Henry VIII had lavished Anne Boleyn with jewels, gifting her many exquisite pieces during their courtship and marriage. In addition, Anne had demanded, and received, the jewels of Katherine of Aragon. We only know what happened to a portion of Anne’s jewellery collection; what happened to the rest remains a mystery.

A letter from one of Henry’s European ambassadors indicates that Mary received a large portion of Anne Boleyn’s jewellery; an entry in ‘Letters and Papers’ summarises a letter sent from Mr Pate, ambassador, to Henry VIII on the 1st July, 1536; the entry states:

‘the lady Mary is by th[e King’s] highness legitimated, and had for a gift of h[is grace] half the late Queen’s jewels’

Portrait of Mary by Master John, c.1544

In July 1536, Mary had been restored to the King’s favour for just over a week, and he immediately showered her with gifts and signs of his love. It perhaps seems odd that Mary would receive the jewellery of the woman she so hated; however, many of Henry’s wives wore the jewellery and even the gowns of their predecessors, as they were too valuable to just be discarded. Perhaps the jewellery from Anne contained some of Mary’s mother’s jewellery. We know that Mary did own some of her late mother’s valuables; her inventory for 1542-46 records ‘a book of gold with the King’s face and Her Grace’s mother’s.’

Still, given the vast collection of jewellery Anne had, it seems likely that some of her own jewellery collection was passed on to Mary. It is unknown precisely what happened to it from that point on. However, we do have hints that some pieces might have been eventually given to Elizabeth.

The idea that Mary and Elizabeth always had a bad relationship is a myth. From the time of Elizabeth’s birth, though Mary refused to acknowledge Elizabeth as legitimate, she was quite fond of her younger sister. It wasn’t until Edward’s reign that issues of religion drove a wedge between them, and even then, in the early days of Mary’s reign, the sisters appeared to be very close.

In that spirit, we have evidence that Mary gave Elizabeth a number of gifts, at least one of which seems to have been sentimental. Mary’s inventory for December 1542 indicate that she gave Elizabeth ‘A grene Tablet garneshed wt golde havyng the Picture of the trinity in it.’ and ‘A pomander of gold wt a Diall (clock) in yt.’ The pomander seems to have been originally given to Mary by Catherine Howard; perhaps Mary passed it on to Elizabeth knowing how much more it would mean to her half sister, who was a cousin of Catherine, who had been executed earlier that year. The inventory does not specify when in the year the pomander had been given to Elizabeth, so perhaps it was shortly after their stepmother’s death.

Another gift was given shortly after her ascension, when Elizabeth was still in favour: ‘A pair of Bede of Corall…white, trymed wt gold…geven by the queens highness at Seint James xxj. Sept. 1553 to the lady Elizabethes grace.’

It is pure speculation, but since Mary gave Catherine Howard’s pomander to Elizabeth, perhaps the ‘grene Tablet’ and ‘Bede of Corral’ came from Anne Boleyn’s collection, passed on to Elizabeth by her older sister.

Only half of Anne’s collection was passed to Mary; we do not know what happened to the rest. Perhaps part of it was saved for Elizabeth, or perhaps, like the jewels and gowns of Jane Seymour, they were passed down through Henry’s other wives.

Detail of Elizabeth, from The Family of Henry VIII by an unknown artist, c.1545.
Elizabeth wears an ‘A’ pendant, presumably inherited from her mother, Anne Boleyn.

Comparisons between the inventories of Anne, Mary, and Elizabeth have yet to reveal any indication of whether Anne’s jewels were passed on to Elizabeth, either directly or via Mary. It would be wonderfully insightful to find a connection between these three women who had such complicated relationships.

For now, Elizabeth’s ‘A’ pendant worn in the family portrait, and the Chequers Ring, remain the only pieces of jewellery linking mother and daughter, which you can read about in my post about their relationship here https://tinyurl.com/mrxv2mc7






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