Written by Lissa Bryan
Tudor nobles were taught from birth that God had chosen them to fill a particular station in life as a part of the Great Chain of Being. Part of their duty to their station was dressing appropriately for their rank. From the linen they wore to the jewels that adorned their person, every aspect of their attire had to properly reflect their position in life.
Without the correct attire, a person would be ashamed to be seen outside of their home and certainly couldn’t attend court. Jane Seymour once rejected a maid of honor because the pearls on the girl’s girdle were too small, and the Duchess of Norfolk was effectively trapped in her home for over a decade because her husband had seized her sumptuous clothing and jewels. In other words, a person’s presentation wasn’t just a matter of taste or vanity – it was upholding their station and family’s honor. Jewels were an important aspect of this and took on a special significance in portraiture.
For most people, even nobles, a portrait was a rare and significant investment, and one usually made for a specific purpose, such as an enticement to a betrothal. The very wealthy might engage in patronage of an artist, but there would always be a specific goal of communicating a family’s allegiances and social position.
This series will look at the jewels of each social class and what they communicate to us through portraiture.
Find Part One HERE
Initial pendants were popular pieces of jewelry in the 16th century. This portrait of Anne de Pisseleu, the Duchesse d’Étampes, depicts her with an “A” pendant on a long chain.
A portrait thought to be of Margaret Pole shows her holding a pendant with a “W” initial – her mother was the daughter of the Earl of Warwick.
An earlier image shows Margaret of York with a “B” pendant. The “B” referred to her title, the Duchess of Burgundy.
Anne Boleyn’s extant portraits feature her wearing three different versions of initial pendants. The first, and most famous, is her “B” pendant.
At least three versions of this portrait exist. All were painted long after Anne’s death – the earliest was created late in the reign of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, but they may be based on a now-lost original.
The clothing and headdress Anne is wearing date this portrait’s original to around 1530. It was almost certainly created before her marriage to the king and prior to her elevation to the Marquess of Pembroke. She is wearing the jewelry and clothing of a wealthy knight’s daughter, not a marquess or queen.
There have been recent claims that the portrait actually depicts Mary Tudor Brandon, sister of Henry VIII, but people of the era treated their titles as their surname. If Mary had been painted after her marriage to Charles Brandon, she would have chosen an “S” pendant to refer to her title as Duchess of Suffolk, like Margaret of York above.
The Nidd Hall portrait depicts Anne Boleyn with an “AB” pendant.
In mid-1530s image, Anne is wearing the famous Consort’s Necklace which appears in multiple portraits of Henry’s queens, and so this painting would have been created after her marriage and coronation. She wears three ropes of pearls around her shoulders, and her headdress is covered in them. In this context, the AB pendant on her bodice is an interesting assertion of her identity. (Interesting, but certainly not unique; Kateryn Parr, too, asserted her birthname initials, writing them after her signature as queen.)
An eighteenth century portrait of Anne depicts her wearing an HA pendant.
While the portrait isn’t known to be based on a contemporary original, the “HA” insignia was apparently the couple’s favorite, given the frequency with which it appears. The renowned artist Hans Holbein designed jewelry for Anne which had her initial entwined with Henry’s. This particular rendition, however, cleverly contains a secret message.
The lower bar of the A is pointed downward to form an M and the upper bar is widened to form the letter T. The combination of letter forms spell out “H AMAT A” or Henry Loves Anne.
The couple made it their personal emblem and emblazoned it on walls and ceilings, palaces and public buildings, and on their personal items. After her execution, Henry tried to have it erased wherever he remembered it, but quite a few emblems escaped intact, such as the example above, found in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace. When Henry died, he still had some pieces in his inventory which had this insignia on it.
Anne is depicted in the 1534 Black Book of the Garter wearing a medallion that reads AR for Anna Regina. While it can’t be known if this particular medallion was the artist’s way of labeling her in the image or if it was a real piece in her collection, Anne is known to have used the AR insignia.
AR appears on the lead medallion intended to celebrate the birth of her second child.
Another combination of Henry and Anne’s initials was HRAS (Henry Rex Anna Sovereign) and an example is still present on the rood screen at King’s College.
After Anne’s death, her personal jewelry passed to Henry, both because he was her widower and because she was a convicted traitor whose property was forfeit to the king. As previously mentioned, some of Anne’s monogrammed property survived to be mentioned in Henry’s will, but her initial pendants aren’t part of it. It’s a matter of speculation what happened to these iconic pieces.
It’s thought by some that Kateryn Parr convinced Henry to give Anne’s personal jewelry to her daughter. It was her Boleyn legacy, after all, and a king’s daughter – even a bastard – had to be kitted out with the appropriate jewels or it reflected badly on Henry.
Elizabeth is depicted in the Whitehall Family Portrait around this time, and she wears an interesting piece of jewelry that seems likely to have belonged to Anne.
The image shows Henry VIII with his three living children (Henry FitzRoy died in 1536.) Though he was married to Kateryn Parr at the time of the portrait’s creation, Henry is seated next to Jane Seymour and their son, Edward VI. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary flank them, spaced a little distance from the throne.
Elizabeth wears an “A” pendant.
There has been quite a bit of discussion among historians over its significance. Would Henry have allowed Elizabeth to adorn herself with an initial pendant of her dead mother? Or was it his way of marking her as a bastard born of an executed traitor? Or could the necklace simply have religious significance as an auspice Maria?
I posed this question to Dr. Owen Emmerson, the curator of Hever Castle. He’s convinced the pendant belonged to Anne. He pointed out that Princess Mary is depicted wearing the same cross pendant she wore in a youthful portrait commemorating her engagement to the emperor Charles V. It could be that both girls are wearing items that had been given to them by their mothers.
Elizabeth never wore the “A” pendant again in another portrait. Since they aren’t found in the inventory of her property after her death, it seems likely she had them remade into other items of jewelry. Eric Ives believes Elizabeth is wearing the remade version of her mother’s “B” pendant in her teenage portrait. He notes the three dangling pearls are nearly identical.