Monday, December 13, 2010

Anne Boleyn's Shoes?

Monday, December 13, 2010
Susan reporting:

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.

10 comments:

Monica Burns said...

ROFL!! Good one on the second pair of Anne's shoes!! Definitely NOT what I expected.

Grace Elliot said...

Darn - antiquarians can be so unromantic at times - I prefer to think of them as Anne Boleyn's.

Juliette said...

I love those slippers! Somehow both totally pointless and totally awesome...

Anonymous said...

You two are SOOO BAD. :D

LaDonna said...

I want BOTH pairs for Xmas!

Theresa Bruno said...

I agree with LaDonna. I want them both for Christmas. Although with my foot problems, I'm guessing that I can only stare at them.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

While they may have been pretty once, I wouldn't wear them. Looking at them closely they don't appear to be what the fashionable were wearing back in 1533 or thereabouts.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

To be honest, I'd probably wear both pairs (though of course not at the same time!) I've always been a sucker for those curvy heels on 17th-18th c. shoes.

It's difficult (ok, just about impossible) to find illustrations of the kind of shoe Anne would actually have worn. Odds were that that it was flat, with a wide, squared toe and a closed heel. Definitely not a mule like this. I'm afraid that the family who wished this to be a Tudor-era pair of shoes, let alone a pair belonging to Anne, were definitely wishing very hard.

Chris Woodyard said...

One of the few contemporary illustrations I've seen of a woman's Tudor-era shoe is in this Holbein drawing:
http://www.culture24.org.uk/asset_arena/6/69/7966/v0_master.jpg

The Dreamstress said...

LOL! I was soooo excited about that second pair of shoes!

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