It was 1514 when the first rumour of a possible annulment in Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon drew breath. In 1516 a princess was born and for a time there was hope but by 1525 Catherine was beyond the age of childbearing and Henry ceased to cohabit with his wife. He’d been involved romantically with several of Catherine’s maids by that time and had been dallying with Mary Boleyn since 1522. In 1526 Henry found himself falling in love with Mary’s sister Anne. The following year he proposed and started proceedings to remove Catherine from the picture. She didn’t go without a fight. Of course there was also the small matter of getting rid of all of Catherine of Aragon’s pomegranate symbols from buildings, furniture etc and replacing it with Anne’s emblem and initials.
Anne’s emblem when she became queen in 1533 after a secret marriage ceremony before Henry’s marriage to Catherine had been formally annulled was the white falcon. The white falcon was part of the crest of the Earls of Ormonde from whom Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, claimed descent via his mother. Piers Butler was forced to hand over the title to Henry in 1528 and, in turn, he graciously awarded it to his future father-in-law in 1529.
This particular white falcon is alighting onto a barren tree stump, incidentally a Plantagenet badge, which is sprouting a crop of roses – hardly complicated imagery. The old queen had failed to produce a male heir; Anne carrying all before her was going to produce a Tudor sprig. The arrival of another princess, this time called Elizabeth, in September 1533 must have come as a blow.
The crown and the sceptre are doing the job you might suppose them to do. They are reminding everyone who cares to look that God, rather than Henry VIII, has made Anne queen of England.
As well as the falcon Anne also used the leopard which derived from the coat of arms of Thomas of Brotherton who was a son of Edward I and the First Earl of Norfolk – and yes, Anne claimed descent from him as her mother was Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Clearly Anne was keen to identify her royal connections. Having supplanted bona fide Spanish royalty she went to some lengths to demonstrate the rather thin trickle of Plantagenet blood flowing through her veins.
On her marriage Anne chose as her motto “Most happy.” Before then she’d had the words, in Latin, “Grumble all you like, this is how it’s going to be.” You’ve got to admire the woman’s panache but you can see how she might have irritated the great and the good with her abrasive sense of humour. She is also purported to have had a third motto meaning, “Always the same.” This was the one that Elizabeth I chose to use.
How happy Anne remained is a moot point given that there were rumours of Henry VIII’s attention wandering less than a year into his second marriage. Hart mentions his six month affair with Anne’s cousin in 1535. By this time Anne was proving a disappointment. As well as meddling in political and religious affairs she miscarried two or possibly three babies. There then followed a miscarriage of a boy on 29th January 1536- the same day as Catherine of Aragon’s funeral.
That same year as the monasteries were dissolved and the machinery of Catholicism demolished to furnish Henry’s bank account and ego, Anne found herself arrested and carted off to the Tower where she was duly executed on the colourful, not to mention highly dubious charges, of treason, adultery and incest on the 19th May with a sword rather than an axe. Having made the famous comment about a small neck she also beseeched , “Jesu save my Sovereign and master the King, the most goodliest, and gentlest Prince that is, and long to reign over you.”
Eleven days later Henry, that “goodliest” monarch, wed wife number three and all those master masons, carpenters and glaziers found themselves removing the letter A and replacing them with a J.