Wooden Falcon Sold for $101 Originally Belonged to Anne Boleyn

The discovery is striking because Henry VIII removed almost all traces of his second queen following her execution in 1536

gilded falcon carving
A supporter of the doomed Tudor queen may have hidden the falcon following Anne's downfall. Courtesy of Paul Fitzsimmons / Marhamchurch Antiques

A carved wooden falcon sold at auction for just $101 in 2019 was once owned by doomed Tudor queen Anne Boleyn, a new analysis suggests. The artifact’s true value is estimated at around $270,000, reports Dalya Alberge for the Observer

When dealer Paul Fitzsimmons of Marhamchurch Antiques first spotted the gilded oak bird, it was covered in a black layer of what may have been soot. Still, he instantly realized that it was a valuable object.

“I didn’t know immediately that it was the badge of Anne Boleyn,” he tells the Observer. “But I knew that it had some sort of royal connection because it had the crown and scepter, and it was a royal bird.”

Fitzsimmons zeroed in on the falcon’s origins by matching it with a drawing from Hampton Court Palace, a former home of Henry VIII, report Hannah Ryan and Katharina Krebs for CNN. The mercurial English king famously had Anne beheaded in 1536, after just three years of marriage.

A near-contemporary painting of Anne Boleyn
A near-contemporary painting of Anne Boleyn Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“This discovery is hugely significant,” Tracy Borman, chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, which manages Hampton Court, tells CNN. “Artifacts relating to Anne Boleyn are incredibly rare, thanks to the fact that Henry VIII wanted all traces of her removed from his palaces after her execution in 1536.”

Fitzsimmons plans to offer the falcon to Hampton Court on a long-term loan, ensuring that it “gets back to the right location where it should be,” as he says to CNN.

According to On the Tudor Trail, a blog run by researcher Natalie Grueninger, Anne was associated with the image of a white falcon because her father, Thomas Boleyn, was the heir of the Butlers, earls of Ormonde, who used the falcon in their heraldic crests. Around the time Anne married Henry, she began using a badge depicting the falcon alighting on roses.

Borman says the bird is similar to others carved ahead of Anne’s ascension to the throne and was probably part of the palace’s decorative scheme. Henry may have failed to remove the other surviving falcon ornaments because they were located high up on the ceiling of Hampton Court’s Great Hall, where they escaped notice after being blackened by smoke. The newly discovered carving, on the other hand, was probably located in Anne’s private quarters and stashed away by one of the queen’s supporters following her downfall, per BBC News.

As Borman notes, the falcon differs from others found in the Great Hall in a significant way.

“This one wears an imperial crown,” she tells the Observer. “That was an absolute nod to the fact that Henry by now had got imperial ambitions. He was trying to supplant the pope’s authority, promoting himself as some kind of emperor rather than just a king.”

Henry is infamous for his six marriages. After his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, failed to provide him with a surviving male heir, the king sought a divorce. When Pope Clement VII refused to grant one, Henry broke from the Roman Catholic Church and married Anne. 

In 1536, Henry had Anne, whose only living child was the future Elizabeth I, executed on almost certainly false charges of adultery, incest and conspiring to kill her husband. As Meilan Solly wrote for Smithsonian magazine last year, Henry carefully orchestrated his wife’s death, choosing to have her beheaded with a sword rather than burned at the stake or executed with an ax.

Borman includes information about the new discovery in her forthcoming book Crown & Sceptre, a history of the British monarchy. 

“The irony is that Anne Boleyn is the most popular of the six wives and she’s probably the one with the least surviving evidence … because she was obliterated by Henry,” Borman tells the Observer. “So that makes this really quite special and obviously I’m very excited about it. When I realized how this absolutely would have fitted with the decorative scheme, I had a shivers-down-the-spine moment.”

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