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.
During the reign of Henry VIII, the queens shared a collection of jewels. Each woman also had her own personal collection, such as Anne Boleyn’s famous initial pendants, but the royal jewels belonged to the crown and were loaned to each woman when she became Henry’s wife.
A protesting Katharine of Aragon was ordered to turn the royal jewels over to Anne Boleyn in the early 1530s. Anne had some of the pieces re-set to her taste and this marks the first appearance of what is known as the Consort’s Necklace. It was a very distinctive piece consisting of two ropes of pearls in groups of four separated by gold “ouches” set with rubies. With the exception of the changeable pendants, this necklace would remain intact and was worn in the portraits of Henry’s subsequent queens, so it must have been thought sufficiently rich and fashionable enough that there was no motivation to alter it.
Anne may be wearing it in her 1534 portrait medal with a cross pendant. The medal is shown with a modern recreation made by Lucy Churchill.
She wears it in the Nidd Hall portrait with a tri-stone pendant, as well. The ropes of pearls draped around her shoulders would reappear shortly in portraits of Jane Seymour.
Another piece made for Anne Boleyn was a consort’s crown. Henry had it made for her because he intended to have her crowned like a monarch with the crown of St Edward and he remembered how heavy it had been to wear throughout the ceremony. And so a smaller, lighter crown was crafted for Anne to wear throughout the ceremonies and the feast afterward. The only image we have of it is a preliminary sketches for the banquet.
While the details can be a bit difficult to make out in such a small image, it appears the crown consisted of a jeweled band with high arches with a large gem at front, surmounted by an orb with a cross at top. After Anne’s conviction, she was asked to surrender the title of queen, which she did by symbolically handing off this crown on a pillow.
It appears Queen Elizabeth decided to wear this crown for her own coronation, a touching tribute to her mother that often goes unnoticed.
Jane Seymour wore the Consort’s Necklace next in her portrait by Holbein, but the set has become even grander with the addition of a matching “collar” (the band of jewels attached to the neckline of the dress) and “billaments” (the band of jewels attached to the front of the gable hood.) Jane wears the Consort’s Necklace with a two-stone pendant.
Jane added another piece which signaled her allegiance with Katharine of Aragon and the “old faith.” On her bodice is a diamond brooch with the letters IHS, Latin for “Jesus.” (Diamonds tend to look black in Tudor portraits because the artists rendered them in silver pigments which have tarnished over time.)
This brooch appeared in an earlier portrait of Katharine during her time as queen.
The other prominent piece worn by Katharine in this miniature is a Tau pendant. It was the symbol of the third Order of St. Francis, an order for those living a secular life. Katharine took vows early in her marriage and wore the rough serge habit beneath her sumptuous queen’s wardrobe. She even asked in her will to be buried in a monastery of the Order of Observant Friars, though this was ignored by her husband.
Jane Seymour wore this piece in several of her portraits. Jane is not known to have been a member of the order, so she likely wore it as she had worn the IHS brooch – to visually signify her allegiance with Katharine and the “old order.”
She also wears the Tau pendant in the “Dynasty Portrait” Henry had painted to celebrate the Tudor line, along with the strands of pearls worn by Anne Boleyn in the Nidd Hall portrait. The set was either enlarged or the artist took the liberty of adding more to make the piece appear even grander.
After Jane’s death the royal jewels briefly passed to Anna von Kleefes, but she wasn’t queen long enough to be painted in royal splendor.
Katheryn Howard was the next woman who wore the jewels. Though the miniature’s identification has been questioned, it’s likely Katheryn in the portrait below, wearing the Consort’s Necklace.
Kateryn Parr wore the pieces next. Anne Boleyn’s tri-stone pendant reappears in several portraits. The necklace’s appearance is unchanged, but the billaments and collar have been significantly altered by changing the spacing and adding more pearls. Because they appear in no further portraits with their original appearance, it seems likely they were changed either during the reign of Katheryn Howard or by Kateryn Parr.
Kateryn also wore Katharine of Aragon’s Tau pendant. Kateryn was the first recognizably Protestant queen of England, so she likely didn’t wear this pendant because of its association with the Franciscans. It seems more likely that by wearing pieces identified with Anne Boleyn and conservative queens like Katharine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, she was attempting to bridge the divide.
After Kateryn Parr’s death, there were no queens consort in England for over 50 years. The Consort Necklace disappears at this point, but elements of it may have been reused, such as the ouches. Similar ones are seen in this necklace with which Queen Mary wore her mother’s Tau pendant.
By the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it appears that most of the jewels had been reset. Few of the pieces are recognizable in her portraits. It’s claimed, somewhat whimsically, that some of Elizabeth’s pearls are now in the State Crown, but there’s no way of proving this. The royal jewels were sold off by Queen Henrietta-Maria to fund her husband’s struggle to keep the throne and the provenance of most of the gems cannot be traced after that disbursal.
In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about Anne Boleyn’s initial pendants.