novel coming out with Penguin next year called "Popular," which is due to be the first in a series, so in between working on the "Popular" series, I am working on a biography of Anne Boleyn, which, as I say, may take the best part of half-a-decade or so to do, but she's good company and I'm enjoying it tremendously.

    The portrait you mention is very interesting - Roland Hui in his excellent paper on Anne Boleyn's portraiture dismisses its authenticity out of hand, pointing out it probably belonged to a gallery of English monarchs displayed in Nidd Hall, the home of Elizabeth loyalists later in the century. It is Hui's theory that the face of the sitter was originally based on portraits of Jane Seymour (although she looks too old, the mouth is similar) and that when Elizabeth became queen, the initial jewellery was simply stuck on the front to change the identification of the Queen. It would also explain why, at one point, another art historian thought it was initially based on Katherine of Aragon. So, it's a curious portrait to have used and one which I think was inserted to bolster her insistence on Anne's age and physicality at the time.

    That being said, there were a lot of sources included - an exhaustive list - which I appreciated, but I think for people coming to the story of Anne Boleyn's fall for an enjoyable read, it might have been a bit too like the sausage production style of history which you said!

  18. Thank you again, Gareth! I'll watch for your book and check in on your blog; I've added it to my list of daily blogs.

  19. I believe that Anne was born in 1507, or later. Henry VIII mistress were often young women of the age 14 and up. I can't see a man like Henry VIII who wanted to have male heir, tearing apart a country for someone who was cutting close to age in which women was consider too old to have kids. If Anne was well in her 30's , I do not think Henry VIII would have married her.

  20. Very well-written and thought-provoking post. I'd always thought the 1501 birthdate was more likely, but you've certainly provided a cogent argument for the contrary position.

  21. Luv and Rachel, thank you both very much - I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

  22. Great Post!

    I do think the 1507 date makes a lot of sense, but two things keep me leaning towards 1501. No matter how "bad" the handwriting and/or spelling may be, the letter still seems too sophisticated for a 7 yr. old to have written. When I look at Edward VI's earliest diary entries, Anne's script seems superior; Edward was a highly educated prince, but his writing is still that of a 9/10 yr old boy. I just don't see how a 7 yr. old Anne (or any 7 yr. old) would have been capable of such writing.

    Secondly, Henry seems to have had a tendency towards "mature" wives. Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were both in their mid 20s when he married them, Jane Seymour was likely in her late 20s, and Katherine Howard's youth has always been a marked point about her. Henry wanting to marry a mid 20s Anne doesn't seem that far fetched in this pattern. He wouldn't have known the divorce would take so long, and it wasn't like he would *not* marry Anne at that point, even if she was 32 (I do grant that 32 is old to be gambling on a son, but what else could he do at that point?). Also, someone mentioned Eleanor of Acquitaine and Elizabeth Woodville, but I actually see those examples as lending support to Anne being older. Elizabeth was 27 and Eleanor about 30 when they married their kings, and neither husband seemed to have been concerned about their ability to bear sons. While younger queens were no doubt preferred, there was precedent that English queens could be older. And again, Henry was expecting a mid 20s queen, not 32.

    Anyway, your post was very thought provoking, and I'd love to hear any further comments you may have about the points I raised. I really do think 1507 would be preferred, but 1501 continues to nag at me.


  23. This is an excellent and well researched article. Its my feeling that Anne was a most maligned woman and as far as husbands go drew the short straw in Henry.
    What is interesting is the fact that Henry fell so completely out of love/infatuation with Anne. I feel that he would not have married her had he not;
    1/ hoped of a male heir
    2/ been reluctant to loose face in casting her off
    3/ been unsympathetic to any point of view other than his own.
    To have expressed an opinion that Henrys chosen queen was past child bearing would have been exceedingly dangerous and would also have put doubt on Henrys ability to choose a suitable wife. Remember that Katherine of Aragon was older than he was and failed to provide a male heir, so that 20 years of marriage could have been seen as a waste of time. I think Henry would have been reluctant to have given his court the chance to feel that the same thing was happening again. If he couldnt choose a wife was he able to govern his kingdome?
    Anne paid the ultimate price for Henrys infatuation of her and the fact that we are still talking about it 500+ years on shows that the doubt and fascination still linger.
    I can hardly wait to read your book Gareth.

  24. A thought-provoking article, well enjoyed...thank you

  25. I think the points about it not being beyond the realms of possibility that Anne was only 32 because of the extreme length of time it took to secure the King's annulment from Katherine of Aragon are worth considering. As you say, had the Great Divorce gone through as quickly as Henry and Wolsey had expected, then Anne would have been about 26 at the time Henry married her in 1527 - making her roughly of an age with Katherine of Aragon (23), Jane Seymour (27-ish) and Anne of Cleves (24.) However, I still find it incredible that there are no surviving comments querying her suitability as the annulment dragged on. Eleanor of Aquitaine's age was actually queried when she married Henry II, especially since she had apparently "failed" to provide her first husband - Louis VII - with sons. And there were various snide remarks made about Elizabeth Woodville at the time, although she at least had the back-up of having produced two sons - Thomas and Richard - from her first marriage.

    On the subject of the King pressing ahead with marrying her simply because it was impossible to loose face after having waited for so long, even though her age was now a worry. I think by 1533 he was still very much enraptured of her and it's clear that courtiers and diplomats weren't afraid to highlight Anne's other "failings," so I am personally inclined to see it as unlikely that her age would have been ignored of deference to Henry's feelings.

    On the subject of the handwriting in the 1514 letter - there's a great exchange on the feedback about this article, when it was profiled on The Anne Boleyn Files (www.theanneboleynfiles.com.) One contributor pointed out the hugely differing levels of development between children, including some who can write flawless scripts at 6 or 7. However, the thing that needs to be remembered even more than this excellent point is that Anne would have been writing with enormously restrictive clothing that hampered the movements of her arms, helping to explain (I think) why the writing was quite neat. It is, however, messy when compared to the writings from the adult Anne - whose penmanship was quite delicate.

    In a nutshell, what I'm trying to say is that even if there is no definitive evidence to disprove the pro-1501 arguments you've so rightly raised, there is still always a circumstantial or plausible explanation to suggest why the alternative is possible. There is no such set of explanations which have ever explained the specific 1507 date stated by the Duchess of Feria and William Camden which, for me, means that 1507 has both the documentary and (when it's properly investigated) circumstantial evidence behind it.

    I'm very glad you liked the article and thank you for your excellent points, all of which show why 1500/1501 should be treated seriously in this debate, but, for me, I think 1507 wins hands-down in the end.

  26. Hi Gareth,

    I stumbled upon your blog while going a search for info on George Bernard’s new book on Anne Boleyn. For those who don’t know, his theory that Anne was actually guilty is not new, but based on an academic paper he wrote years ago (‘The Fall of Anne Boleyn’ in ‘English Historical Review’, July 1991). Following David Starkey’s lead, Bernard has seemingly now decided to go into the more lucrative pop-history book market. Eric Ives has always disagreed with Bernard on the issue of Anne’s guilt, and the two have been sniping at each other back and forth with veiled insults in academic print – LOL!

    Thanks for your mention on my article about Anne’s portraiture. The Renold Elstrack engraving of ‘Anne’ (reproduced in Ives’ book) is definitely of Jane Seymour (based on Holbein’s Whitehall mural) and probably the Nidd Hall picture is as well. Evidently, portraits of Jane were recycled as Anne. Admittedly, the Nidd Hall painting is puzzling. It appears to be related to the Elstrack type, but at the same time the sitter does have brown eyes (as Anne did), not gray like Jane’s, and her costume is echoed in the 1534 medal of Anne. Nonetheless, I still put my bets on the ‘B pendant type’ as the most authentic picture of Anne.

    Oh, love your review on’ The Divine Feud’. I have a copy of the book (a very delicious read!) being a big fan of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.




    A Coronation Book for Queen Anne Boleyn:


  27. Roland, thank you very much. I enjoyed your article tremendously and have it saved on file as one of the best on Anne's portraiture.

    I can't say for certain about the origins of the Nidd Hall portrait - whilst it is clearly meant to represent Anne, I don't think it was drawn from life. On that much, I'm certain... on the rest, not so much.

    I've ordered "Fatal Attractions" and we'll see how it reads... but I don't know if it's ever going to top Starkey, either in terms of popular appeal or commercial viability. But, who knows?

    The point you make about it not being a new claim, despite the marketing ploy to make it seem as such, is a very important one and I enjoyed Ives' and later Professor Warnicke's veiled sniping on the debate!


  28. Gareth, I agree with you about the 'commercial viability' for G. Bernard's book. I get the feeling from reading various postings that some Anne 'fans' actually intend to boycott the book.

    'Fatal Attractions' is not available in North America yet. When you do get your copy, perhaps you would like to post your own review. I would be especially interested in knowing which of Anne's portraits he reproduces.



  29. I will, Roland - it's in the post and I will let you know how the portraits are treated!


  30. I've always been a 1507 proponent out of sheer sentimentality (we who love Anne Boleyn simply would prefer to think of her as a beautiful young girl rather than as Chapuys' thin old woman). If indeed 1507 is correct, what I find interesting is that the age at which she died was very nearly the age at which Elizabeth was beset by the Amy Robsart scandal & emerged from it as more of a determined monarch than a young woman willing to risk her throne & possibly her life for love of Robert Dudley. Perhaps there was a bit of contemplation there on Elizabeth's part (& maybe Robin Maxwell got it right w/ her diary ;))

  31. Fantastic post, Gareth. I am by no means an expert at Tudor history, but I've always questioned the 1501 date. It makes very little sense given the attitudes of the time. This sums up the argument beautifully.

  32. Very interesting article! I love reading history like this, with point and counterpoint supported by primary sources :)

  33. Hi, Gareth,

    Although Anne Boleyn is a couple hundred years past 'my' time, I spend a good deal of time researching medieval history, and really enjoyed your discussion of research and sources. Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking article.

  34. Gareth: I was fascinated by this blog. I've run into the same thing, and I compliment you on the thorough research. For me, I just had to pick a date of Adam de la Halle's probably birth and death. Of course with Anne you had contrary opinions, which makes it more of a problem even than just having a few vague references to a name. I'm definitely going to follow your blog because I love historical research no matter the period.

  35. Great article, excellent research, thank you.

    I've done a study of Holbein (some time ago), including research into the royal account books and inventories, and some research in the Lambeth Palace library. It appears that the first employer of Holbein on his second visit to England was not the King, but Thomas Cromwell. And yet Holbein never painted Queen Anne, although he could have done so (unless you count the disputed sketch, but those sketches were labelled after Holbein's death). He came back to England in 1532, his first visit having been to Thomas More's household, at the instigation of Erasmus.
    I have no answers, but it's always puzzled me that Holbein never painted her. I think there might be a connection that escapes us as yet, particularly considering his association with the Hanseatic League.

  36. Sorry - the post got away from me. Something I've long been convinced of also persuades me of the later date of Anne's birth.
    Henry needed an heir, a male heir. Needed one. He and his father had done away with all other claimants to the English throne (except for Courtenay, and they had him under lock and key). Without a male heir, England would have been thrust into the political turmoil of civil war, and dragged back economically, as had happened in the previous century. Any student of art history will tell you that, point to the innovations that were being made in Italy, France and the Netherlands, but not in England, because they couldn't afford it. For the stability of the country, there needed to be a legitimate male heir, one that nobody could dispute, and one that had England's interests at heart.

    Without a male heir, England would be at the mercy of the far more powerful forces in mainland Europe. Henry worked a very clever diplomatic game to dance between the two (France and Spain), and only when his ministers showed personal partialities, did he cut them off.

    Henry divorced Katharine of Aragon at the time of her menopause, when it became obvious that he'd get no more children on her.

    If he'd wanted Anne, he could have compelled her to sleep with him, one way or another, but he didn't. He needed a male heir to the throne. Females wouldn't do because the only time a woman had laid claim to the throne was Matilda, and that had been a disaster. It's easy to look at the situation with hindsight, knowing that Elizabeth was one of the best monarchs England ever had, but at the time, they didn't know that.

    Serial monogamy didn't display Henry's promiscuity, just his need to provide the precious male heir. He had two (maybe three) known mistresses, and he wasn't known for promiscuity or even satyriasis, as his counterpart in France was.

    When Queen Katharine of Aragon died, Henry could declare himself a widower-except for Anne Boleyn. His marriage to her was disputed, since he'd done it when Katharine was still alive. It made sense to get rid of her in favour of a someone else, but in order to do that, to have clear title to a marriage in any court, Anne had to die.

    Marrying a subject ensured the Englishness of his heir, something the populace seemed very keen on, and there's no disputing that he did follow his fancy. But had it been wiser for him to ignore his heart, or whatever part of his anatomy drove him, and marry someone else, I think he would have done so.
    Not ruthlessness so much as realpolitik.

  37. Your research and interpretation exactly matches mine. Jane Dormer had her very specific information about Anne's age from a person who knew Anne and would have known exactly how old she was. If you discount everything else that indicates 1507, you're still left with that, and it is stronger evidence any that exists for 1501.

    Bravo on this piece. Outstanding.

    Now what I really want to see you tackle is Anne's looks. I'm very curious to see if you come to the same conclusions I have.

  38. Fantastic post!! Not only a great argument, but the writing is engaging as well. Can't get much better than that! I'd just like to add: Warnicke is at Arizona State University, not the University of Arizona. It's easy to mix up but dangerous to do so over here in Arizona :)

  39. Good argument - I myself agree with the 1507 date - evidently at Blickling there resides a portrait of Anne Boleyn, indicating she was born in that same year.

  40. Very interesting, I wish we could just know Anne Boleyn's birthdate! It's so irritating that we'll never know.

    Out of interest, what do you believe, Gareth, about the birthdate of Anne's younger cousin, Katherine Howard? It is now firmly believed to be 1525 or 1526, instead of the earlier birthdate of 1520/1 which was for so long accepted.

    If Katherine was born in 1525, it also makes sense with what you suggest about Anne born in 1507. Katherine would have been 14 or 15 when the King fell in love with her, about the same age as when Anne first came to court. This would suggest the King enjoyed wives in their teenage years. Shockingly enough, Katherine was beheaded in 1542 but was probably no more than fifteen or sixteen years old.

    What do you believe about Katherine's birth date? Although she is not as celebrated or perhaps as important as her cousin Anne, her story is every bit as tragic.

  41. Conor, hi. On the subject of Catherine's date of birth, I am less certain. I know that both Alison Weir in her "Six Wives of Henry VIII" and "Britain's Royal Families" and Joanna Denny in "Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy," both argued very strongly for Catherine being born sometime around 1525. Generally speaking, I would agree with them, placing Catherine's birth probably sometime around 1524, based on the evidence that she was left out of the 1524 will of her grandfather, but included in the 1527 will of her grandmother. However, Lady Antonia Fraser ("The Six Wives of Henry VIII"), Dr. David Starkey ("Six Wives") and Lacey Baldwin Smith ("A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Times of Catherine Howard") have all argued for the more traditional c. 1521 date on the perfectly sound argument that Catherine and her sister Mary would, of course, have been left out of the male inheritance (the 1524 grandfather's will) but included in the female (the 1527 grandmother's will) and, as such, too much should not be read into her non-appearance in the records of 1524. As I said, I tend to agree she was born 1524/1525, but more hesitantly than I would say Anne was born in 1507.

  42. Please read my blogs people. http://anneboleynbirth.blogspot.com/2010/08/anne-boleyn-woman-of-mystery-in-every.html

    Please read it Gareth,
    I, too, argue for Anne's birthdate.

  43. Great article, Conor. But, sadly, I still remain convinced by 1507. :)

    So glad you're interested in Anne and her debate though!


  44. In reply to that, I think it may be pure speculation I'm afraid here. To say that Anne in 1526, at 25, was too old to be married, cannot be regarded as proof... Jane Seymour was 28 or 29 when she married the King, for example, and I'm sure not every girl was married in her teens/early twenties in the Tudor period.
    I don't think there is enough proof for either, but I still believe she was born in 1501 or 1502.

  45. Furthermore, what about the letter from Thomas Boleyn, when he claimed his wife gave him five children in five years?
    Please tell me you don't support the ridiculous claim made by Warnicke and supported by Philippa Gregory that Anne was the ELDER sister, born in 1507, and that Mary was younger and followed in 1508. Preposterous!
    I think it likely that Elizabeth Howard gave Thomas five children between 1499-1504 or 1500-1505. They had the 3 surviving children and 2 dead sons, Thomas and Henry, one who was younger than George - Henry apparently - and the other a year older than George.

    1500 - Mary Boleyn born
    1501 - Anne Boleyn born
    1502 - Thomas Boleyn born
    1503 - George Boleyn born
    1504/5 - Henry Boleyn born.

    This is speculation but the letter is PROOF, from Thomas Boleyn, Anne's FATHER. It should not be regarded!
    Please consider this.

  46. Sorry again, but perhaps the statement that Anne Boleyn was born circa 1502 or 1503 is the most correct, made in the 1880s by Friedmann.

  47. Conor, I'm afraid you have become slightly over-zealous to the point almost of being rude. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that I don't take my historical ideas from a Gregory novel and since I didn't argue that Anne was the eldest daughter, I think it's safe to say that I don't think that. I believe Anne was born in 1507, not that Mary was born in 1508.

    It is interesting in light of your fervent citation of Thomas Boleyn's letter that you accept without proof the idea that he and Elizabeth Howard were married in 1499. In fact, my own research into the original documents of the period shows that Elizabeth Howard-Boleyn did not come into her jointure/dowry/inheritance until 1502, which means that (at the earliest) she is likely to have been married in 1501, more probably in 1502 itself.

    Furthermore, you engaged strongly with my argument about the probability of Anne's marital age suggesting 1507 as being the most likely date of birth and then went on to cite Freidmann as a reliable source. Freidmann wrote over 300 years after the events and many of the other things he argued have demonstrably been proved to be false in recent years. Other scholars in precisely the same period as Freidmann, such as J.A. Froude and James Gairdner, argued that she had been born in 1507. Why should they not be taken as reliable if you're claiming Freidmann is? You also misinterpreted my article and I'm sorry if it wasn't clear enough that the memoirs of the Duchess of Feria and the annals of William Camden are the main body of my argument, rather than the speculation about her age. It is my firm belief that everything - specifics and circumstantial - point to Anne Boleyn have been the last of the Boleyn children, born in 1507, with her eldest sibling (whoever that might have been) having been born in 1502 or 1503.

  48. Sorry Gareth, I didn't mean it to be rude. It is just so frustrating that we still don't know when Anne was born, although it certainly is a fascinating mystery.
    Like you, I might have to puzzle this out over K. Howard, for historians battle continously over when she was born, although I suppose it is a bit easier for her compared to Anne, for Anne's birth could be anywhere between 1500-1507, with you thinking it's 1507, whereas Katherine's is I think 1519-1525.
    It's such a mystery but so annoying that we will never know!
    Good luck with your book, I will certainly read it when it comes out.

  49. I have never felt the 1501 date to ring true. Great research. I enjoyed reading this post.

  50. I have to say though, Anne Brandon was probably at the French court at the age of seven because she was the daughter of the Duke of Brandon and later stepdaughter of Queen Mary - or some relation or another to the Duke, thus it seems fair to suggest she enjoyed privileges becoming a highborn nobleman that would not have been permitted to the youngest daughter of a country nobleman still working his way up the rankings. Furthermore, Thomas Boleyn went on to state in a letter that every year Elizabeth Howard bore him a child; if Mary was born in 1500 as you claim - she married 'at about 19 or 20' in 1520 - and George in 1504 ish, and Anne in 1507, this would ensure a span of childbearing years at 7 at least. This does not fit with Thomas's statement, bearing in mind he had five children.
    It seems fair to suggest his five children were conceived and born between 1500 and 1504.

    Yes, Anne was referred to as young several times, but it seems more likely that this was because of the great contrast in ages between her and Queen Katherine. She was almost certainly 15 years younger, at least, than the Queen - described as 'deformed' in c.1518 - and so would have inspired great comments as to her apparent youth, compared to this ageing embarrassment of a queen, unfortunately to describe the admirable Katherine.

    You make the point that Anne was 'young' to be a maid of honour; the Emperor himself stated that a maid should be at least 13 to fit the minimum requirements; had Anne been born in 1501 she would have been 11-12 when she was sent abroad, thus being 'young' compared to the average 13-year old maids or older.

    Although Anne at 32 may be seen as old for bearing Elizabeth, many women still bore children at the age; look at Elizabeth Woodville's undoubted fertility for reassurance. Joyce Culpepper herself bore Katherine Howard in c.1521-4 at the age of 41-44; Jane Seymour delivered her son at the age of 28, Katherine of Aragon's last child was born in 1518 when Katherine was approaching her thirty-third birthday. At that time the King had not entirely given up. Mary Boleyn herself gave birth to children in the mid 1530s at the age of at least 34-5.

    I think it is without a doubt that c. 1501 is the much more likely date.

  51. Aidan, thanks for your comment, although I have to disagree with your last sentence - as clearly there is some doubt.

    I didn't say Mary Boleyn was born in 1500, definitely. I don't think it's by any means clear that Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn were married in 1500 or 1499, as we've earlier believed. My own research has led me to believe they probably weren't married until 1502 and prior to 1506, you have to factor in the births of two other Boleyn children - Thomas and Henry - and one miscarriage. So, Thomas's sentence shouldn't be taken as writ that Elizabeth Howard-Boleyn went into labour only prior to Sir William Boleyn's death in 1505.

    On the Anne Brandon point, she was sent to Mechelen in 1513, at which stage her father hadn't yet been created duke of Suffolk - an extraordinary and unforeseen elevation, which even Erasmus found inexplicable. When Anne Brandon was sent to the Hapsburg court, her father was of exactly the same social status as Anne Boleyn's father, and in terms of bloodline, her mother's was inferior to Anne Boleyn's.

    However, thanks for the comment. It's always interesting to hear arguments in favour of 1501; I'm still unpersuaded though.

    Thanks, Gareth

  52. I think your article is immensely interesting and you do proffer a very convincing argument for the 1507 date bearing in mind Dormer and Camden's testimonies. As you rightly say, it makes no sense that Jane should lie about Anne's age as a means of disparaging her memory, yet thee are other contemporary accounts (not raised in this article) who suggested that she had been born in circa 1501, or at the very least before 1504. Eric Ives has strongly contested that there is evidence to sugest George was the youngest of the three siblings and he was born in 1505 at the latest. Also, although I would usually treat Denny's research with a strain of caution, she does make a valid point in her book, when she asserts that Anne had complained that she had wasted her youth by not embarking on an advantageous marriage. Such a comment would have fitted neatly with a woman in Tudor times on the cusp of her mid-late twenties, but seems a rather drastic reaction to a woman who if had been born in summer - autumn of 1507, would have made her just 23! Also, there is the comment made by Thomas Boleyn about the 5 children being born in succession of each other.
    With regard to Camden, whilst he may have been given access to official state documents by Burghley, can we be absolutely sure that these statements contained a definitive date of birth for Anne Boleyn and not perhaps, just an estimate? Birth dates were rarely chronicled in this period and even less so with precise certainty unless royalty. For instance, because of this lack of recording information, historians have failed to ascertain the precise dates of birth for Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey. Indeed, we only know Jane Seymour's birth year, because 29 attendees were in attendance at her funeral, presumably marking her age at the time of death. Therefore, forgive my ignorance, but can we be absolutely certain that the 1507 date which Camden may have gained access to, was final and definitive?

    I think there are pros and cons with both arguments but I don't think there is still enough evidence to discount the 1501 date so painstakingly advanced by notable historians such as Ives and Starkey. Nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyed reading your article!

  53. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment. In regards Anne's comment about her youth slipping by, I did in fact address it: -

    "On the Feast of Saint Andrew in 1531, Anne complained that her youth was passing her by - a comment which would have raised eyebrows almost to the ceiling had she already been thirty, because by that point her youth would most definitely have left her behind a long, long time ago, particularly by Tudor standards."

    In regards Thomas Boleyn's famous claim of the five children, that only works if we accept that Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard were married in 1499/1500 which, although often repeated, has never been proven from a documentary point of view and in the Boleyns' case, it's best not to avoid too much on stories which have no surer foundation than the merits of repitition.

    I wouldn't say Starkey has painstakingly advanced the 1501 d.o.b., it comes from the work of Hugh Paget and Eric Ives. You're absolutely right that dismissing it out of hand is impossible, but Camden's citation of the 1507 date of birth is compelling when set in the wider context of the Duchess of Feria's citation of the same date and the attitudes to aging prevalent in Anne's own era and class.

    Thanks for reading and for your post. It was very intelligent and thought-provoking.

    Many thanks,


  54. This is not directly related Gareth, but do you believe Katherine Howard's parents were married in 1514-15 - which Baldwin Smith suggests, if you've read his book?

    I believe she was born in around 1524 but it is rather weird to think that if Katherine was only the fifth child of their marriage that she would be born ten years into it...

  55. Hi Gareth,

    I have read an interesting theory on Anne Boleyn's birthday. Alison Weir mentioned that in Roger Powell's book of Henry VIII's mistresses, he put forward the theory that Anne Boleyn was possibly named after St. Anne and was thus born on St Anne's day - 26th July. Could this possibly be Anne's birthday? It would fit in with the suggestion that Anne was nearing her 29th (or more likely 35th) birthday.

  56. Hi Aidan,

    The theory that she was born on the feast day of Saint Anne is certainly a possible one, but only if it applies to 1507, not any earlier date. The Duchess of Feria is the only source to give the season, as well as the year via her assertion that the queen was approaching her 29th birthday. No other source mentions anything like that and it's not really credible that the duchess would have gotten the month/season of Anne's birthday correct but the year wrong, by a margin of six-seven calendar years! So, yes, it's very possible that Roger Powell is right and Anne was born July 26th 1507.

    However, Anne was a very popular name on both sides of Anne's family. At the time of her birth, her uncle was still married to Anne of York, Edward IV's daughter, and it's equally possible that Anne Boleyn was christened in her honour or that any of the Annes in the Boleyn, Butler and Howard families stood as godmother to her at her christening, hence why she was named Anne and which means it's by no means certain she was named (directly) after the mother of the Virgin Mary.

    However, it's certainly an intriguing and credible theory!

  57. no creo que haya nacido en 1501 pork ya estaria demasiado vieja para cuando fue coronada

  58. I couldnt agree with you more Russell, youve done your research well, bravo! I find it hard to believe the King of England would have risked all he did to marry a woman that only had a few years of fertility left in her however it is so sad that this mystery may never be solved. Youve made me a fan of your intellectual thoughts and writing:)

  59. Hi Gareth,

    Thought you might find this article ('Two New Faces: the Hornebolte Portraits of Mary and Thomas Boleyn?') interesting:




  60. Thanks for this Roland. I'm going to do a post on it soon with a link, if that's okay? It's a great article.

  61. Hi Gareth,

    Much thanks!

    The article remains speculation (the 2 sitters are still a mystery to us), but certainly, I hope to encourage more discussion and debate as to their identities.



  62. Gareth, I've read an interesting article about the portraiture of Anne Boleyn and was wondering about your views:

    I disagree with the writer's views, and although I know it was painted in the late sixteenth century, I believe the Hever Castle portrait of Anne - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anneboleyn2.jpg - to be the most realistic/authentic, conforming to contemporary accounts of her looks.

    What do you think?

  63. This was an incredible article. I always believed Anne Boleyn to be born in 1507, and it irritates me that so many people are siding with 1501.
    The only reason that I could think of, was that Henry VIII would not marry a woman already 32 years old if he wanted lots of sons; that was already very old in Tudor times, and not even that young in 2012!
    All of your reasons were clearly explained; I wish all who think 1501 would read this!
    No one in Tudor times has ever specifically said 1501, like Feria and Camden have, 1507. I can't imagine why anyone would think 1501!
    Excellent reasoning and research - amazing job!

  64. If you look up the year of 1501 and 1507 in the Chinese tables of astrological signs, you'll find 1501 is the year of the Rooster. When I read the description for the female I immediately thought Anne was a Rooster...however the year 1507 was the year of the Rabbit and if you read the female description of that, you'll see that it matches Anne's description almost to a "T". Henry was born in 1491-the year of the Pig (or boar) - read up on the compatibility between the Pig and the Rabbit. Voila! Not rocket science but fun reading nonetheless!

  65. To me what's incredible is that in Antonia Fraser's book about the wives of Henry the VIII, she uses the Duchess of Feria testimony to claim Anne was likely born in the summer or autumn, but then claim she was more likely born in 1501.

    I just can't found a reasonable explanation for that. How can you just use information to back up a theory, but then ignore that same information to back up another idea?

  66. Gareth, what do you believe Anne's role in France was, since if you believe she was born in 1507 then surely you agree with Warnicke's claim that she was brought up in the nursery since she cannot have been a maid of honour?
    I personally don't think "la petite Boulain" needs to suggest a 7 or 8 year old girl. If Anne was born in the summer of 1501, and she was sent in spring 1513 as Warnicke suggests, she may have been around 11 years old, some two-to-three years younger than the MINIMUM age expected of a maid of honour. Thus she would have been comparatively young anyway. Thomas Boleyn's referring to his daughter as such may refer either to her being his youngest daughter or her small stature (although this is unknown).
    I don't think we can conclusively say 1507 is her true birth date, I still think according to contemporary customs in society a birth date of c1501 is more viable.

  67. That's certainly possible, but it leaves out all the other wealth of anecdotal evidence from the 1520s and the 1530s. Far too much is made of the maid of honour rule; it was frequently bent to suit the Archduchess's requirements. As indeed it was at most European courts. Simply because Anne was born in 1507 does not mean that she ipso facto was in the French royal nursery, although as Professor Warnicke points out, the Duchess of Ferrara's memories of her would indicate that they were most likely of a similar age.

  68. I just find it hard to believe that she would have been there for another role rather than maid of honour. If she was a maid of honour she must have needed to have been around thirteen years old, as Warnicke herself states - they needed to act as "decorative foils".
    And on the Princess Renee's comments, as Ives states, she remembered her as a maid of honour rather than childhood companion - you could say why would someone 9 years older than the Princess be friends, but then what about Marguerite of France who was born in 1492 - surely she would not have enjoyed the same relationship with Anne (although tenuous I admit) if she was 15 years older.
    I think too much has been made of this 'petite Boulain' comment.

  69. Too much has been made of it? I think I mentioned it once?

    All valid points, Conor. Thank you.

  70. No not you necessarily Gareth - I mean with Professor Warnicke too. Anyway it is an interesting debate so I'm sure it'll continue for a while.

  71. An excellent article here. However I have been reading extensively about attitudes to marriage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in view of the evidence provided I take exception to some of your arguments.
    For instance, Martin Ingram has provided evidence that the mean age of women who married in early modern England was the mid-to-late twenties. In the early seventeenth century this was around the age of 24 while in other areas it was as high as 27.
    I believe Retha M. Warnicke, professor, herself stated that women at court commonly married in their early twenties. Therefore, if Anne Boleyn returned home age 20, it is difficult to see why, in around 1525-6, if she was aged about 24 or 25, she would have been considered "old". Jane Seymour, was she not, was born in c.1508 and was thus 28 at the time of her marriage - yet Chapuys referred to her as a "young lady".

    On the basis of this alone - not the other evidence - I think its going too far to argue a 1507 birth date. A case can be made for c 1501 on the basis of this too.

    It should not be forgotten that in early 1525-6 Anne probably did still get expect to be married; yet the failure of the Butler marriage and possibly, the Percy marriage, had somewhat delayed proceedings.
    Yet if Anne had confidently expected to marry in 1522, when she was likely nearing her 21st birthday, it seems to conform to social expectations of the time. There is no reason why she would have needed to have been aged 15 - as Ives states only landed heiresses were married at this age.
    And when Anne railed about her "youth" in 1529, if one follows the 1507 argument, she would have still been very marriageable. Yet if she was 28 her comment makes much more sense.

  72. Thank you, Kurt, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. That's a very fair point, but I think far too much has been made of the so-called "mean age" of marriage. In the first case, it's obviously a very imprecise estimate since we don't know the date of birth for the vast majority of Tudor brides, even aristocratic ones. Secondly, if one looks within Anne's own family, all the women (almost without exception) were married either in their late teens or early twenties. Some a good deal earlier. It's one of many reasons why I don't agree with 1501; however, it's certainly an interesting argument.

    Thanks so much for your comment and for saying you enjoyed the article.

  73. Great article Gareth, You make some insightful points, but I think you're overlooking a few things. Apart from his midlife crisis with Kathryn Howard, Henry VIII was never attracted to pubescent girls. He was drawn to educated, intelligent, compelling WOMEN. Katherine of Aragon was 6 1/2 years older than Henry when they married; he could have had his choice of any nubile princess, but he chose her. A girl of 18 wouldn't have had the polish or allure to hold a man like Henry in thrall for 7 years, particulary without any sex. I can certainly believe Anne was single at age 25. She was an incorrigible flirt, and no doubt reveled in all the masculine attention - why give that up that unless the marriage offer is exceptional? The typical marriage age for lower to middle class people in Tudor England was exactly what it is today - mid to late twenties. While it was unusual for someone with Anne's connections to be single, it certainly wasn't unheard of. Jane Seymour was 27 when Henry married her, and I've read many accounts of queens during those times routinely giving birth in their mid to late thirties. I don't know why you picked age 35 at some sort of arbitrary cut off for Tudor age child birth. And you better go back and re-read those letters from Catherine Parr's friends and relations; they weren't concerned because she was pregnant at 35. They were stunned that after 4 marriages, she was pregnant at all! Everyone had assumed she was barren, so they viewed her pregnancy as a miracle.
    I think a brith year of 1501-1503 is exactly right for Anne - 1507 is much too late.

  74. Thank you Gareth you complete and utter legend!! I have always felt when reading sources of how she behaved in her lifetime where more like a younger woman, but historians are constantly dismissing that theory. I could go on but it would be a ramble. Thank you. xx

  75. Wow. Absolutely brilliant. As someone who has always leaned towards the 1501 date you have completely convinced me of contrary. Very well written and researched. Also I didn't know that Anne Brandon who would have been a year (with the 1507 date) older than Anne was at Margarets court around the same time, which I think adds a lot if weight behind the 1507 birth date.

  76. What are your opinions on Thomas Cromwell?

  77. Where do you think Anne was born if she was was born in 1507? Would her being born in 1507 mean that she was born in Hever Castle, as that was her family's place of residence at the time?
    Thank you, excellent article.

  78. Gareth I have found compelling evidence to disprove this argument.


  79. Conor, I am sorry if you feel that I have "distorted or exaggerated" the evidence to suit my argument; I have always hoped that I read the evidence then reached the argument, not the other way around. It was an interesting article, certainly, but with all due respect, I had considered and evaluated all the evidence before I reached my conclusion and before writing this piece - including the pieces mentioned in your very passionate article. While your article was an interesting essay for me to read and one which certainly strongly argues the counter-argument to the one expressed by me here, it does not present evidence that was unknown to me and I wouldn't say it conclusively disproves what I've written here. Nor, as you put it in your article, does it "demolish" it. It simply offers another, well-thought through alternative.

  80. I have changed the wording of the essay as I realised how bad it sounded - apologies. It was not actually in reference to you by the way. I also did not mean for it to be passionate, hence why I have changed it. Please accept my apology!

  81. Gareth, brilliant article, I've always felt the 1507 date was the true one too based on more or less the same interpretation of the available evidence. But you've argued the position so cogently that even sceptics have to concede that it's a valid viewpoint. Well done. Looking forward to reading your book!

  82. I love your article and agree with most of your arguments.

    1501 makes sense when considering that Anne went abroad in 1513 for her education but less so when considering her first pregnancy in 1533 when she would have been 32, rather late by 16th century standards.

    No matter how infatuated Henry VIII was with her and no matter how sure of herself she may have been she must have known that her future depended on the begetting of an heir and to wait until she was 31/32 to consumate their relationship seems like a big gamble indeed.

    Also to be sent abroad for her education at the age of 6 is not entirely impossible. Most chroniclers agree that Anne was very intelligent so it is easy to picture her as a bright and precocious child and anyway the role of children in the 16th century was very different than today - they were made to serve their parent' ambitious and Thomas Boleyn was no exception to that.

    I also agree that the Percy affair demonstrate a certain naivete more natural in a girl of 16 than in a wordly 22-year-old woman.

    I guess we will never know for sure but I also lean more towards 1507.


  83. Camden actually expressed confusion about Anne Boleyn's date of birth. Recalling that she was born in 1507, he later opined that Henry VIII had fallen in love with her aged thirty-eight (1529), when Anne was in the twentieth year of her age, placing her birth in c1509.
    He later suggested that this happened in the seventeenth year of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (c.1525/6), which provides a date of birth for Anne around 1505-6.

    Thus three different dates were given.

  84. Conor, that shows he was confused about the later chronology of her life, not earlier. He quite specifically gave 1507 as her date of birth; the chronology of her adult career was a source of confusion to him due to the mystery that surrounded, and still surround, what happened to her between 1521 and 1528.

  85. Do you mean that Anne acted as a translator for her father at the French court? Since her father spoke French fluently that would hardly have been needed.

    A note on the letter written from Anne to her father. Maybe the handwriting is that 'of a small child'. But the content does really not sound like something a 6-7 year old would be able to write.

    Just my 2 cents :-)

  86. Thomas Boleyn's statement that his wife "brought [him] every year a child" is quoted ad nauseum as evidence for a 1501 birth year. However, has it occurred to anyone that Mr. Boleyn may have been using hyperbole for persuasive/dramatic effect? Perhaps he never intended his statement to be taken 100% literally.

  87. Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing it, Garreth!

  88. This is very, very late, and I'm new to this site so this may be rude to post so long after it was written; if so, I apologize.

    I loved this article! I always thought it was weird that Chapuys, who is famously catty, would never say, "The Councubine is too OLD to have children" if Anne has in her 30s when she married.

    I also found some other evidence that supports the 1507 date.

    Henry had a preference for older women until his mid-20s; afterwards, he almost exclusively preferred girls in their late teens~early 20s, which means 19-year-old Anne would have been just his type. The only big outliers in the older—younger divide are Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr, but I think that can be explained. Henry wanted the anti-Anne and he found that in Jane, who presented herself as meek and obedient. Henry hated Catherine Howard, who was young and spirited, so now he wanted an older, sedate widow.

    1. In 1510, Anne Stafford was 27 when she had an affair with Henry.
    2. In 1513, Etiennette de La Baume’s age is unknown.
    3. In 1514, Jane Poppincourt was an older woman. She must have been around 30.
    4. In 1514, Elizabeth Carew was ~15 when she had an affair with Henry.
    5. In 1518, Elizabeth Blount was 16-20 when she gave birth to Henry RitzRoy.
    6. In 1520, Mary Boleyn was 20-21 when she had an affair with Henry. (She would be 18~19 if your hypothesis that her parents didn’t marry until 1500~1 is true.)
    7. In 1538-9, Anne Basset was 18-19 when she had an affair with Henry.
    8. In 1540, Catherine Howard was ~17 when Henry showed interested in her.

    Of course, it could have been that 26-year-old Anne was so dazzling he fell for her anyways, but I think it fits a pattern.

    Anyways, even if you never read this, I loved Young / Damned/ Fair and I can't wait to read your Anne Boleyn book!


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