Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, and the Ashbourne Charter of 1585

 

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.

Charter 1585 f.1
Charter 1585 f.1

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.

Initial E - The Charter of 1585
Initial E – The Charter of 1585

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.

Elizabeth I, Portrait at Hardwick Hall, from workshop of Nicholas Hilliard
Elizabeth I, Portrait at Hardwick Hall, from workshop of Nicholas Hilliard
Portrait of Elizabeth I by Steven Van der Meulen
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
Tudor Rose en Soleil
Tudor Rose en Soleil
  • The Harp Or (golden), crowned, for Ireland
Crowned Harp
Crowned Harp
  • 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)
Crowned Fleur-de-Lis
Crowned Fleur-de-Lis
  • Rays of sun issuing from a cloud – a heraldic badge of Edward III, to whom Elizabeth was related through both her parents
Rays from a cloud - Edward III's badge
Rays from a cloud – Edward III’s badge
  • 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

ER crowned - Charter f.2
ER crowned – Charter f.2
  • The Portcullis Or (golden), for her descent through her great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort
Portcullis, Or
Portcullis, Or

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’).

Falcon, crowned, with sceptre, on tree-stump - Badge of Anne Boleyn
Falcon, crowned, with sceptre, on tree-stump – Badge of Anne Boleyn

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.

Detail from The Family of Henry VIII
Detail from The Family of Henry VIII

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.

Napkin with Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn's badge
Napkin with Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn’s badge

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.

Queen Elizabeth I's virginals
Queen Elizabeth I’s virginals
Anne Boleyn's falcon on Elizabeth I's virginals
Anne Boleyn’s falcon on Elizabeth I’s virginals

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.

Falcon, crowned, with sceptre, on tree-stump - Badge of Anne Boleyn

 

Charter f.3
Charter f.3

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.)

Costs of producing the charter
Costs of producing the charter

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.

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, and the Ashbourne Charter of 1585

  1. This document looks fantastic and I can’t believe that I although I only live 10 miles away, I didn’t know anything about it until now. I doubt I will be able to see it as I have to work on Monday. Hope it will be on display again soon.

  2. Interesting that Anne Boleyn’s execution cost £23/6/8 – I believe 6/8 was a “mark”, in which case the cost was exactly 70 marks.

  3. Dear Susannah, As a starting your best comparison will be with the Emmanuel College charter. Mildmay commissioned Hilliard to illuminate this charter, just as the letters patent of Thomas Forster (embroiderer to the king) were illuminated by a member of the Horenbout family, but at Forster’s cost, not the king’s. The original patent is currently on loan to the V&A and was illuminated sometime between 1524 & 1528 when Forster died.

    Anne Boleyn’s falcon motif at the bottom of the Ashbourne charter should of course, be coloured white. From what I see on screen, I would suggest that originally the illuminator used silver leaf, which would have glittered (especially in candlelight), but over the centuries it has oxidised which is why the falcon is now a rather dull grey/black.

    Hilliard is a particular favourite of mine. This is a lovely find. I hope the Derbyshire Records Office digitise it so it is more widely available.

  4. I often wonder if Elizabeth felt somewhat guilty for being born female. I’m sure s he knew that if she had been born male – her mother would have lived. This was her way of a subletally honoring her mother. She may very well have retained a scant memory of her mother.

  5. My husband went to that school (Queen Elizabeth Grammar School) and his parents still have a house near Ashbourne. We were married at the registry office there, in fact. I’ve sent a link to this article to him to see if he has anything to add about this.

  6. Thank you for all your research work and bringing your findings to us, I have often wondered if Elizabeth 1st realised what really happened to her mother Ann.Im a huge follower of the Tudors. I enjoy your interesting lectures and look forward to more

  7. I wondered if you had heard the theory that Elizabeth’s “A” pendant might have had a religious significance, as opposed to being a reference to her mother? I’m not entirely decided myself, but some people claim that the pendant is an Auspices Maria pendant (meaning the wearer is under the protection of the Virgin) as opposed to Anne’s first initial. Of course, knowing Elizabeth, she could have worn it knowing full well that it could be interpreted as both,

  8. I would be interested in any information you have re: the Charter for the founding of Dronfield Free School in 1578. Another Derbyshire school. This one founded by the Fanshawe Family; Henry and Thomas both Remembrancer of the Exchequer to Elizabeth the first. I am the Headteacher of what is now Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School and very proud to be the first female HT. Many thanks.

  9. Dear Suzannah
    The response to your excellent talk has been quite overwhelming and on behalf of everyone present on that evening and particularly from the Ashbourne Treasures Exhibition & particularly from Ashbourne Old Trust a big thank you,. for a great evening enjoyed by all
    Only wish you could return at some stage in the future as a guest speaker.
    Good luck in everything that you do

  10. Our Historian member of the Treasures Committee tells me :-

    Congratulations to John for identifying Anne Boleyn’s badge in the first place. It’s a pity it wasn’t captioned in the book, but then none of us realised its appearance on the charter had any especial significance.

    Incidentally the similarity of Elizabeth’s portrait on our charter to that of Emmanuel College Cambridge of 1584 has caused some confusion. A search on Google Images for the Emmanuel one produces about five genuine reproductions but also one of ours masquerading as their’s and described as a genuine Nicholas Hildyard !! I only noticed it myself when I saw the Latin words ‘Comitatu Derbie’ (‘in the county of Derby’) at the foot.

    The offending website where it appears is that of an international American/French company – WahooArt.com’ – which sells reproductions of major art works framed or as posters etc for large sums. As they are very hot on their copyright perhaps the Old Trust should prosecute them for misrepresentation …. !!
    see – WahooArt.com Charter details

  11. Our Historian member of the Treasures Committee tells me :-
    Incidentally the similarity of Elizabeth’s portrait on our charter to that of Emmanuel College Cambridge of 1584 has caused some confusion. A search on Google Images for the Emmanuel one produces about five genuine reproductions but also one of ours masquerading as their’s and described as a genuine Nicholas Hildyard !! I only noticed it myself when I saw the Latin words ‘Comitatu Derbie’ (‘in the county of Derby’) at the foot.
    The offending website where it appears is that of an international American/French company – WahooArt.com’ – which sells reproductions of major art works framed or as posters etc for large sums. As they are very hot on their copyright perhaps the Old Trust should prosecute them for misrepresentation …. !!
    see – WahooArt.com Charter details

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