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Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s AppearanceThe only firmly identified, contemporary image of Anne Boleyn – a 1534 medal.© British Museum.Scanned by Douglas Dowell.Anne Boleyn’s appearance has been twisted by those who wished to denounce her. Contemporary accounts were distorted by the author’s (usual) dislike of her.


After her death, a monstrous legend was built up. Nicholas Sander’s description provides the supreme calumny. The Venetian ambassador provided a more impartial report – but still not all that flattering. So, what is universally agreed upon?Anne Boleyn was very dark. All writers agree on this point.


Wyatt says she was “not so whitely as . . . above all we may esteem.” Sander said she had a “sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice”, and the Venetian ambassador said she had a “swarthy complexion”. Dark brown or black hair, along with eyes so dark they were almost black and a very dark skin, combined to make Anne Boleyn conspicuously dark – and the opposite of the contemporary ideal, with golden hair, blue eyes and a pink-and-white complexion.


Anne had small breasts, when a voluptuous figure was the ideal. The Venetian ambassador said she was of “middling stature” and Sander said she was “rather tall in stature”. One of her favourite chaplains felt that Bessie Blount was more beautiful, although Anne was quite pretty. Much of this lukewarm praise would have been due to the fact that she was the opposite of the aforesaid contemporary ideal.In all honesty, the following description of Anne Boleyn is ridiculous; the culmination of a legend built up by Roman Catholics who blamed her for the break with Rome.


Therefore, it owes much to the deeply ingrained idea that evil people had hideous exteriors, very much like Richard III’s alleged hunchback. However, it goes a long way to illuminate the degree to which Anne was slandered long after her death.Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice.


She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth.1



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