In what year was Anne Boleyn born? Part 1

Part 1- 1501

The date of Anne Boleyn’s birth and the relative ages of her brother and sister have caused much debate over the years. There are two prominent schools of thought when it comes down to Anne’s DOB, circa 1501 and the other circa 1507.

We have been having a very interesting discussion about this exact topic on the ‘Save Anne Boleyn’s Portrait’ Page and so in order to encourage further, respectful discussion I thought it might be a good idea to collect all the arguments for both of the dates in the one place so that we can examine them more closely.

What you see here is a collection of the arguments often used to support a birth year of c. 1501.

I would ask that you please let me know if you have read any other supporting arguments.

I am also currently summarizing the arguments for circa 1507 so that we might compare the two.

Arguments for c.1501

1.

St Andrew's Church Blickling

Anne Boleyn was almost certainly born in Norfolk, at the Boleyn home at Blickling. The church there still has brasses of the family. They did certainly own Hever and it did become the principal residence of her parents but not until the death of Sir William (Thomas’ father) in 1505.

Mathew Parker became archbishop of Canterbury in 1559 and had earlier been one of Anne’s private chaplains. In his letters “he was quite specific that she came, as he did, from Norfolk” (Ives. Pg. 3).

Mathew Parker called himself Anne’s ‘poor countryman’. And according to Ives, is following a 16th century usage where ‘country’ applied within England meant ‘county’ or district.

Therefore if Anne was born at Norfolk, at the family home at Blickling, she could not have been born in 1507, as her family was most definitely residing at Hever by then.

2.

In 1513 Anne Boleyn leaves England to become a maid of honour in the court at Brussels. In 1981, the art historian Hugh Paget examined a letter written by Anne to her father and deciphered the following:

Monssieur. Je antandue par vostre lettre que a ves envy que tows onnette fame quan je vindre a la courte, et mavertisses que la rene prendra le pein de devisser a vecc moy, de quoy me regoy bine fort de pensser parler a vecc ung perscone tante sage et onnet. Cela me ferra a voyr plus grante anvy de continuer a parler bene ffranssais … Monsieur, je vous supplya descusser sy ma lettre et male etsipte, car je vous asure quete et ottografie de mon antendement sule la one, les aultres ne sont faiz que escript de ma man, et Semmonet me dit la lettre mes demeura fan je le fie moy meme . . . et scripte a Veure de vostre treshumble et tresobiesse fille Anne de Boullan.

La Veure was the French version of the name of the royal park at Brussels. Known today in its Flemish form as Terveuren. Here, as Paget describes, once stood a

‘chateau which served as a summer palace and hunting lodge, to which Margaret of Austria resorted in the summer months with her attendants and her young charges, the Archduke Charles and his sisters.’ (Pg. 164)

A place at Margaret’s court was much sought after by the noble families of Europe because it meant an education alongside Margaret’s nieces and nephews, the future Emperor Charles V and his sisters, the future queens of Portugal, Denmark and Hungary. The maids that surrounded Margaret came from Spain, France, England and the Netherlands and a list of 18 of them contains ‘Mademoiselle Bullan’.

This much sought after position was opened to 13-14 year olds (Paget, Pg. 166). The emperor Maximilian wrote to his daughter, Margaret, on 13 January 1513, to say that

‘he had previously promised Don Diego de Guevarre, maitre d’hotel to his grandson Charles, that Don Diego’s niece should join the household at Malines and be brought up with the princesses and that Don Diego had asked him to fulfil his promise now that his niece had reached the appropriate age, being between thirteen and fourteen years old.’

If Anne was born in 1507, then she would have only been 6 years old when entering the service of Margaret of Austria and this seems highly unlikely.

A much more realistic date is c. 1501 making Anne Boleyn 12 on entering the archduchess’ household and as Paget notes still slightly younger than the customary age.

I think it’s important to mention here a letter that Margaret wrote to Thomas Boleyn to express her delight with her new maid of honour and to thank Thomas for sending Anne,

‘I have received your letter by the Esquire [Claude] Bouton who has presented your daughter to me, who is very welcome, and I am confident of being able to deal with her in a way which will give you satisfaction, so that on your return the two of us will need no intermediary other than she. I find her so bright and pleasant for her young age that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me that you are to me.’ (Ives, Pg. 19)

Now this is often used as an argument to support the 1507 birth year but as Paget pointed out, Anne was younger than the average maid when she joined Margaret’s household and so I believe that this is what Margaret was referring to in her letter.

Now, lets return our attention back to Anne’s letter to her father. It has been argued that because the letter has some passages that are almost incomprehensible and have to be read phonetically, she must have been six years old when she wrote it. Here is a translation of part of her letter:

Sir, I understand from your letter that you desire me to be an entirely virtuous woman when I come to the court and you tell me that the queen will take the trouble to converse with me and it gives me great joy to think of talking with such a wise and virtuous person. This will make me all the keener to persevere in speaking French well . . . Sir, I beg you to excuse me if my letter is badly written, for I assure you that the orthography is my own while the others were only written by my hand: Semmonet dictates the letter to me and leaves me to write it myself.

Anne speaks of other letters that she has written to her father but highlights that this is the first letter she hasn’t copied thus the ‘curious French’.

Eric Ives believes that Anne’s letter is ‘self-evidently in the formed hand of at least a teenager’ (Pg. 15). So the ‘curious nature’ of the letter was due to the fact that Anne was not very far advanced in her course and not because she was only six years old.

Click here to see a photo of this letter.

I feel that I should reiterate that the Elite of Europe vied for a position for their sons or daughters in Margaret’s household. Margaret’s own father, in his own words, confirmed that the appropriate age to enter his daughter’s household was 13-14 years. So how can we possibly believe that Anne Boleyn would have won her position over many other noble families when she was only 6 years old?

3.

Shifting political alliances meant that in 1514 Anne Boleyn was recalled from the court of Archduchess Margaret and placed as a lady in waiting to the new queen consort of France, Mary Tudor. Anne’s command of the French language and her familiarity with the culture would have been of great help to the new queen.

King Louis dismissed most of the Queen’s English maids but Anne was permitted to stay. Would Anne have been selected over people like Lady Guildford, who Louis dismissed, if she had been only 7 years old!

4.

In the summer of 1536, Thomas Boleyn wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell in which he reflected on his early years of marriage and recalled that those years had been ‘financially straitened’ not only because he had to survive on 50 pounds per year but also because his wife brought him ‘every year a child’ (Ives. Pg. 17).

The year of Thomas and Elizabeth’s marriage is unknown but we do know that Elizabeth Howard’s jointure was settled on her in the summer of 1501 suggesting that the marriage was relatively recent. Eric Ives believes that they could not have been married before 1498.

If they were married in 1498, then we can suppose a child born in 1499, another in 1500 and so on. Even including the two children that died before reaching adulthood it is clear that all the Boleyn children were born by 1504.

Another interesting factor to consider is that Thomas Boleyn

‘was the prospective successor to great wealth – the Boleyn and Hoo estates, half of the Ormonde fortune and half of the lands of the wealthy Hankford family, inherited from his Butler grandmother’ (Ives, Pg. 4)

Upon the death of his father in 1505, Thomas inherited some of this wealth and according to Eric Ives, ‘his private fortune now looked good’ (Pg. 4).

So in his letter to Cromwell, Thomas Boleyn must have been referring to pregnancies and hardships faced prior to 1505 when he had to exist on an annuity of fifty pounds per year.

5.

In Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s biography of Henry VIII, published in 1649, and according to Alison Weir, based on many contemporary sources now lost to us, Herbert states that Anne was twenty when she returned from France in 1522 (Weir, Pg. 147).

This would place Anne’s year of birth between 1501-02.

6.

In 1585 Nicholas Sander described Anne as being in her fifteenth year in 1514 (Paget, Pg. 163).

7.

Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador, took delight in Anne’s downfall and referred to her as a ‘thin, old woman’. Would he have highlighted the ‘old’ part had Anne only been 28 or 29 years old? Especially when that would have only made her a year or so older than the King’s soon to be new wife!

8.

Towards the end of Anne’s life, Henry is desperate for a male heir. If Anne was born in 1501, she would have been close to 35 years in 1536 and would explain Henry’s concern and eagerness to replace her with Jane Seymour who was in 1536  about 27 years old. But if Anne was born in 1507 then she would have been about 29 years old at the time of her death. If Henry was looking for a ‘younger’ wife would he have then married someone only a year or so younger than Anne?

9.

Antonia Fraser recounts how on 30 November 1529 Anne Boleyn demonstrated her fiery temper and expressed her fears that the King would one day abandon her and return to the Queen. ‘I have been waiting long and might in the meanwhile have contracted some advantageous marriage, out of which I might have had issue, which is the greatest consolation in this world, but alas! Farewell to my time and youth spent to no purpose at all’. (Fraser, Pg. 169)

Assuming Anne was born in 1501 she would have been 28 years old at the time and if we accept that the king’s attraction to Anne started in 1526 then she had already spent two years waiting. It has though been suggested by Starkey that Henry might have noticed Anne as early as 1523/24 in which case Anne would only have been 22-23 years old. Therefore Anne’s words make perfect sense.

David Starkey states ‘No one would have expected that the divorce would be so complicated and prolonged that it would take six years before a marriage could take place’ (Rivals in Power, Pg. 75). Anne and Henry had both hoped for a quick divorce and a quick marriage so that they could get on with the business of having heirs. But this was not to be the case.

Had Anne only been 22 years old in 1529 would she have been so concerned about her time running out and worried about the children she might have had considering that she was still young even in Tudor terms?

I think these sound much more like the worries of a woman who is coming to the end of her twenties not one just starting them.

Your thoughts, comments?

Sources
Denny, J. Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen, 2004.
Fraser, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 1992.
Ives, E. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 2004.
Paget, H. The Youth of Anne Boleyn, Historical Research
Volume 54, Issue 130, pages 162–170, November 1981.
Sargeant, P. The Life of Anne Boleyn, 1924.
Starkey, D. (Ed). Rivals in Power: Lives and Letters of The Great Tudor Dynasties, 1990.

Starkey, D. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, 2003.
Warnicke, R. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, 1989.
Weir, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2007.
The Early Life of Anne Boleyn, article by The Anne Boleyn Files

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Comments

  1. I believe the 1501 date for many reasons, including the ones you cite.

    Here are a couple more. You should look at both the age of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn and her mother, Elizabeth Tilney Bouchier Howard. The latter died in 1497. She had her first son, John Bouchier, in 1467. At this time, it was accepted for women to have children by the age of 20 at this time. I think that’s one reason to think Elizabeth Howard Boleyn was around 20 in 1501 rather than 1507. I can’t imagine a 20-plus year gap for Elizabeth Tilney bearing children. Not improbable but I think doubtful. I’ve spent a lot of time researching whether Elizabeth or Muriel Howard was the older sister. There are thoughts on both sides. My inclination is Elizabeth is the older of the two. Why? (see below).

    Also, Elizabeth Howard was clearly present circa 1485 at Sheriff Hutton where her father was stationed overseeing the north. We know that because of Shelton’s “The Garland of Laurel.” It was certainly before 1487 because the Countess Surrey referenced is clearly Elizabeth Tilney. However, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn was NOT listed as being present when the Howard family went to Scotland to take Margaret Tudor to marry James IV. The king paid Elizabeth Boleyn’s stepmother (Thomas Howard remarried a few months after his wife’s death her cousin Agnes Tilney) and her sister Muriel the unheard of sum of 330 pounds for shaving his beard a few days after he married Margaret (she apparently didn’t like the beard). If Elizabeth had been present in August 1503, she would have been listed in the privy purse. Why was she not present then? The obvious reason would seem to be that she was either pregnant or had just given birth to George and couldn’t make the month-long journey. If her first child wasn’t born until 1507 then she should have made the trek to Scotland.

    Finally, Retha Warnicke accurately summarizes in my opinion that Anne Boleyn was named after her Aunt Anne, who was a daughter of Edward IV. I agree that Anne Plantagenet Howard was certainly Anne Boleyn’s godmother. That seems like something Anne Boleyn’s father, grandfather and uncle would have made happen. Anne and Thomas Howard married in 1495. You’d think such an honor would have come closer to the wedding, which would be circa 1501. If the later date, another name might have been considered and chosen (such as was the case with Mary Boleyn. Mary wasn’t a typical Howard name and some believe she was named for Mary Rose Tudor).

  2. My apologies. Should be 1485 and 1497. Elizabeth, countess of Surrey, died in 1497. Typing too fast..

  3. Talar Asdourian says:

    Ooh, this was posted on my birthday! I personally favor the 1501 date

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