She is one of the most legendary figures in British history, whose story still captivates audiences five centuries after her execution. Now, exactly 500 years to the day since she is first recorded as appearing before her future husband – playing the role of Perseverance in a court masque – her carved heraldic badge goes on show at Hampton Court Palace, where experts now believe it to have once formed part of the building’s famous interiors.
Discovered by antiques expert Paul Fitzsimmons - who recognised it as the symbol of Anne Boleyn - the blackened oak carving of a crowned falcon atop a tree stump flowering with Tudor roses was covered in centuries of soot, grime and wax. Following conservation, which saw the removal of a layer of black paint to reveal the original colouring of white, gold and red, it was brought to the attention of Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and taken to Hampton Court Palace for further investigation.
Having carefully examined the piece, curators at Historic Royal Palaces turned to original accounts of Henry VIII’s work to enlarge and embellish Hampton Court, and to comparing the find with remaining detailing from the period, in an attempt to shed light on the falcon’s origins. This work has revealed an incredible likeness in both size and design to the 43 surviving falcon badges decorating the ‘frieze’ above the windows and hammer beams in the palace’s Great Hall, leading them to believe that the carving is an element of the room’s original Tudor scheme.
The Great Hall sits at the very heart of Hampton Court Palace and was designed both to impress and to proclaim Henry VIII’s power and magnificence. Henry’s carpenters began working on the huge timber roof – the last great medieval hammerbeam-roof hall in England– in 1532, and to celebrate his marriage to Anne Boleyn, motifs relating to the new Queen were incorporated into its design. Her coat of arms, the entwined letters H and A and her heraldic badge were all added to the Hall’s decoration. Given the fate awaiting Anne, the Great Hall was to become an unintended memorial to her reign. Records for the works show that a Michael Joyner was paid £5 4s 2d for 250 ‘of the King’s and Queens badges standing upon the Caters within the said Hall at vd the piece’, bringing the name of the carving’s likely creator to light almost five centuries later.
While tradition has it that after Anne’s execution Henry completely erased references to her from his many homes and palaces, research has revealed that during alterations to Hampton Court Palace following his remarriage to Jane Seymour, two craftsmen (John Heath and Henry Blankston) were employed to repaint and adapt Hampton Court’s existing decorative scheme. It is at this point curators now believe that the white falcons were overpainted in black, thereby severing their visual association with the former Queen.
Anne had begun using the white falcon as her device around the time she was created Marquess of Pembroke, shortly before her public marriage to Henry VIII in 1533. After her marriage and coronation a new imperial falcon badge was created, featuring the crown and sceptre. This new symbol, complete with its Tudor and York roses growing from a dead tree stump has been read as symbolising the fertility of the new queen at the time of her marriage, and Anne’s aspiration to wear the imperial crown which Henry offered at the time of his break with the Catholic Church.
Sebastian Edwards, Deputy Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “Ever since my colleague Tracy Borman first flagged the carved falcon badge as a discovery meriting further investigation, it’s been a tantalising historic ‘what if?’. While we won’t be able to say for certain whether it was originally created for Hampton Court’s Great Hall until the next time we erect a roof-height scaffold and compare it with those still in situ – which might not be for some years – the evidence that has emerged during our research lends great weight to the theory, particularly with there being one falcon less than we’d expect in the surviving decorative scheme! Either way, this is an incredibly rare example of Tudor royal ornamentation, imbued with the legend of Henry’s most famous Queen, which I hope will provide visitors to Hampton Court with a small taste of the jaw-dropping magnificence of the palace during the Tudor period.’
Anne Boleyn’s falcon will be on display in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace from 4 March 2022 and is included in palace admission.
Notes to Editors
For further information and images please contact Adam Budhram in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: [email protected] / 020 3166 6166
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