“We are more bounde to them that bringeth us up wel than to our parents”
“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
With comments such as the one above made by Elizabeth I, no wonder that many have argued about what her feelings were for her parents. With her father, Henry VIII, Elizabeth demonstrated obvious pride in being associated or compared with him on many occasions. But what of her mother, possibly the most controversial of England’s Queens; a figure who, even today, invites passionately divided opinion…. Queen Anne Boleyn?
What did Elizabeth think of her mother? Elizabeth rarely spoke of Anne in public, although we do not know, obviously, if she spoke of her in private with her intimates. Many have taken this as a sign that Elizabeth was either indifferent to, or did not care about Anne, and actively distanced herself from the reputation of a mother who was executed on charges of treason and adultery, but are any of these assertions true?
Such questions as these are hard to answer, particularly when it comes to a Queen who was so talented at hiding her true thoughts. Elizabeth trained for her role on the throne in a world where to speak one’s mind was often dangerous. When she became Queen, Elizabeth was already a consummate artist in the ability to answer a question without giving any real answer at all. And no wonder. That talent for ambiguity had allowed her to survive through a most-dangerous youth, just as it served her well when she was Queen.
Therefore, trying to unpick Elizabeth’s feelings for her mother can be tricky; much like everything with the last, and most canny of the Tudors, we are left to guess. Elizabeth, I believe, is such a popular figure precisely for this trait. Her innermost feelings are often a mystery, even though her reign and her words are well recorded. Even to her close servants and advisors, she was something of an enigma.
Let us think first on Elizabeth’s mother. What were Anne’s feelings for her daughter? Anne Boleyn rose to a position of power and authority because Henry VIII fell hopelessly in love with her. Anne was bold, witty, and had been well-educated in the courts of Europe. She was not outstandingly beautiful, apart from her fine black eyes, but seems to have had that indefinable quality which we call today “sex appeal”. Upon her arrival at the English Court in 1522, Anne stood out from the flocks of other women. Although Henry did not form any serious design on her until around 1525/6, it is clear from reports that Anne was exciting, different, and had great magnetism. Anne spoke her mind, sometimes more than was good for her. She was fiery, intelligent, talented at music, dancing and poetry, and was a keen advocate of religious reform.
Her character, along with her religious leanings, invites much speculation. To some, Anne is the ambitious ice-queen, ever in control of her emotions and from the very beginning out to capture her King and become Queen. This is to paint Anne in a very one-sided manner, which ignores many of her finer qualities. I believe Anne refused Henry because she did not wish to be a mistress, to be toyed with and then discarded, and whilst ambition may have come later, I believe her original protestations against becoming a mistress were due to genuine horror at the idea. Anne was not only an accomplished, witty and clever woman, but was a keen supporter of poor scholars, a defender of religious reformers and philosophers, and eventually, a devoted mother. She also gave a great deal to charity and to the poor, was a loyal friend and was dedicated to her family. Such traits are often skipped over, as novelists try to make her into the Devil in a damask gown… I don’t mean to imply that she was a saint, but I often feel our view of Anne could be more balanced and that we could view her as neither saint nor sinner, but a human; both flawed and fascinating.
Eventually, Henry got the idea. If he wanted Anne, then he had to make her his wife. For seven years he struggled to annul his first marriage, going through the Pope, the Church, his advisors, ministers, gathering opinions of the universities of Europe… the list went on as did the years… But Henry was resolute, and became only more so as time passed. His fight to marry Anne became combined his desire to be seen as all-powerful in his Kingdom. Unable to get the answer he wanted from the Pope, Henry split from the Catholic Church, and created a Church of England with just a few differences, the main one being that he was at its head rather than the Pope. When a triumphant Anne processed through London, on the way to her coronation in 1533, she was pregnant with Elizabeth. Everyone told the royal couple they would have the longed-for boy, but in the end, their child turned out to be a girl.
Elizabeth’s sex was a disappointment to the couple, that can’t be denied; a son was what Henry wanted and Anne needed to secure her place on the throne. The birth of their first child was not, however, immediately disastrous, as is often claimed, and was celebrated. Anne had proved she was fertile, and the royal couple assured each other sons would come. But it was not to be. Anne conceived another two times, or possibly three, but each time she miscarried. To Henry, it must have seemed that the past was repeating itself with only too familiar horror. In the end, Anne’s failure was the same as her predecessor, Katherine of Aragon; they both were unable to produce a living son for their King. An accident of fertility, which was, by no means, the fault of either of these remarkable women.
We all know the story of the dramatic end to their relationship and even those who are not fond of Anne, championing Katherine over her, cannot look on her last days and not feel admiration and sorrow for a woman of such courage and spirit, who went to her death on what are now widely accepted by most serious historians as trumped up charges of high treason and adultery.
It is, perhaps, because of Anne’s dramatic fall from grace that we, today, do not view her primarily as a maternal figure. Anne was only alive for a tiny fraction of her daughter’s life, and therefore the softer, maternal sides of Anne are often lost to the footnotes of history. With Katherine of Aragon, we find it easier to say that she loved her daughter, Mary. But Katherine had more time to impress history with her maternal devotion. Anne had so little time with Elizabeth, and her role as a mother is often overlooked as we argue whether she was guilty or not, and who brought about her fall, Cromwell, or the King? All the evidence, however, points to a committed and loving mother.
Upon return to court after giving birth, Anne brought Elizabeth with her and placed her daughter beside her throne on a purple cushion; this was considered most unusual, Queens simply did not keep their children with them. Anne also caused a scandal by announcing that she intended to breastfeed her daughter herself. She was prevented in doing this by Henry, and it was considered most outlandish for Anne to want to nurse her daughter. Most noble women, and certainly all royal women, hired wet-nurses, allowing the mother to resume duties in the bedchamber and swiftly conceive again. Anne’s desire to breastfeed was not due to naivety; she would have been aware that she was expected to give up this natural right. Anne would have also known that breastfeeding may have impaired her ability to conceive again, something she needed to do for political survival. That Anne was willing to risk such an outcome shows both love and dedication to her child and gives lie to the assertion that this Queen was only concerned with ambition.
At three months old, Elizabeth moved into her own household. Anne selected servants whom she believed would watch over her daughter and love her as she did. The charge of the household was granted to Lady Sheldon and Anne Clere, who were Anne’s aunts, and Lady Bryan, Elizabeth’s first ‘Lady Mistress’, was Anne’s mother’s half-sister. By appointing these women, Anne was delivering her daughter into the arms of family.
During the short years she had to be a mother, Anne lavished cloth, materials, clothing and toys on her daughter. Only six months before she was arrested, Anne had ordered almost a whole new wardrobe for Elizabeth. Anne was a keen leader in the art of fashion. She poured all her skill into making her daughter the best dressed princess in Christendom; showing Elizabeth that even if Anne was not with her all the time, she was thinking of her.
Anne also pushed to have her daughter recognised as the true heir of the King abroad, and was passionate in her attempts to get François I to make an offer of marriage to Elizabeth on behalf of his son, Charles. Whilst trying to get her daughter engaged when she was barely out of the cradle might seem to be another indication of that old ambitious ice-queen, this was not the case. Marriage for a princess was an inevitable fate (even though Elizabeth would ably demonstrate that the inevitable simply did not apply to her). In securing such an engagement, Anne would have bolstered Elizabeth’s position. The match held political advantages for Anne, too, there is no question, but that does not mean that she was not also acting in her daughter’s best interests.
By 1536, Anne knew she was in danger. Her enemies were growing, she had recently miscarried of a son and the King’s love for her had waned. Sensing that something was coming, Anne tried to protect her daughter: she asked her chaplain, Matthew Parker, to care for her daughter’s spiritual welfare; upon her arrest, she wrote to Lady Mary from the Tower, to reconcile with her, perhaps also trying to soften Mary’s feelings towards Elizabeth. That Anne also agreed to sign papers stating that her marriage to Henry had been no true marriage, should not be taken as a sign of dismissal of her daughter. If Anne thought she could escape death, and enter a convent, then she might have had a chance to guide her daughter later in life, as well as saving herself from such an awful fate.
If we go, therefore, from the premise that Anne loved her daughter, what do we know of Elizabeth’s feelings towards Anne? On the one hand, it would be convincing to say that Elizabeth did not feel anything for the shadowy figure of a mother she never really knew. Elizabeth was not quite three when Anne died, and her memories of her, if they existed, would have been hazy at best. Elizabeth, however, was a vastly precocious child, who, when she noted that her servants had ceased to give her a royal title, questioned “Why Governor, how happs it yesterday Lady Princess, and today but Lady Elizabeth?” I do not envy poor Sir John Shelton in his answer… But does the fact that Elizabeth might have retained only slight memories of Anne mean that she did not love her or was not interested in her? I don’t believe so. If anything, it would have made the famously inquisitive Elizabeth only more interested in knowing about Anne.
I doubt that the full truth of Anne’s fall was fully revealed to Elizabeth at this stage. Devoted servants were hardly about to tell a three year-old that her mother had died in such disgrace and ignominy. Elizabeth probably found out about her mother’s fate over time. But what is also likely is that there were many who remembered Anne with affection, respect and who viewed the charges against her as highly dubious. Even the common people, who had been no Anne-Fans during her lifetime, found the story that Anne had betrayed Henry with five men, and one of those her brother, hard to swallow. The story was clearly not universally accepted abroad, either. When Henry was searching for another wife after Jane Seymour’s death, questions were asked. Christina of Denmark, one potential bride, apparently required a promise that she would be safe to marry the King for “her council suspecteth that her great Aunt was poisoned, that the second was innocently put to death, and the third lost for lack of keeping in her child bed,” and Christina was worried about her fate as a possible fourth wife. Dry Christina apparently also announced “if I had two heads, one should be at the King of England’s disposal.” Despite Henry’s best efforts to make Anne the villain of the piece, it is clear that other opinions existed and perhaps such opinions made it to Elizabeth’s waiting ear.
When Kat Champernowne (later Ashley or Astley, Tudors weren’t particular on spelling) entered Elizabeth’s life, Elizabeth found a friend who was to remain with her through many trials. Kat was well-educated and rather unconventional in her approach to rearing a child, something which made her an instant hit with Elizabeth, but caused many problems for Kat later in life. As she grew, Elizabeth became a witty, clever and accomplished child and I have no doubt that she went to Kat for information on her mother. Kat’s sister was a keen advocate of women’s rights, and I believe Kat, too, would have held opinions differing from the standard version of Anne’s fall. By the time Katherine Parr came to the uneasy position of Queen, Elizabeth was already a remarkable, and inquisitive, young woman.
Whilst Parr was Queen, Elizabeth chose to offer gifts to her beloved stepmother. One of these was a translation of a work by Marguerite de Navarre, “The Mirror of the Sinful Soul”, a poem which echoed Parr’s religious leanings, and Anne’s. Anne had owned a copy of this poem, probably given to her by Marguerite herself during her time in France. Was Elizabeth’s choice of text just a chance occurrence?
The poem was the work of an extraordinary, independently minded and strong woman of fierce beliefs, and it was given to one with the same virtues… Did it also show recognition that Elizabeth’s mother had been made of the same mettle? Elizabeth’s choice is, I feel, significant. I believe that for Elizabeth, the intelligent and religiously rebellious Parr represented a vision of what her mother might have been like. Parr, I believe, would have viewed the fall of Anne Boleyn more as part of the struggle between the Christian faiths and politics, rather than a matter of infidelities. Whether Parr and Elizabeth spoke of Anne is unknown, but Parr clearly shared religious beliefs and certain character traits with Anne, the foremost being a keen and quick mind, which enabled Parr to escape from grave danger when suspected of heresy. Parr learned the lesson that Anne, sadly, never did; to play the part of the submissive, humble wife when threatened, and survive.
As she grew up, Elizabeth inherited physical characteristics of Anne’s; whilst her hair was aflame with Tudor red locks, her black eyes and pointed face did not come from her father. We have few portraits of Anne; those that exist are copies of lost originals, but viewing these, and portraits of the young Elizabeth, there is a similarity in the features. In my favourite portrait of Elizabeth, where she stands wearing a beautiful dress and a most-grave expression, the similarities between Anne’s portraits and Elizabeth are clear. In this portrait, Elizabeth is wearing a double-stringed pearl necklace which bears a striking resemblance to those worn by Anne in her surviving portraits. It is also perhaps notable that Elizabeth wears a French hood, rimmed with pearls; a favourite accessory of Anne’s and a favourite jewel. Had Elizabeth wished to distance herself from the memory of her mother, the English gable hood would seem a more appropriate fashion choice; Jane Seymour certainly adopted the gable hood to mark out her difference from Anne. Like her mother, Elizabeth understood the value of using fashion to show facets of her personality and loyalties. She would use clothing and jewellery during her reign to emphasise her virtues and used them also to make political statements. It would seem that Elizabeth learnt this early on in life, whilst still a princess…
In the portrait, “The Family of Henry VIII”, representing the family at Whitehall, Jane Seymour sits beside Henry VIII and their son, Edward, in the centre of the piece. Elizabeth and Mary are placed on the outer fringes, possibly as a reference to being outside of the royal family ‘proper’. If you came to the portrait with no experience of Tudor history, you may well suppose that Henry had but one wife, and all three children were Jane’s. Henry made a conscious choice to portray his family in this way; at the time it was painted, he was married to his sixth wife, Katherine Parr and Jane Seymour had been long dead. If you looked on this fictitious portrayal of the royal family without background knowledge, you would see what Henry wanted you to see; a united royal family, with him at its head beside his one, beloved queen.
In this portrait, however, the young Elizabeth is wearing a necklace with a golden “A” suspended upon it. I believe it was Alison Weir, one of my favourite historians, who first discovered this and close up examination has proved the original hypothesis. There is small reason for Elizabeth to be wearing the necklace, unless it was her mother’s. In displaying her mother’s necklace, Elizabeth must have known that she was taking a risk. When Anne was executed her images were wiped almost absolutely from the palaces. Her badges, emblems, portraits and initials entwined with Henry’s were torn out and replaced with Jane Seymour’s (a few examples that were missed in this purge luckily survive today). Henry wanted no memories of his second wife left to haunt him. I therefore find the idea that Henry might have known Elizabeth was wearing the necklace, or ordered her to wear it, dubious at best. I believe that Henry did not know that his daughter was wearing the necklace; even looking closely at the picture with the naked eye, it is hard to see. Only examination of the sketches and close ups of the portrait reveal its secrets, and sittings for the portrait would have been done separately by each of the royal family. I believe that Elizabeth decided to wear her mother’s jewels. For Elizabeth to appear in this work of Tudor propaganda, wearing a reminder of Anne Boleyn… effectively giving lie to the whole piece… was daring, indeed. And for what purpose was this risk taken? Could we extrapolate that Elizabeth wanted her mother to be remembered despite her father’s attempt to remove Anne from history?
Elizabeth lived through dangerous years after the death of her father. Living with Parr and her new husband, Thomas Seymour, the thirteen year-old princess was subjected to an onslaught of passionate advances from Seymour, much of which we would now term as child abuse. When Parr died, Seymour tried to become engaged to Elizabeth. He had pursued her already when his wife was alive. A poor, pregnant Parr discovered her husband and stepdaughter in a close embrace, leading to Elizabeth’s removal from their house. Whether this was done because Parr believed Elizabeth was after her husband, or was in fact done to protect her young stepdaughter from Seymour, we cannot know, but after Parr died of childbed fever, Seymour went after Elizabeth again. Luckily for Elizabeth, he failed. The subsequent investigation caused her disgrace and, along with other offences, led to Seymour’s execution. No doubt, at this time, uncomfortable reminders of how her mother was destroyed came to Elizabeth. She was forced to ride out through the countryside, so that all could see her trim waist and discount rumours that she was pregnant with Seymour’s child. Elizabeth came to understand how dangerous rumour and gossip could be, and was not one to fail to learn from any lesson offered to her.
During her brother’s reign, Elizabeth reinvented herself. She wore black and white, eschewed jewels, and was called “Sweet Sister Temperance” by her brother. This, certainly, was an attempt on Elizabeth’s part to distance herself, not only from the Seymour scandal, but from her mother’s reputation as well. But can we blame her? Elizabeth had to wipe the slate clean, and did so by making herself into a paragon of Protestant virtue. It worked. She was vastly more popular with her brother than her rebelliously Catholic sister was. But when Mary’s reign arrived, it was not advisable to be openly Protestant; Elizabeth chose to give outward show, at least most of the time, of Catholic faith, in order to survive.
Elizabeth would need everything she had learned thus far to survive Mary’s reign; it was an up and down rollercoaster for the young Elizabeth. Elizabeth was suspected in virtually every plot and rebellion against her sister, spent time incarcerated in the Tower and under house arrest in the crumbling gatehouse of Woodstock Palace. To what extent Elizabeth was actually involved in these rebellions and plots, we don’t really know, but there are suggestions that she met with some of their leaders. For a young woman dancing with danger, it was good to keep a clear head and have some defence prepared, which Elizabeth did, managing to keep herself off the execution block time and time again. Elizabeth learned that hiding her true feelings was vital to her survival. She learnt to dissemble, to neither confirm nor deny, and to keep her own truths locked carefully inside her. By the time Mary lay dying, Elizabeth had become the master of political masquerade.
She was so well-versed in this art, that by the time she came to the throne her advisors often despaired of ever getting a straight answer from her. Elizabeth kept everyone guessing. This policy allowed her to become one of the greatest Queens, and greatest spin-doctors, England has ever seen. It is ironic that in his search for a male heir, Henry VIII managed to produce and set into training a woman who would be recognised, not only as the greatest monarch of the Tudor dynasty, but arguably the greatest sovereign of all English history. I doubt that he ever realised the true worth of his youngest daughter.
When Elizabeth became Queen in 1558, riding on a wave of popularity after her sister’s generally disastrous reign, she adopted a new emblem; a crowned white falcon. It had been her mother’s emblem. Elizabeth did not pass comment on why she had chosen it, but was certainly aware that her mother had used it. The emblem was displayed at Elizabeth’s coronation procession, and, during her reign, adorned many personal items in her household, such as her clavichord.
In the first months of her reign, Elizabeth chose her household. Elizabeth was forced to be a thrifty Queen after inheriting staggering debts from her sister. In response, she reduced the numbers in her household, making the positions granted there all the more precious. Although she chose women who had been Parr’s favourites, there were also a disproportionate number of women from the Howard, Carey and Knollys clans… all blood relations of her mother. That Elizabeth chose to honour so many of her mother’s kin with these coveted positions indicates that she was determined to favour them. Elizabeth also greatly favoured her Carey cousins, the children of Mary Boleyn. It is perhaps telling that Elizabeth also often chose to restore titles to those who had lost family to the executioner’s axe, as she herself had done. Indeed, the great love of her life, Robert Dudley, had lost many of his family to the changing whims of power.
When Elizabeth came to the throne, however, she did not restore her mother’s marriage to her father as a legal union in the public eye or in law. Mary had made this one of her first acts as Queen on behalf of her mother, Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth never sought to do this for Anne. Unlike her sister, Elizabeth was content with a proclamation that she was of the blood royal and was the legal Queen of England. We could take this as a dismissal of her mother, but there were good reasons for Elizabeth’s choice. Elizabeth owed her position as Queen solely to her father; to restore her mother’s titles would be to imply that Henry VIII’s judgement was flawed when he ordered Anne’s death. Elizabeth was more than aware that many looked on her with unfavourable eyes. She was still called “The Little Bastard” by many, and was not recognised by some as a lawful contender for the throne because her parents’ marriage had been annulled before Anne’s death… indeed, many people had not recognised the union of Anne and Henry as legal in the first place. By attempting to vindicate her mother, Elizabeth would only bring up the past, and would remind her enemies of her mother’s disgrace afresh, whilst simultaneously insulting her father. Elizabeth was never one to willingly give ammunition to her enemies.
Upon becoming Queen, Elizabeth requested a rather reluctant Matthew Parker for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. Whether Elizabeth knew that Anne had asked Parker to take care of her daughter’s spiritual welfare is unknown, but Elizabeth did know that Parker had been her mother’s chaplain. Elizabeth harked back to her mother’s past supporters to fill this influential post in her reign.
My conclusion is this; if Elizabeth had hated her mother or was indifferent to her, it is highly unlikely that she would have undertaken all, or any, of the actions I have highlighted in this article. It is unlikely that Elizabeth would have risked wearing Anne’s necklace in the family portrait, or promoted her kin and past supporters upon ascension… even less likely that Elizabeth would have adopted Anne’s emblem, especially at her coronation… That Elizabeth took actions which seem to venerate her mother, but said little about her, speaks to me of a desire on Elizabeth’s part to honour Anne, without putting her own reputation in danger. Elizabeth was a survivor, and a pragmatist. She took risks where she could afford to, and played safe when she had to. The times when Elizabeth distances herself from her mother are understandable. Elizabeth knew that she had to remain untouched by her mother’s disgrace; she had to maintain a good public image, and the best way to do this was to emulate her father, and glory in him, for he was the source of her claim to the throne and there was no danger in being associated with him. Speaking out for Anne would only have given Elizabeth’s enemies an advantage. Therefore, Elizabeth did not seek to bring her mother into obvious focus at her side through words. Just because she was aware of the dangers of her mother’s reputation staining hers, however, does not mean that Elizabeth did not love Anne.
Perhaps in never speaking of Anne, and yet celebrating her in many small, yet significant ways, the wily Elizabeth betrays herself. Sometimes our true feelings can be revealed much more by what we choose to do, rather than what we say. Actions speak louder than words, so the old saying goes. I have no doubt that Elizabeth’s feelings for both her mother and father were complicated, but that does not mean she did not love them. Many people have complicated relationships with their families, but think of trying to reconcile the feelings which Elizabeth might have wrestled with; a beloved father who had killed her own mother? Freud would have been hopping with delight to have such a patient…
I believe that Elizabeth knew that to show admiration or love for her mother publicly would be dangerous to her reputation and position as long as she was alive… And it is on Elizabeth’s deathbed, where we find one last indication of her feelings for her mother. When Elizabeth died in 1603, a ring was taken from her finger; today we called it the “Chequers Ring”. It was made of gold and mother of pearl, decorated with rubies, with an ‘E’ made of diamonds set over an “R” of blue enamel. One pearl is also set into the design. To the surprise of even many of her intimates, it was found that the front opened to reveal two portraits inside. The locket-ring held one portrait that was unquestionably Elizabeth. Opposite, was a woman with long dark hair and black eyes, wearing a French hood. It was Anne’s portrait, kept hidden upon her daughter’s hand; never shown to anyone, whilst always being in plain sight, a secretive, yet bold, action, and one typical of Elizabeth. The choice of pearls is also perhaps significant, as they were a favourite of Anne’s, and signified purity. Some also claim that pearls represent wisdom acquired by experience, something of which Elizabeth was a keen advocate.
Keeping a picture of her mother secretly upon her hand does not speak of indifference or disgust to me, but of love… a secret, personal, and intensely private love.
Elizabeth was a secretive woman. Concealment and ambiguity were key to her survival. But she offers us hints, in her actions, as to her true feelings. Perhaps her greatest secret was to hide the complicated feelings of love and admiration she had for the woman who gave her life, and who was stolen from her before she had a chance to ever truly know her. I am convinced that Elizabeth loved and respected her mother, just as I am convinced that we must look to Elizabeth’s actions, rather than her words, for all that was left unsaid by this last, and most canny, of the Tudors.
About the Author
The age of the Tudors has been an obsession for me since I was a child, and many of my upcoming books will center on that time, but I also pen the odd dystopian fiction or historical fiction from other time periods. I will be releasing all my titles on amazon, for kindle and then hopefully for print later.
I studied Literature (with a capital L) at University and usually have twenty or more books I’m currently reading. Reading and writing are about mood for me, and I haven’t found a genre I didn’t enjoy something about so far…
You can often find me on Wattpad or Twitter when I’m not writing…
The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 3)
The Heretic Heir (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 2)
The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1)
The Lady Anne (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 2)
La Petite Boulain (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 1)
The Christmas Ghosts
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Thank you so much – Rebecca Larson</em>