At some point during their relationship Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII adopted honeysuckle and acorns as a private motif (Ives, Pg. 243).
It is unclear as to when exactly it was adopted and whether they adopted the symbol separately or together but what is clear is that it featured regularly in palace furnishings.
Honeysuckle has long been a symbol of love and devotion, while an acorn symbolizes fertility, growth and new life. It has also been used as an emblem of luck, prosperity and youthfulness.
Much like Anne’s Falcon Badge symbolised new life bursting from the tree stump, remedying Henry’s past barrenness, the acorn again symbolised Anne’s fertility, a new life and a future for the Tudor dynasty.
What is great is that two items survive today depicting Anne and Henry’s private motif.
The first is found in chapter 6 of the Alnwick ‘L’Ecclesiaste’ that begins with the pronoun ‘Il’. Eric Ives describes the historiated ‘I’ as having on
‘each side of the upright stroke, in a space no bigger than a normal postage stamp, is a curved stalk in gold with eleven oak leaves, seven acorn cups (four full and three empty) and a honeysuckle bloom with a tiny tendril in white and gold.’ (Pg. 243)
For an image see Eric Ives’ ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ plate 33.
Today the manuscript is in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland and housed at Alnwick Castle.
Anne and Henry’s motif featured regularly in palace furnishings thanks to the fact that ‘sewing, tapestry and embroidery’ were ‘the expected activity of the great lady, her maidens and their humbler assistants’ (Ives, Pg. 253) and Queen Anne Boleyn did not disappoint.
George Wyatt said that Hampton Court was sumptuous with ‘the rich and exquisite works for the greater part wrought by [Anne’s] own hand and needle, and also of her ladies.’ (Ives, Pg. 253)
At the palace in 1548 was a
‘carpet of gold, silver, and silk needlework with roses of red and white, and Queen Anne’s ciphers with a border about the same of honeysuckles, acorns, ‘H’ and ‘A’ of like needlework, fringed at both ends with a deep fringe and at both sides with a narrow fringe of Venice gold silver and silk and lined with green damask being in length three yards and in breadth two scant [nearly]. (Ives, Pg. 253).
Not only does this provide a glimpse of the splendid furnishings that would have adorned Anne’s chambers, it also offers us valuable insights into the domestic life of a Tudor queen and her ladies. Obviously much time would have been dedicated to producing such intricate work.
According to Eric Ives, there was also a cushion embroidered with ‘honeysuckle, acorns, Anne’s motto and the letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, and another with honeysuckle and the letter ‘H’ (Pg. 253).
Ives also mentions a cushion at Whitehall Palace embroidered with Henry’s cipher and honeysuckle, and possibly another bordered with honeysuckle, acorns and strawberry flowers although he is not clear on the significance of the strawberry flowers (Pg. 403).
In 1550 there still existed at Hampton Court Palace two ‘low chairs of cloth of gold’ embroidered with Anne’s cipher (Pg. 253).
There was also a
‘chair of iron covered all over with needlework, all over wrought with silk and gold with the late Queen Anne’s cipher, the post and back fringed with Venice gold with four pommels of silver and gilt, with the king’s and the said Queen Anne’s arms in them, the seat covered with cloth of gold.’ (Pg. 254)
Ives believes that the ‘most magnificent evocation of the work of Anne and her entourage’ is found in a description in Henry VIII’s inventories detailing a set of hangings made for the gilt and painted bedstead at Oatlands ‘called Queen Anne’s bed’.
‘celure’ [canopy], tester [covering for the bed-head], six valances and three bases of crimson cloth of gold with works paned with white cloth of silver, with works richly embroidered with borders of purple velvet upon the seams, and with 108 badges of the king’s and Queen Anne’s with crowns over the badges, and two great arms of the king’s and Queen Anne’s joined together in a garland with a crown imperial, the one arm [shield of arms] being in the celure, the other in the tester; the tester and bases being fringed with narrow fringe of Venice gold and silver, and the valances fringed with a double deep fringe, the one side of red silk and white and the other of Venice gold and silver, an the ends of the said valances being fringed with a narrow fringe of the said gold and silver.’ (Pg. 254)
The matching counterpane was made of
‘crimson and white damask paned together embroidered about with a border of cloth of gold, with the badges of the king’s and Queen Anne’s in the four corners and a like arms in the midst (as was in the celure and tester), lozenged all over with cording of Venice gold [i.e. cords making a diamond pattern], fringed with a narrow fringe of Venice gold lined with russet sarcenet. (Pg. 254)
Although none of the above mentioned items survive, a piece of valance embroidered by Anne does and is in the Burrell collection, Glasgow Museum.
This is the second surviving depiction of Anne and Henry’s private motif. It is 5.2 m long, made of ‘white satin with appliqué motifs in black velvet and the decoration includes both the letters ‘HA’ with acorns and honeysuckle’ (Ives, Pg. 254).
You can see a photo of the valance in Plate 46 of Eric Ives’ ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’.
Henry’s inventories do not list the set of hangings it belonged to and so it’s assumed that they were lost during Henry’s lifetime.
Housed in the same collection is the ceremonial bedhead made for the marriage of King Henry VIII to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Read more information on this object here.
Apart from Anne Boleyn’s Falcon Badge and the private motif, Anne also had a secondary badge – a leopard.
Feel free to contact me or leave me a comment if you know of any other surviving depictions of Henry and Anne’s private motif.
Ives, E. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 2004.