If asked to describe Anne Boleyn, most people would mention her French hoods; between the famous National Portrait Gallery and Hever Rose portraits, and the portrayals of Anne on TV and film – Genevieve Bujold in ‘Anne of a Thousand Days,’ Natalie Dormer in ‘The Tudors,’ Natalie Portman in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ and most recently Jodie Turner-Smith in ‘Anne Boleyn’ – the French hood has become iconically ‘Anne.’
Which is funny, really, when you consider that Anne was so often portrayed wearing the English gable hood.
The only reliable contemporary likeness of Anne we have is the Moost Happi Medal, which I discuss at length in The Real Face of Anne Boleyn. This medal was a prototype created in 1534, probably to commemorate the son Anne was supposed to be pregnant with. Tragically, she suffered a stillbirth at around 7 months, and the medal was never produced. In this medal, celebrating her role as queen and mother to the heir, Anne chose to be portrayed with the gable hood, not the French hood she has become famous for.
There is another image of Anne created during her lifetime, though it cannot be said to be a true likeness; rather it is a symbolic representation. Also created in 1534, this image of Anne comes from the Black Book of the Garter. As King, Henry VIII was very concerned with continuing the chivalric tradition of the Knights of the Order of the Garter, which was founded in 1348 by Edward III. He therefore commissioned the Black Book of the Garter to record the history, rules, and ceremonies of the Order. There are many illustrations throughout this manuscript, depicting the Order’s history. Henry and Anne both appear in these illustrations; Henry VIII chose to be depicted as another Henry – the fifth one, of Agincourt fame. Though there is no record of Anne taking on the role of Lady of the Garter, she is depicted as Philippa of Hainault, Edward III’s queen. The scene shows Anne, as Queen Philippa, presiding over the tournaments of the Knights of the Garter; the accompanying text clearly refers to Queen Philippa, however, the queen depicted is shown wearing a circular pendant with AR – Anna Regina – and is dressed in Tudor fashion, as are her attendants. Whilst many of the ladies attending Anne/Philippa are wearing the French hood, Anne herself is once again shown with the gable hood.
Perhaps most significantly, Anne chose to go to her death with the English gable hood. An account written by an observer states:
‘The said Queen (unjustly called) finally was…brought by the captain upon the said scaffold, and four young ladies followed her. She was then stripped of her short mantle furred with ermines, and afterwards took off her hood, which was of English make, herself…’
In her final moments, when all she had left was her sense of self, Anne once again chose the gable hood. We can only speculate as to why. One argument is that she was underscoring that she was an English queen. The gable hood was also seen as more modest and virtuous than the fashionable, hair-revealing French hood, so perhaps it was her way of standing in defiance on the charges of adultery.
Whilst those are definitive, contemporary portrayals of Anne, there are also many others, which are either unconfirmed likenesses, or are later copies.
The British Museum Holbein sketch, for example, shows a young woman in a gable hood. Though the sketch was made in the early 1530s, the inscription identifying the sitter as Anne is a later addition, so we cannot be certain that this is Anne. There is also a miniature by Horenbout, painted in 1525-27, which shows a young woman in a gable hood, that has been tentatively identified by the Royal Ontario Museum as Anne.
Of the mid-to-late 16th century copies of Anne portraiture, the NPG and Hever Rose portraits, and others that follow the same pattern, have become most famous; but there are many other portraits of Anne which follow different patterns. The Nidd Hall portrait supposedly shows Anne with a gable hood; it has been argued that this is actually Jane Seymour, and the AB pendant is a later addition, though it does seem to resemble the Moost Happi medal.
The above mentioned portraits deserve far more analysis and treatment than I can provide in this post; however, they do act to demonstrate that Anne was commonly portrayed, or at least believed to be portrayed by near-contemporaries, with the gable hood.
Leaving aside these possible and later portrayals, and returning to our three contemporary depictions – the Moost Happi medal; the Black Book of the Garter illustration; and the account of Anne’s execution – it is clear that in the most significant portrayals of her queenship, Anne chose the English gable hood over her iconic French hood.
Stay tuned for PART TWO, where I will delve further into the reasons for Anne’s hood choices, and how she became so strongly associated with the French hood.