In this third and final post on Anne Boleyn and the gable hood, I’ll be discussing how Anne became so strongly associated with the French hood, despite clear evidence that she went to some lengths to portray herself with the English gable hood.

Once again, we are entering, to an extent, the world of deduction and speculation – grounded in primary source evidence, of course. If you missed them, you can follow the links to read PART ONE and PART TWO.

Anne’s association with French style and dress, including the French hood, began shortly after her death. French poet Lancelot de Carles, in his poetic eulogy to Anne, described her thus: ‘She became so graceful that you would never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born.’

Portrait of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, c.1537, shown wearing the gable hood she enforced on her ladies in waiting

One of the strongest pieces of evidence that Anne was associated with the French hood is the fact that Jane Seymour banned her ladies from wearing them; though Anne is not explicitly named as the reason for the change, there is a clear implication. The ladies of the court, and particularly the queen’s ladies in waiting, sought to, and were expected to, emulate the style of the queen. The fact that so many of Anne’s ladies wore French hoods, which is attested to by Jane’s rule, and by contemporary portraits and sketches, suggests that Anne was at the very least permissive, and probably quite fond, of that style of headdress. As queen, Jane sought to distinguish herself from her predecessor; perhaps in part to protect herself from the kind of gossip which was twisted and used against Anne Boleyn. Jane strictly controlled the conduct of her ladies-in-waiting, requiring them to be ‘sober, sad, wise and discreet,’ as opposed to Anne’s court, which had been full of music, laughter, and courtly flirtations.

On the 17th September, 1537, John Husee wrote informing Lady Lisle that her daughter, Anne, who had recently gained a position in Jane’s household, would have to follow the English style of Jane’s court:

‘Mistress Anne must also have the apparel written in the same book, as appointed by lady Rutland and lady Sussex. However, since that time James is come from the Court and says the Queen’s pleasure is Mrs. Anne shall wear out her French apparel, but she must have a bonnet and frontlet of velvet. I saw her yesterday in the velvet bonnet in which lady Sussex attired her, which I thought became her nothing so well as the French hood, but the Queen’s pleasure must be done.’

Detail from a portrait of Catherine Parr by Master John, c.1545, shown wearing a French hood

It is significant, I think, that it is the French hood that was most offensive to the new queen, that it could not be ‘worn out,’ but must be immediately replaced; this must have been particularly frustrating to Lady Lisle, as only 4 days earlier she had ordered ‘half a dozen hats…such as the ladies wear in France.’

After Jane’s death, the association of the French hood with the reviled traitor, Anne Boleyn, must have died down; not only did Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr favour the French hood, but Mary, Anne’s embittered stepdaughter, also seems to have favoured this headdress. In fact, the only portrait we have of Mary in the gable hood comes from a sketch by Holbein, made in 1536 when Jane was queen. All other portraits of Mary throughout her life show her wearing variations of the French hood.

Sketch of Mary by Hans Holbein, c.1536, the only portrait of Mary wearing the gable hood
Portrait of Mary by Master John, c.1544, wearing the French hood she preferred, despite its earlier association with Anne Boleyn
Portrait of Mary I by Antonis Mor, c.1554, shown wearing a later variation of the French hood

In fact, through the rest of Henry’s reign, and those of Edward VI and Mary I, Anne was forcibly forgotten; physical evidence of her existence was largely erased, including her portraits and emblems. It wasn’t until the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I, that Anne and her reputation was rejuvenated, starting with a pageant displaying Elizabeth’s lineage, including Anne, during her coronation procession. An anonymous pamphlet describing the coronation procession described this portrayal of Anne as ‘apparelled with scepters and diadems’ rather than either a French or gable hood.

Hever Rose portrait of Anne Boleyn; its relationship to the NPG portrait is still unclear

Most of the famous portraits of Anne come from this period. You may have seen information provided by Dr Owen Emmerson – Historian about art historian Lawrence Hendra, who has identified a common, anonymous artist behind two portraits of Elizabeth and Mary due to the shared facial pattern – which also bear a striking resemblance to the famous NPG portrait of Anne. This suggests that perhaps this portrait was not a copy of a lost original, as previously thought, but rather a late 16th century artist’s invention of what Anne would have looked like. Which raises the possibility that all portraits of Anne from this period could have been painted to resemble Elizabeth. The depiction of the French hood could be a reflection of nothing more than the artist’s understanding of 1530s fashion. Clarifying how the NPG portrait relates to the very similar Hever Rose portrait would help our understanding of Anne Boleyn portraiture, but unfortunately, so much of this remains a mystery; we know they were both painted in the late-16th century, but which came first, whether one was a copy of the other, or whether both were based on a third, unknown portrait, is still up in the air.

Comparison of late 16th century portraits of Anne, Mary, and Elizabeth, now believed to have been painted by the same artist using the same facial pattern
The NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn
Weiss gallery portrait of Mary I
Compton Verney portrait of Elizabeth I

In the late 16th century, owning a portrait of Elizabeth or a member of her family, including her mother, was both a symbol of status, and a way in which to try and curry favour with the queen. Given the dearth of contemporary portraits, largely due to Henry’s aforementioned attempt to erase his second wife, new portraits were created showing Anne with the French hood, perhaps simply because that is what was understood to be the prevailing fashion during the early 1530s. These are the portraits that survived, to be copied, reinterpreted, and distributed down the centuries, leaving us in the 21st century with this impression of Anne Boleyn as inextricably linked with the French hood.


This concludes my series of posts about Anne Boleyn and her association with English gable and French hoods. Whilst Anne’s reputation continues to ties her inextricably with the French hood, contemporary evidence shows that she did favour the gable hood as queen, perhaps in an effort to emphasise her status and position. Despite this, she quickly became linked with the French hood after her death, despite her choice of gable hood for her execution. During the reign of her daughter, it seems that the dearth of genuine images of Anne, coupled with the desire to flatter Elizabeth and the late 16th century perception of the popularity of the French hood during Anne’s lifetime led to a propensity to create portraits of Anne wearing the French hood.






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