On 17 July 1585, the people of Ashbourne in Derbyshire were granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I for the founding of a Free Grammar School.
The Queen, via Sir Francis Walsingham, had been petitioned two years earlier for the founding of a school, noting that ‘for wante of scholes the youthe of that cuntrye followe the olde traditions of men and rather cleave to Papistrye than to the truthe of the gospelle’ and were ‘given over to wickedness and vyces such as swearing, Drunckedness, whordome, idleness and such lyke’.
Over the summer of 2017, Ashbourne has been displaying the three large folios of the charter (usually stored at the Derbyshire Record Office) and its original seal (usually at the British Museum). I’ve been to see it, and it’s a beautiful, illuminated manuscript. It also has some unexpected and exciting information in its iconography.
The initial E for Elizabeth is gorgeously decorated.
It is almost identical to a charter granting the foundation of Emanuel College, Cambridge, from 1584, which is known to have been the work of the artist Nicholas Hilliard. Ashbourne’s may therefore be by Hilliard or is, at least, after him. Elizabeth sits on a throne, under a canopy of estate, holding the orb and sceptre. Above her is the royal coat of arms (the Lion of England and Dragon of Wales) and, above that, the Tudor rose, crowned. Around her are figures representing Justice and Wisdom, and around the initial are flowers, a robin (a symbol of Robert Dudley?), a snake, eglantine, and other decorative elements in the style of the Renaissance panels at Nonsuch Palace, her dress in the portrait of Elizabeth I at Hardwick Hall (also from the workshop of Nicholas Hilliard), or the decorative border of the Hampden portrait of Elizabeth I by Steven Van der Meulen.
At the top and centre of the charter is, again, the royal coat of arms, and the border is decorated with a multitude of heraldic badges that chart her lineage, including:
- The Tudor Rose en Soleil (with rays of the sun emanating from it) – this is a combination of the Tudor rose with the White Rose en Soleil of the House of York of her grandmother, Elizabeth of York
- The Harp Or (golden), crowned, for Ireland
- The Fleur-de-Lis Or (golden), crowned, for France (Additionally, in the first, illuminated line of the charter, Elizabeth is named, in Latin, as Queen of England, France and Ireland, despite the fact that the Tudors had lost their last lands in France in 1558)
- Rays of sun issuing from a cloud – a heraldic badge of Edward III, to whom Elizabeth was related through both her parents
- The Cross, Or, crowned
On the second folio, the central feature is an elaborate intertwining ER – for Elizabeth Regina – crowned, and the border here repeats some of the badges above, and adds
- The Portcullis Or (golden), for her descent through her great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort
This is all gorgeous and lovely, but what has especially excited me is on the third folio: here the central badge is not derived from her royal line through her father, but is the badge of her mother, Anne Boleyn: a Falcon Argent (silver), crowned (with the Imperial Crown), holding a sceptre Or (golden), on a tree-stump (or ‘woodstock’).
Why is this exciting? Well, people often ask how Elizabeth I remembered her mother, Anne Boleyn, and the extent to which she honoured her memory. We have some scraps of evidence.
In The Family of Henry VIII portrait from 1545, the Lady (Princess) Elizabeth appears to be wearing a pendant A, as if in memory of her mother.
And there are two instances that I’ve found of Anne Boleyn’s badge possibly being used by her daughter.
At the V&A, there are two items belonging to Elizabeth I that appear to show Anne Boleyn’s badge: a napkin and set of virginals (a early keyboard). The napkin, of linen damask, is thought to have been woven in Flanders in the last thirty years of the sixteenth century, and features Anne Boleyn’s falcon.
The virginals were decorated by the Venetian Giovanni Baffo, and during recent conservation, the date ‘1594’ was found on them, so they may date from this period – and in one panel, Anne Boleyn’s falcon can clearly be seen. But Eric Ives, alternatively, believed that the virginals may have belonged to Anne Boleyn and have been inherited by Elizabeth.
So, that’s not much to go on.
The fact, then, that this charter from 1585 – an official document issued by Queen Elizabeth I – features a large and colourfully illustrated image of Anne Boleyn’s badge seems to me highly significant. I think it is very unusual to find its use on a document of this order and suggests the rehabilitation of her mother’s memory. It gives us crucial evidence about the way Elizabeth honoured and remembered her mother.
We also know that this charter cost some £28 12s. to produce (inflation is bad in the sixteenth century, but I can’t help but be struck by the fact that Anne Boleyn’s execution had cost less – £23 6s. 8d.)
My next step is to investigate other charters issued around this time and to see if this is, indeed, unusual, or rather, a common feature of such Elizabethan manuscripts. If anyone has any further information, I’d be most grateful to hear from you.
Meanwhile, the charter is on display for ONE MORE DAY at the Library in Ashbourne – this Monday 25 September – and then will be returning to storage at the Derby Record Office. So get over there!
With my thanks to Sharron Lloyd-Johnson and the Ashbourne Old Trust.