The Hever Rose Portrait

Co-authored & researched with Dr Owen Emmerson

The Hever Rose Portraits
Anne Boleyn
Oil on Panel
22 3/4 x 17 1/4 inches
© Hever Castle, Kent

Object Description:

This painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel and measures in whole 22 ¾ x 17 ¼ inches.   The portrait depicts an adult female’s head and upper torso who appears sitting before a plain brown background.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left, and in her right hand, she holds a red rose. 

Her face is long and oval in shape, with a high forehead.  Her hair is brown in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her coif.  Her eyes are brown in colour, and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is slightly arched with a high bridge, and her lips are small and thin.  The use of a pink tone has been added to the sitter’s cheekbones and bridge of her nose. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls; thirty-four pearls can be seen in the lower billiment, and forty-three pearls have been depicted on the upper billiment.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back of the hood, and under this, the sitter wears a gold coif.  At her neck, she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter ‘B’ pendant of goldsmith work with three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain constructed of circular loops is also seen at the neck, which falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of black fabric, cut square at the neck, and a chemise embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin. The hint of a kirtle made of brown fabric and embellished with forty-four pearls and twenty-three buttons of goldsmith work is also seen around the neckline of the bodice.

Inscription:

An inscription applied across the top of the panel in a bright yellow pigment identifies the sitter as ANNA BOLINA. ANG. REGINA

Labels and other inscriptions:

Access to the back of the panel is unfortunately restricted due to the presence of a supporting cradle.  No assessment could be made of any other possible labels or inscriptions attached to the back of the panel surface at the time of writing.

Artist Association:

English School

Condition:

In 2000, restoration work was carried out on the painting by the conservator, Claudio Moscatelli. The most significant part of this conservation work was removing overpaint added at some point in the painting’s history. A series of three images held in Hever Castle’s archive, taken immediately before, during and after the restoration process gives us a lucid understanding of the works completed.

The Hever Rose Portrait, Before Restoration (Left) and With Overpaint Removed (Right)
© Hever Castle, Kent

With the overpaint carefully removed, it became clear that the overpaint had been likely applied because of past damage to the panels. Subsequently, significant alterations to the facial features had been made. Most of the revealed damage appeared to have occurred on the left of the three panels, with substantial losses evident along the joint between the left-hand and central panel. Indeed, it is likely that the left-hand panel had completely detached from the central one at some point in its history.  As this damage ran through the sitter’s face, it is perhaps not surprising that the overpaint was most heavily applied upon the chin, mouth, and nose. What became evident with the removal of this later overpaint was that it had also acted to ‘smooth’ out these features into perhaps more flattering ones than were originally intended. Indeed, it is evident that overpaint had also been added to areas without paint losses which contributed to this ‘beautification’. Claudio Moscatelli’s efforts to replace losses were subsequently much closer to the original pattern revealed when the overpaint had been removed.

The Hever Rose Portrait, Before Restoration (Left) and After Restoration (Right)
© Hever Castle, Kent

Thoughts:

Similar to NPG 668, The Hever Rose Portrait is arguably one of the more famous paintings of Anne Boleyn based on the B Pattern. Today, the painting is one of four significant portraits believed to depict Anne Boleyn hanging on the walls of Hever Castle in Kent.  The portrait has become a treasured artefact that holds a special place in both the hearts of the staff and the public who view it; however, despite its widespread popularity, we appear to know very little about it.  This is not uncommon when researching historical portraiture with a history of over four hundred years behind it. In many cases, almost nothing has survived in terms of historical documentation for most of our surviving Tudor portraits. In the past, the Hever Rose portrait has been mistaken for that once owned by Mrs K. Radclyffe.[1] A close study of the Radclyffe portrait against the Hever Rose portrait shows several clear differences, perhaps most noticeably in the size of the links that make up the chain around her neck (see below). Moreover, in his study of the portraiture of Anne Boleyn, celebrated art historian Sir Roy Strong noted that the Radclyffe Portrait had no inscription upon it, unlike the Hever Rose version.[2] When the Hever Rose Portrait was exhibited at Philip Mould’s Lost Faces exhibition in 2007, it was described as “… the finest and most probably the earliest” of the ‘corridor portraits’ of Anne Boleyn.[3]

The Radclyffe Portrait (Left) and the Hever Rose Portrait (Right)

No record of the Hever Rose Portrait has been located within any of the files relating to the iconography of Anne Boleyn in the Witt Library, Paul Mellon Centre, British Museum, or the Heinz Archive.  No scientific investigation has yet, taken place on this portrait to establish an accurate date of its creation. The exact date the portrait entered Hever castle’s collection has always remained a mystery. A date of c.1550 has been added to the portrait at some point in its history at Hever Castle, however, it is uncertain when this date was attached to it and by whom. We know via dendrochronological analysis that the NPG 668 portrait of Anne Boleyn was created in c.1584, during the reign of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I; a period when Anne’s image underwent a period of rehabilitation.[4] It is considerably less likely that a portrait of Anne Boleyn would have been painted in 1550 during the reign of Elizabeth’s brother, Edward VI, whose mother, Queen Jane Seymour, superseded Anne. It may be, therefore, that in lieu of any scientific analysis that date of c.1550 was added. This would have allowed for a period of approximately fifteen years on either side of that central ‘circa’ date; straddling the possibility, therefore, of it having been painted during Anne’s own lifetime, or during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth.  

To truly understand the Hever Rose Portrait as an object, we first need to look at the castle’s history on which walls the portrait hangs today.  Located in the small village of Hever in Kent, Hever Castle has a long, rich history dating back to the twelfth century.  Arguably more famous today for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the castle is a cherished time capsule that takes us, the public, closer to its most famous inhabitant than any other historic building associated with her.  

The Boleyn family purchased the castle in 1462, and by 1505, Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn, inherited Hever and various other lands and properties on his father’s death.  Today, with the assistance of architectural historians, we are beginning to understand better how the castle was developed and added to across its history.  Unfortunately, we have almost nothing in terms of documentary evidence to inform us what was used to furnish the building when the Boleyn family were in residence.  No sixteenth-century reference to a portrait of Anne Boleyn at Hever castle has also been located.  

The castle subsequently passed through various owners, including the Waldegrave family from 1557 to 1715, the Humphreys family to 1749 and the Meade-Waldo Family from 1749 to 1903.  A rather run-down Hever Castle was purchased by an American billionaire, William Waldorf Astor, in 1903.  Astor had already been captivated by the story of Anne Boleyn and had already started to acquire a collection of objects related to her story; the fact that he now had her childhood home was the icing on the cake.  William Astor immediately started the restoration work to take the castle back to its former glory and use the building as his principal residence.  Much of what is seen today within the walls of the building is thanks to this restoration work which took place between 1903 and 1908.  Astor himself immediately set about acquiring period pieces and furnishing the rooms with artefacts connected to the castle’s rich history.  This period of development was also continued by his son, John Jacob, when he inherited the castle on his father’s death in 1919. His great- grandson, Gavin Astor, inherited the castle in 1961 and eventually opened the castle up partially to the public in 1963.

Hever Castle does, in fact, have a long history associated with the documentation of a portrait of Anne Boleyn. During the nineteenth century, it became popular for various tourists to publish detailed notes taken during their tours of the historic houses across England. In a small number of these publications, a portrait of Anne Boleyn is described as hanging on the walls at Hever Castle. However, it appears that several visitors were less than impressed by the image seen of this infamous Queen.  This sense of dislike, and other clues, suggests that it was not the current portrait seen by the visitors but another painting altogether.  

Our first positive archival reference to a portrait of Anne at Hever dates to 1801 when the Meade-Waldo family owned the castle.  In his study of The Beauties of England and Wales, Reverend Hodgson observed a portrait of Anne Boleyn at Rufford Abbey:

“In the attic story… a portrait of Anne Bullen on wood, but by no means as handsome as Holbein has painted her in which is preserved at Loseley in Surrey; yet as this one bears a great resemblance to a portrait of her at Hever Castle in Kent, the seat of her family, one is almost led to suspect that Henry’s taste for beauty would not have been much followed at the present day.”[5]

Similarly, a visitor in 1823 viewed the portrait that had been pointed out to him as an image of Anne; however, he was noted to be unimpressed with the picture seen.  He later recorded that:

‘At Hever Castle is still preserved a small picture in oil, which is an heirloom, and is said to be the Queen; it is a very stiff performance, and if a likeness of Ann Bolen, we look in vain for those captivating charms which are generally supposed to have enslaved the affections of the despotic monarch, and even urged him to overthrow the religion of his country, in order to compass the fulfilment of his ungovernable desires.’[6]

Writer James Thorne also appears to have viewed the same portrait supposed to depict Anne in 1847, and he was again less than impressed by the image he viewed:

‘One is pointed out as the family portrait if Anne Boleyn, and it’s added that it was painted shortly before her execution.  To us, it seems to bear little resemblance to the authentic portrait of her.  We do not believe it is even a copy of her portrait, we need barely add, it’s not an original.[7]

While no detailed description of this portrait of Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle exists, Reverend Hodgson’s observation that the painting he observed at Rufford Abbey was unlike that held at Loseley Hall – but like that at Hever Castle – is an intriguing one. A portrait of Anne Boleyn, which derives from the ‘B’ necklace pattern, still hangs at Loseley, and if it is the same portrait that Reverend Hodgson observed at Loseley in the early 1800s, the portrait of Anne at Hever Castle at that time most likely differed from the ‘B’ pattern model.  More intriguing still is the existence of a painting that is still in the collection of the Meade-Waldo family, and which was removed from Hever Castle when they opted to sell the castle to the Astor family in 1903. This particular portrait is painted with the use of oil on the panel and includes the inscription identifying the sitter as ‘Anna. Regina. AD. 1534.’

Loseley Hall Portrait (Left) & Meade- Waldo Family Portrait (Right)
© Private Collections

One of the main reasons for the uncertainty surrounding the purchase of the Hever Rose Portrait is due to the castle being flooded on 15th September 1968.  It does appear that the Astor family did keep detailed records of items purchased for display purposes, however, due to damage caused by the flooding, which overwhelmed the castle’s cellars and library, a considerable amount of the family’s archival information was unfortunately lost or destroyed.

Until recently, the first surviving document relating to the portrait’s actual existence at Hever castle was when it was listed among other paintings and furniture in a valuation catalogue compiled by Christie, Manson, and Woods in 1965.  No description of the portrait appeared in an earlier inventory made of the collection in 1919, at the time of William Astor’s death and it had always been presumed that the portrait was purchased between 1919 and 1965, however, no surviving documentation had surfaced to prove this theory. [8]

During a search of the current archive for this article, a pamphlet produced for an open day for employees of the Times Newspaper in 1939 was discovered. In this, an early image of the portrait was located and was listed as being among the collection at Hever Castle.  The discovery of this pamphlet pushes back the timeline in which the portrait was possibly purchased, and it appears that the painting was in the castle’s collection prior to 1939.

Times Pamphlet containing an early image of the Hever Rose Portrait
© Hever Castle, Kent

A very interesting description of a portrait, published in a book from 1908, may possibly give us a clue as to the previous provenance of the Hever Rose Portrait.  In 1904, Edmund Ferrer documented that he visited Assington Hall in Suffolk and came across a portrait of Anne Boleyn in that collection.  Assington Hall was the family estate of the Gurdon family, who had lived within the manor house at Assington since it was purchased by Robert Gurdon from Sir Miles Corbert in the early sixteenth century.[9]

Ferrer later published a detailed description of the portrait seen, and the details given in his description appear to be a perfect match to the Hever Rose Portrait.

‘Queen Anne Boleyn.  H(ead) and S(soulders). Body and face both turned slightly to the dexter, hair dressed in the pedimental style. Dress: Black, with pearls round the neck, supporting a jewelled B; there is also a gold chain; the hands are forward holding a rose. Above it “Ang. Regina”’[10]

During my research into the many portraits of Anne Boleyn associated with the B Pattern, I have only come across three surviving copies of the distinctive Rose pattern. Both the Rawlinson and the Radclyffe copy do not include the distinctive inscription identifying the sitter as seen in the Hever copy and, unless another unknown copy does exist, then the only plausible option is that the portrait seen by Ferrer in 1904 is now in the collection of Hever Castle.

One final piece of evidence to back this theory up is the auction catalogue for the sale of the contents of Assington Hall in 1937.  Unfortunately, no specific portrait identified as being that of Anne Boleyn is listed among the paintings sold on the 6th of October.  The descriptions give

n of the fifty-one paintings to appear in the catalogue are noted to be very vague and only a small number of portraits are identified by the sitter’s name are listed. Item 171, ‘portrait of a lady of the Elizabethan period with a black headdress and pearl necklace’ could possibly be the portrait of Anne and it is also noted that it was painted on panel and measures 22 x 17 inches.  If indeed the portrait was measured by the auction house in its frame, then this would be a perfect fit for the Hever Rose Portrait and would suggest that the portrait was presumably purchased by John Jacob Astor for display at Hever Castle[11]

Further research does need to take place to try and establish once and for all if the portrait of Anne seen at Assington Hall in 1904, is indeed the portrait we all see when visiting Hever Castle today. Moreover, the absence of any scientific analysis on this portrait leaves many unanswered questions. It is often stated that the are no extant painted portraits of Anne Boleyn that date to her lifetime. Yet few of the panel portraits which bear Anne’s likeness have been subjected to either paint or dendrochronological analysis which would help to determine a likely date of their creation. Considering that the Hever Rose Portrait was appraised and exhibited by art historians Philip Mould and Bendor Grosvenor as “… the finest and most probably the earliest” of the ‘corridor portraits’ of Anne Boleyn, the desire to satiate the unanswered questions surrounding this portraits age has never been more acute.[12]  What is clear from this article is that the Hever Rose Portrait is now, finally, starting to shed some of its secrets and we are now starting to find out a little more about such a treasured and renowned artefact.  


[1] https://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/894_Anne_Boleyn_regains_her_head

[2] Strong, R, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, Volume 1, 1st ed. (H. M. Stationary Office, 1969), p.6.

[3] Grosvenor, B, Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture, 1st ed. (Philip Mould Ltd, 2017), p.12.

[4] https://ladyjanegreyrevisited.com/2021/01/16/anne-boleyn-npg-668/

[5] Hodgson, R, The Beauties of England and Wales, or, Delineations, topographical, historical, and descriptive, of each count, Volume 12, Part 1, 1st ed. (Vernor & Hood, 1801), pp.389-90.     

[6] Bell. J, Belle Assemblée or, Court and Fashionable Magazine, 1829, page: 29

[7] Thorne. Thomas, The Land we Live in, 1847, Vol III.

[8] Christie, Manson & Wood, Valuation for Insurance of Pictures and Furniture, 1965, Hever Castle Archive

[9] Burke. Bernard, History of The Landed Gentry of Great Britian and Ireland, 1875, vol I, Page. 555

[10] Farrer. Edmund, Portraits in Suffolk Houses (West), 1908, Page. 4

[11] Garrod, Turner & Son, Assington Hall, Suffolk A Catalogue of The Remaining Contents of The Mansion, 6th October 1937, page: 5

[12] Grosvenor, B, Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture, 1st ed. (Philip Mould Ltd, 2017), p.12.

12 thoughts on “The Hever Rose Portrait

  1. The Meade-Waldo doesn’t look like the same person at all, and looks heavily overpainted. I would have considerable doubts about authenticity of the inscription/date.
    Loseley Hall definitely later copy, could be 17-18C from treatment of facial features.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. 😀The Loseley Hall portrait is most definitely a later copy and as you say, yes probably late 17th century. The Meade-Waldo portrait is an interesting one as it is inscribed Anna Regina and is almost certainly the portrait viewed by tourists when visiting Hever during the 19th century. It appears from the various written descriptions that almost all were disappointed with the portrait viewed 😀

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  2. Aren’t you missing out a very important thing, a comparison to portraits of Mary Tudor Brandon that would put the firm suspicion into the mind of anyone seeing it that the B-pattern are portraits of MTB? (https://lukism.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/formerly-anne-boleyn-brown-haired-ladies.jpg). Anne and MTB were enemies, it is an insult to the memories of both women that images of one are known as the likeness of the other. I’m sorry if we don’t get along, but it is inevitable on this issue. How can you not make people aware of this, how did history become deceit? Why must it be this way? As always, I apologise profusely that I actually care about the true likeness of Anne being known, and that may frighten you, but many people do really care. I am horrified and saddened at how the world of Tudor art history is.

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    1. Dear Luke,

      First of all Thank you for comment and I am slightly baffled by your social media comment in which you suggested that I wouldn’t publish it on my website. I started this website in the hope that people would get involved and have a place to openly discuss their views and opinions, even if we do completely disagree at times. Yes, to be honest I find your approach very demanding and actually quite aggressive at times. Your comments regarding my dyslexia were truly awful and were, in fact, not the best way to start a debate with anyone. To be honest, if this does continue then I will certainly not be publishing them as this can be very detrimental to others. Please be reassured that you opinions on the ‘true likeness’ of Anne Boleyn certainly doesn’t ‘frighten me’ and if you do find my articles ‘horrifying’ then please feel free not to read them.

      Now to address some of the points discussed in your comment. Both myself and Dr Owen purely focused on the Hever Rose Portrait as an historical artifact when writing the article. As you will see from this and other article’s already written, when it comes to specific information/documentation concerning all the B pattern portrait’s it is unfortunately mixed up, rather messy and at times just isn’t there. I am not attempting to just re-publish information that is already out there in books, Wikipedia and on the internet and actually want to make a positive contribution concerning the iconography of Anne Boleyn.

      My first aim is to look at all the portraits as an individual item and list what is already known and what has been discovered by myself and others during historical research in the archives. Unfortunately, this takes time and actually does cost me a lot of money. I will address the theory put forward by Susan James, that the B pattern may possibly be related to a portrait of Mary Tudor Brandon, however, I will discuss this in my own time and once I have completed all the research needed. So far I have managed to locate five copies of the famous Brandon marriage portrait and all known copies date to the later half of the 16th century. As far as I am aware James’s statement is pure theory and no historical documentation has surfaced to prove that this is actually correct. We do know for certain that the image of Mary seen in the marriage portrait was, in fact, based on an authentic likeness produced when she was in France, however like you say yourself, Mary and Anne did not have a good relationship, so why would someone use a portrait of Mary to depict Anne?

      The B Pattern was circulated and seen as an image of ANNE during the reign of her daughter and many are inscribed with the name Anne Boleyn, none are inscribed with the name Mary Tudor and to be totally honest their does appear to be significant differences between both patterns. Like I have said, I will produce an article about this, however, this will be in my own time, but, please feel free to write your own thoughts and opinions on this subject on your own website.

      Lee

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      1. I found this fascinating and frustrating as it seems we cannot know for sure which of the many images of Anne – except The Most Happi Medal – is the truest. I have heard the theory that this B portrait could be Mary Brandon and will be really excited to read any work you do around this in the future. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for taking the time to read it Jaki and I am pleased you found it of interest. Until all the B Pattern portraits have been scientifically tested we will never truly know for sure if one could possibly be an early version.

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  3. I was never aware of the Meade- Waldo Family Portrait . is it possible that this painting of Anne reflects what she looked like just before her death. It seems very sober compared to the others It reminds me of Marie Antoinette on her way to the gallows so to speak. Thank you for a fascinating article. I do hope the painting will finally be tested!

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    1. Dear Kerry,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I do hope they do finally agree to test the Hever Rose Portrait, it would certainly answer a lot of questions and would also give us a possible date for the Rawlinson and Radclyffe copies. Fingers crossed the article helps to persuade the owners to finally have it done 🤞

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  4. What wonderful sleuthing! I loved the information about both the Hever Rose Portrait *and* the Meade-Waldo Family Portrait! You truly have a gift when it comes to tracing these portraits! I am so impressed! And it is such a gift ever time to read your findings. I had to laugh at all the unimpressed comments about the Meade-Waldo Family Portrait. *g*

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  5. Thank you for your informative article. The Meade Waldo picture reminds me of two other images associated with Anne, the Windsor Holbein drawing and the Musee de Condee picture that was passed off as Anne Boleyn. It would be interesting to know the visual influences on this image.
    Keep going
    Heather

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