Why did the woman who returned to England from France in 1522 manage to so captivate the whole English Court with her looks, her style, her wit and charm?
By 1522 Anne Boleyn was approximately 22 years of age and had been in royal service abroad for 9 years. Anne’s father Sir Thomas Boleyn was one of Henry VIII’s favoured diplomats and had an influential relationship with Margaret of Austria in the Low Countries (Netherlands) and was able in 1513 to secure the prestigious role as one of Margaret’s 18 filles d’honneur (Maids of Honour) for his youngest daughter. Competition for these places was fierce with large numbers of the European gentry wishing to send their offspring to be educated in the company of Margaret’s royal nieces and nephews.
Margaret of Austria was a highly intelligent and cultured woman who promoted music, art and unusually for the time the education of women. We see from Margaret’s surviving letter to Sir Thomas Boleyn that she found Anne’s company a delight.
Despite Anne’s success in the Low Countries she was only in Margaret’s service for just over a year. She was recalled to England in 1513 in order to accompany and serve Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary Tudor in her new position as Queen of France. Unfortunately the marriage between Louis XII and Mary Tudor was over within months, but Anne remained in the service of the new Queen Consort, Queen Claude.
It seems from various sources that one of Anne’s main responsibilities was to act as translator for the Queen when she conversed with English visitors.
Undoubtedly the court of King Francis and Queen Claude with its focus on beauty, culture, fashion and elegance had a massive influence on Anne. Indeed Francis’ court, together with the Court of Burgundy in the Low Countries were seen as the benchmarks for opulence and grandeur during the 16th century.
Even though Queen Claude suffered through a painful back deformity, through many pregnancies, births and infant mortalities, as well as her husband regularly infecting her with sexual transmitted diseases she was a very religious woman who championed the arts.
Like Anne, Queen Claude commissioned and owned an exquisitely illustrated devotional Book of Hours and The Prayer Book of Claude, which can be seen in The Morgan Museum and Library in New York.
So the woman who sailed back home in 1522 had absorbed the attitudes and influences of two remarkable women who through faith, education and forbearance had managed to exert their unique and subtle sway on the world that surrounded them.