Anne Boleyn’s famous B necklace–a gold B with three attached teardrop pearls hanging from a choker-length strand of round pearls. We all know it well. Almost every actress who has played Anne Boleyn has worn one on screen. It is frequently used on book covers. It is on its own shirt in the Tower of London gift shop. It is also the logo for my page here.
I have been asked many times “what happened to the original?”. In short, we have no idea. We can’t even be sure of how frequently she wore it.
There are many portraits that show Anne wearing the necklace, but no portraits exist (that we know of!) that were painted during her lifetime. The only contemporary likeness we have of her is the medal in the British Museum, in which she is wearing a cross, rather than the B necklace.
We do, however, have the John Hoskins miniature portrait of Anne. In his amazing book, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives states that the Hoskins miniature is “the best depiction of Anne we are ever likely to have, failing the discovery of new material”. Though this miniature was painted in the 17th century, Eric Ives believed that it was based on “an ancient original”–that perhaps the painter had access to an original portrait that had been done by Holbein during Anne’s lifetime! This “lost” portrait is said to have been owned by a Lord Lumley (an art collector who may have tucked the painting away rather than destroying it after Anne’s death) in 1590 (there was an inventory of his property when he was in dispute with Queen Elizabeth I over a financial debt) and existed until 1773, when it seems to have vanished. Perhaps it’s still out there somewhere…Perhaps we are so familiar with these newer paintings of Anne that we do not even recognize her true image and have mislabeled contemporary portraits of her…but in it, she wears the B necklace.
Do we think of the B necklace as something that Anne wore frequently because of the many copies of her likeness in which she wears it, and the many actresses that sported their own version in various shows and films, or was it really a favorite piece of jewelry?
“The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives, 2004, p. 43