16h century

ylva-stark  asked:

If you could venture a guess what month do you think Anne Boleyn could have been born in? Thanks for reading!

Anne’s birth year and the place of her birth are shrouded in the thick mist of history. They have long become topics of lively debate amongst Tudor historians. We also don’t know where Anne was born, but it is likely that she was born at Blickling Hall in Norfolk, for the property had been in the Boleyn family since its purchase by Sir Geoffrey Boleyn in 1452, and it passed to Sir Thomas Boleyn when he married.

It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn was born between 1501 and 1507, though some historians put forward 1499 as the year of Anne’s birth.

In the biography “Anne Boleyn: A new life of England’s tragic Queen,” Joanna Denny wrote that Anne Boleyn was ‘born most probably in the early summer of 1501’. In his infamous book “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives wrote that Anne was born in 1501 beyond question. Alison Weir, in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” and in several other books, stated with confidence that Anne was born in 1501.

Why do so many renowned historians think that Anne Boleyn was born circa 1501?

One of the pieces of evidence about Anne’s birth in 1501 is the letter which she wrote to her father Thomas Boleyn in 1514, in which she thanked him for sending her to the court of the Court Archduchess Margaret in the Low Countries and promised to be an obedient and humble daughter and take advantage of all the opportunities offered at the court.

The text of the original letter in French is given below:

In his book “the Life of Anne Boleyn” Philip W. Sergeant translated Anne’s letter into English:

“Sir, – I understand by your letter that you desire that I shall be a worthy woman when I come to the Court and you inform me that the Queen will take the trouble to converse with me, which rejoices me much to think of talking with a person so wise and worthy. This will make me have greater desire to continue to speak French well and also spell, especially because you have so enjoined it on me, and with my own hand I inform you that I will observe it the best I can. Sir, I beg you to excuse me if my letter is badly written, for I assure you that the orthography is from my own understanding alone, while the others were only written by my hand, and Semmonet tells me the letter but waits so that I may do it myself, for fear that it shall not be known unless I acquaint you, and I pray you that the light of [?] may not be allowed to drive away the will which you say you have to help me, for it seems to me that you are sure [??] you can, if you please, make me a declaration of your word, and concerning me be certain that there shall be neither [??] nor ingratitude which might check or efface my affection, which is determined to [?] as much unless it shall please you to order me, and I promise you that my love is based on such great strength that it will never grow less, and I will make an end to my [?] after having commended myself right humbly to your good grace.

Written at [?Veure] by                      

Your very humble and very obedient daughter,

Anna de Boullan.”

Many historians think that this letter proves the fact of Anne’s birth circa 1501. 

The argument in favor of this opinion is that Anne’s handwriting cannot belong to a toddler. Her handwriting is small and confident, and her lines are quite remarkably spaced, which cannot be achieved by seven years olds. There are lengthy and complex sentences in the letter, even though Anne made some errors and then made corrections that were not clumsy. 

The idea is that if Anne were seven when she wrote this letter, her handwriting and the grammar patters would have been different, or perhaps she wouldn’t have been able to write in French, her second language, so well at all.

In his book “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives wrote about Anne Boleyn’s age:

“In 1981, however, the art historian Hugh Paget successfully demonstrated that the letter was written in 1513 when Anne Boleyn left England to become a maid of honour in the court at Brussels, a position which was open to a 12- or 13-year-old.55 His conclusion has been challenged but is established beyond question because Anne’s letter is self-evidently in the formed hand of at least a teenager (plate 14).56 The correct date for Anne’s birth is therefore circa 1501. This means that she was significantly older than is usually imagined. The domestic triangle which developed in 1527 was between a 36-year-old king, a wife over 40 and a mature woman of 26, not a girl of 19 or 20. Similarly, in the spring of 1536 Anne was not rejected by Henry when she was, as Catholic tradition has it, less than 29, but as a possibly ageing 35, while her supplanter, Jane Seymour, was, at 27, marginally older than Anne had been when challenging Katherine for the first time.57 The gossip that credited Henry with a taste for younger women was evidently ill informed.”

There is one very important thing about education in the Tudor period we cannot forget. Nobles who invested in their children’s education wanted them to start studying at early age, so that they could show accomplishments and prove their capabilities at early age, which was especially important in the age of shorter life expectancy.

Elizabeth Tudor, Anne’s daughter, had a reputation for proficiency in foreign languages since she was very young. For example, she translated “Le miroir de l’ame pecheresse” (“The Mirror (Glass) of the Sinful Soul”) as a gift for her stepmother Catherine Parr when she was about ten. 

One personal thing: my French was already flawless by age of ten!

Why cannot Anne display high level of proficiency in foreign languages, in our case in French, in writing this letter to her father? Anne was tutored since she was very young, and it is very likely that Thomas Boleyn, an ambitious and intelligent courtier, invested in her education even before she departed to the Low Countries. Perhaps Anne could already speak or write in French a little bit when she arrived in Brussels.

My conclusion is that we cannot say for sure that this letter cannot be written by a seven-year-old child as there are examples of other children, the first one coming to my mind being Anne’s daugher Elizabeth, writing structured and relatively well written letters in foreign languages at young ages.

It is interesting that Thomas Boleyn referred to Anne as “la petite Boulaine” in a letter to Margaret of Austria in 1514! If Anne was born in 1501, then how could he refer to her in this way? It seems to me that Anne was probably a toddler in 1514. 

In her article “Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence”, Retha Warnicke also argues that Thomas Boleyn would not refer to a 13 year old girl in this way. 

Later, Margaret of Austria wrote a letter to Anne’s father that Anne was “so pleasant for her young age that I {Margaret} am more beholden to you for sending her, than you are to me.”

There are two sources that don’t support the idea of Anne Boleyn’s birth in 15o1. Though they are not accounts from Anne’s lifetime, these sources come from the people who could have such information about her.

Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria and a personal friend of Mary I, dictated her memoirs to her English secretary, Henry Clifford. 

In these memoirs, there is something interesting about the executions of Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers:

“Lord George Bullen, Viscount Rochfort, Francis Weston, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Mark Sweton, a  musician, all of the Privy Chamber, for which they all suffered death. Three days after that Anne Bullen herself was beheaded on 14th May, 1536, the Duke of Norfolk sitting High Steward.  She was convicted and condemned by twenty-six peers, whereof her father was one, who shortly after died of grief. She was not twenty-nine years of age.”

Jane Dormer was born two years after Anne’s death, and, therefore, this source may seem to be unreliable

Nevertheless, we know that Jane Dormer served as Mary Tudor’s lady-in-waiting for about twenty years and she was also her personal friend. Mary hated Anne Boleyn and always spoke about her with hatred, and it is very likely that she shared her memories about Anne with the ladies who were close to her. 

With age, Mary accumulated much bitterness in herself because her life wasn’t improving; she was not very happy in personal life even when she became queen. Here I see a solid case in favor of Mary telling Jane Dormer her recollections about Anne’ life, including Anne’s age.

In the end of the 16h century, William Camden, an English antiquarian, historian, writer, topographer, and herald, began to write the biography about Queen Elizabeth I with the permission and blessing of the English government. 

In the sections devoted to Elizabeth’s early life, Camden wrote in the margin that Anne had been born in 1507, and he could have excellent access to the original sources, perhaps better access than his contemporaries. Some may say that Camden is an unreliable source of information because he later commented that Anne had been twenty when the king (aged thirty-eight) had fallen in love with her, which changes her date of birth to 1509.

Anyway, William Camden points to the later dates than 1501, and at least his assertion about the 1507 date of Anne’s birth cannot be simply dismissed.

Gareth Russell wrote a fabulous article “The Age of Anne Boleyn”. The article can be found in Internet, but I want to present one important excerpt here:

“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… 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.”

Gareth Russell also gives two very valuable arguments in favor of Anne being born in 1507

Firstly, Anne was escorted from Hever Castle to the Low Countries by a man, Claude Bouton, not by a female companion, which would have been proper only if Anne was a toddler at the time of her travel to Brussels. Secondly, Anne caught the king’s eye in 1525 or 1526 when she was still unmarried, and the birth date of 1501 would have made her an old maid by the standards of the time. So it seems logical that Anne was younger than 25-26 and, thus, was probably born circa 1507.

I tend to agree with Gareth Russell, considering that Anne was most likely born in 1507. However, we cannot say for certain that it was the case. 

But maybe it’s better if some mysteries in history are never unveiled?

Sources:

www.theanneboleynfiles.com, Claire Ridgway’s blog

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives

The Age of Anne Boleyn, article by Gareth Russell

Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence, article by Retha Warnicke