It's no secret that we NHG love a good history story (particularly if we've written it.) We do, however, appreciate the differences between History, and Fiction, and Wishful Thinking – distinctions that can often be blurred into a muddle of fact and fantasy, and then, oftener still, posted on the internet as gospel.
Which brings us to this pair of lady's shoes, left. While time hasn't treated them kindly, they must have been spectacular when new: salmon pink silk overlaid with gold mesh lace, overhanging square toes, elegantly shaped heels, and leather soles edged with red. Clearly these mules belonged to a lady of wealth and rank.
The family who most recently owned the shoes believed that lady was Anne Boleyn. Family tradition had a delightful story connected to them, repeated over the centuries:
"Nicholas Bristowe, a favourite courter of Henry VIII, was riding with the king and Queen Anne Boleyn in Hertfordshire. Passing Ayot St Lawrence, he greatly admired the place, wondering whose it was. The king said,"It is mine, but now shall be yours." Bristowe asking what evidence he was to produce of the gift, the king gave him the hat he was wearing and asked the queen for her slippers, saying, "Bring these in London and I will give you the title deeds." The hat and slippers have since always gone with the estate."
But while the shoes (and a man's hat) have been carefully preserved to support the tale, the historical facts proved too weighty. Records show that Henry didn't grant the estate to Bristowe until 1540, four years after poor Anne's execution in 1536. (See here for more discouraging details.)
The experts at Christie's auction house put a further damper on the legend. To their unromantic eyes, the style and construction of the shoes date them to the 1630s, a century too late for Anne. When they were put up for auction, the catalogue description sourly noted that they were "Said to have belonged to Anne Boleyn, but of a later date." Still, there was a measure of hope for historical day-dreaming: "The vendor's ancestor held court office at the Tower of London, and this is said to be how the shoes came to be in the family's possession." Not Anne Boelyn, no, but given the turbulent politics of the 1630s-40s, these shoes might well have an equally exciting story of a great Royalist lady imprisoned in the Tower....
Thanks to Chris Woodyard for her assistance with this post.
Above left: A Pair of Gold Lace Lady's Mules, 1630s, photograph courtesy Christie's. Above right: Portrait of Anne Boleyn, c. 1530, artist unknown.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.