“There is written, her fair neck round about”: The legend of Anne Boleyn’s initial necklaces

My replica necklaceTo say it’s archetypal isn’t actually doing it justice. It’s flat-out impossible to envision Anne Boleyn without her pearl-and-gold “B” necklace – a fact that filmmakers and book cover designers seem to agree with.

Although the fashionable Anne was usually a trend-setter, initial jewellery was already extremely popular at the Tudor court. Henry VIII himself was often seen wearing a chain made of interlinked Hs. We think Anne owned at least four ‘initial’ pieces during her lifetime; it seems she had her famous “B” of course, an “A”, an “AB” and an “AH” for her and Henry.

Elizabeth's A pendant

It is more than likely that all of Anne’s jewellery was either completely destroyed or reclaimed into pieces for the new Queen, Jane Seymour, after her execution in 1536. A few romantics like to think that some items were kept safe for her daughter, the infant Princess Elizabeth. I have stood in front of the original Whitehall Family Portrait that Henry commissioned to show off his two daughters, his son and heir and himself standing proudly with his (by now long-dead) third wife. The young Elizabeth is wearing a pendant markedly different from the standard Christian cross around the neck of her half-sister; it certainly looks like it might be an A… It’s also often noted that the pearl pendant a teenaged Elizabeth is wearing in her c.1546 portrait looks like it may well be her mother’s “B” necklace, salvaged and reworked to be appropriate for continued wear…

One tradition goes even further. It says that Elizabeth used pearls from her mother’s famous necklaces to create her own royal jewellery, and that some of these pieces survived. She was certainly often painted wearing copious amounts of pearls, embroidered on her dresses, on chains, even in her hair! And so, apparently, the four pendant pearls that hang from the arches of our current Queen’s Imperial State Crown were once worn by Elizabeth I, and therefore perhaps once by her mother…

Far-fetched, yes, but wouldn’t it be lovely if it were true.



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