Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I

There have been more books on Elizabeth I than you could count on your fingers and toes (even if you had the extra finger that her enemies ascribed to Anne Boleyn) and almost as many about Anne. This, so far as I know, is the first to look comprehensively at the relationship between them.

The standard view is that Elizabeth never mentioned her mother, studiously ignored Anne’s brief period as queen, and that the only indication Elizabeth ever gave that she had not sprung from her father’s forehead, as Athena, the goddess of wisdom, sprang from that of Zeus, was her marked preference for her mother’s kin in her selection of her household.

Borman’s painstaking research has completely upended this thesis. By a minute examination of such divers sources as the Exchequer Rolls, the New Year Gift Rolls, the symbolism of her portraits, and the careers of the religious evangelicals whom Anne had favoured, Borman identifies that Elizabeth’s commitment to her mother’s memory was deep-seated, persistent, and heartfelt, even if it was simultaneously subtle, understated, and intensely personal rather than public.

The falcon badge, which Anne began to use at the time of her elevation to the marquisate of Pembroke proliferated in iconography of Elizabeth. The queen’s famous motto, Semper Eadem, was, according to Borman, previously used by Anne. Most intriguing of all, because probably the least known, was Elizabeth’s adoption of the armillary sphere as one of her emblems. It is almost imperceptibly present in the famous Ditchley Portrait of 1592 as an earring, and only slightly more noticeable in the Rainbow Portrait, where it rests on top of the serpent’s head. Previously, it had been used by Anne in a location which I won’t tell you, in case it spoils the pleasure of reading about it.

These hints and delicate allusions to her mother, all the while that Elizabeth publicly reiterated her admiration of her father, indicate that her feelings about her parents were much more nuanced than is generally supposed.

In Borman’s accomplished hands, the book makes its case quickly and smoothly – the information is compelling, but never over-burdens us with minutiae. There is little speculation, the facts are allowed to speak for themselves. What comes through most strongly, is Elizabeth’s commitment to Anne’s religious reforming zeal. Whilst Anne should not, as Borman notes, be called a Protestant, her eager evangelism influenced Elizabeth beyond the grave, even if Elizabeth herself probably did not have the strong faith that Anne demonstrated, she consistently advanced men in her church who shared Anne’s vision.

Elizabeth famously said that she had ‘the heart and stomach of a king’, but Borman convincingly shows us that she had the intellect and determination of her mother, as well.