Monday, 31 October 2011

Is this the face of Mary Boleyn?

Roland Hui, a reader of this blog and author of one of the finest modern assessments of Anne Boleyn's portraiture, recently sent me a link to an article on his new blog Tudor Faces, in which he discusses the identity of two sitters in portraits by the Dutch artist, Lucas von Horenbolte, which may be portraits of Anne Boleyn's sister and father.

The above portrait, a miniature by Horenbolte, is often referenced in websites and some history books today as being a portrait of Anne Boleyn. However, of all the many labelled and re-labelled Tudor portraits, this mysterious lady (described as twenty-five years-old in the faint gold lettering behind her) has had the most inconsistent identification. Sometime around the seventeenth century, it was housed in a collection as a portrait of Henry's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, which was still its presumed identity in 1774, when it was catalogued. By the nineteenth century, its new owner, the Duke of Buccleuch, accepted that the portrait could not have been painted as early as 1511 when Katherine was twenty-five and that it was therefore probably Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour. However, the clothes the woman is wearing are too late to be Katherine's and too early to be Jane's. In 1994, it was suggested that the lady might have been one of Henry VIII's nieces - Margaret, Frances or Eleanor. However, none of them reached twenty-five until the 1540s, by which point the gable headdress was complete out of style. Based on the idea that Anne Boleyn was born in about 1501, Sir Roy Strong subsequently suggested the woman in the portrait was most likely to be Anne, painted in about 1526, when these headdresses were in style. 

However, as Roland points out in his excellent article, the woman in this portrait bears almost no physical resemblance to eyewitness accounts of the real Anne Boleyn or to her other portraits. It is Hui's theory that the lady may actually be Anne's elder sister, Lady Mary Carey, who would have been twenty-five sometime between 1524 and 1528. He also goes on to discuss the evidence that this portrait of an unknown gentleman (below) may be the girls' father, Thomas Boleyn, viscount Rochford, future earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde. 

Fans of Tudor or art history should definitely have a read of Roland's full article, which you can access HERE.


  1. I think the questions of Tudor portraiture can be frustrating at times, but the mystery behind them is so fascinating. These women and men have become so fascinating to us that there is a huge desire to put faces to them, but I love the open inquiry and the ongoing discussions. Thanks for this post!

  2. Hui's article is excellently researched and very well-written. I believe, however, that the portrait might depict Elizabeth Blount, born in 1499-1500, mistress of Henry VIII.

    1. I think the panting at the top is Jane Seymore


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