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Could Anne Boleyn have gone to Margaret of Austria’s court at the age of 6?

Thank you to Laurie for asking this Anne Boleyn question. Laurie's full question was: "Regarding the birthdate of Anne, if it is 1507, as opposed to 1501, as many historians actually believe, this would make her only 6 years old when she is sent to the court of Margaret of Austria in 1513! As this is quite a bit younger than the average age when girls were sent to foreign courts, how is this explained?"

As I (Claire Ridgway) have been researching Anne's life now for eight years, I figured that I could answer this one. However, I go with a 1501 birthdate for Anne Boleyn so, in the interests of being fair, I am also providing a link to an article written by Gareth Russell, who believes that Anne was born in 1507. Gareth and I agree on most things but we agree to disagree on that!

As Laurie states, Anne Boleyn was sent to the court of Margaret of Austria in the summer of 1513 when she was either 12 or six, depending on whether she was born in 1501 or 1507, the two main birthdates put forward by historians. Her father, Thomas Boleyn, had got to know Margaret well after being sent to her court as an ambassador in 1512, and so was able to secure a place for Anne as one of 18 filles d'honneur appointed at this time. Now, the usual age for a fille d'honneur was 12, so that would obviously fit a 1501 birthdate, but historians who argue for 1507 point out that Anne Boleyn was not the only girl of that age sent to Margaret of Austria's court around that time. The other girl in question is Anne Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Anne Browne, who they say was born in 1507 and who joined Margaret's household in 1514. However, there is also controversy regarding Anne Brandon's birthdate. When I researched Anne Brandon, I found that her mother, Anne Browne, was pregnant in 1503, when Charles Brandon abandoned her to marry her aunt, Dame Margaret Mortimer, and that although some sources state that this pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, others state that it resulted in the birth of Anne Brandon. Anne Brandon could, therefore have been 10/11 when she travelled to Mechelen. It seems that both Annes have a question mark over their date of birth.

You can read the arguments for and against 1501 and 1507 in the following articles:

The reason I'm in the 1501 camp is actually because of Anne Boleyn being chosen to serve Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and Queen Claude. Even if Anne had joined Margaret of Austria's court at the age of six, I just cannot see any good reason for her being chosen, at the age of seven, to serve Mary Tudor during her marriage to Louis XII of France and then being retained by the new Queen of France, Queen Claude, following Louis' death and Francis I's accession.

Further reading on the subject:

  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • The Anne Boleyn Collection II by Claire Ridgway
  • "The Youth of Anne Boleyn" by Hugh Paget, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LIV (1981).
  • "Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence" by Retha Warnicke, The Historical Journal, Vol.28, No. 4, Dec. 1985.

Claire Ridgway is the creator of The Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society, and the author of seven history books including The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, The Anne Boleyn Collection and The Anne Boleyn Collection II. Claire is the co-author of George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat and she has written a course, "The Life of Anne Boleyn", for

There are 7 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    Why would an obscure daughter of an English knight be chosen anyway to serve Margaret of Austria? Yes, Thomas Boleyn was as an ambassador and he must have talked Anne up to the Archduchess because she told him he must send his charming daughter to him. Anne is traditionally placed at the court in the Netherlands, but when and at what age? Was she there in 1513 to 1514 when she went to France or a year before as traditional? Say she did go as is believed in 1512/3, then it makes more sense that she was twelve rather than six or seven. Not being funny but what use was a seven years old in a sophisticated foreign court? Lesser noble families did send children as wards and for education, but it was another noble family with more importance and local influence, not abroad and they were typically male and older. Girls were sent away again older on rare occasions. You simply didn’t pack a six year old off on a sea voyage of a few days, having travelled south for a few days or East to Hull, then overland for another few days or couple of weeks, to a foreign country, when they didn’t know the language and to learn difficult etiquette. I really don’t understand historians as renowned as Gareth Russell and I have read his article and other articles, still insisting that Anne Boleyn was born in 1507. And why on earth would the eighteen years old Mary Tudor take a seven year old with her to France? You normally had ladies not too far off your own age as companions and older ladies to mentor and watch the young ladies. The older or great ladies were senior members of the nobility. Few if any would be under 12 or 13. I accept Anne Boleyn was born in 1501_or 1502 and internal examination of her letter home to her father shows the language cytex are complex and favour a young lady of twelve plus, not a seven year old child. A girl was considered a woman at this age and the move to Brussels could represent her coming out or finishing before finding a husband in another couple of years. It was another lucky break that Mary married Louis and Mary and Anne Boleyn were moved to gain further experience and Anne must have shown great promise as Queen Claude asked for her to stay on and she moved to her moral court. Mary came home before her sister and was married in 1520 to William Carew. Anne most certainly would have been married in her mid to late teens, but for the fact that she moved to the Court of Queen Claude. It is highly likely that both her father’s connection to the Court as Henry’s Ambassador and a noticeable intelligence which persuaded the very scholarly Claude to choose Anne, then about fifteen as one of her ladies. The young Queen of France was not much older and Anne and Mary would be in the right age group. Anne was allowed to remain until 1522 when she herself came home with s view for marriage. She burst forth on the English Court and the sisters were noticed by King Henry. This could also point to an earlier dob as Mary Boleyn became the King’s mistress between 1520 and 1523 and their relationship may have lasted a couple of years. Anne herself had drawn Henry’s eye no later than 1526. It is possible that he first became attracted to her in 1525 but by 1526 they had a full on relationship. Had Anne been born in 1507 she would be only eighteen when she agreed to marry King Henry, hardly the edge of his preferred age group. If Mary was born in 1508 or 1506_ she too would be younger than his preferred age group. One more piece of evidence contradicted claims that Anne and Mary were born later and that is the testimony of their father. Writing some years later Sir Thomas Boleyn reported his satisfaction with his wife, Elizabeth Howard, sister to the third Duke of Norfolk who he married in 1498/9 and says that she bore him a child every year. We know that the couple had at least five children, with two sons dying young. All of their children must have been born between 1500 and 1505/6. It has been speculated that Mary and Anne were born in 1501 and 1502 and were a few years older than George, their younger brother, back in England. Their tragic brothers, Henry and Thomas were about three and eight when they died. However, evidence suggests they too were born in these early yesrs of marriage. Anne in her letter home spoke of conversation with Queen Katherine and reception by the Queen of England and how wise and virtuous a person the Queen was. This letter is claimed to be written by a child of seven or eight!!! Why would Katherine of Aragon want conversation with a child of eight? Why would she invite to her service a girl of less than 13_or 14_or even 15? In the 1520 to 1522 period Katherine was 38 and apart from a brief welcome to these girls as. the daughters of a courtier, there are no reasons for a mature Queen to have them as her ladies. When they came into Katherine’s service in the early 1520s, it makes far more sense that they were in their late teens to early twenties. I just cannot think that a late birthday of 1507 makes any real sense for her arrival in France or the Netherlands.

    1. C - Post Author

      Both Thomas Boleyn and Charles Brandon had good relationships with Margaret of Austria, Brandon quite a flirtatious one, and Margaret accepted their daughters into her household. Perhaps she liked the sound of their daughters or just had such good relationships with the men, it’s hard to know, but both Annes went.

      We know that Anne Boleyn was definitely at Margaret of Austria’s court and we know when she was there (Thomas was sent to Margaret of Austria’s court in 1512 and 1513, and his letter recalling Anne is dated 14th August 1514). I know one author tried to claim that Anne did not go to either Mechelen or the French court, but we have documents that say she did. We have Margaret’s letter to Thomas Boleyn thanking him for sending his daughter, then we have “Bullan” appearing on a list of “filles d’honneur”, then Anne’s letter to her father whch includes a mention of Symmonet, a member of the ducal household, and finally Thomas Boleyn’s letter to Margaret recalling Anne to serve Mary Tudor. And I agree with you, I cannot understand why a girl of seven would be chosen as one of Mary’s attendants or to stay on in France.

      I think there are valid reasons to consider a 1507 birthdate – Gareth Russell and Retha Warnicke go with that – but I find the evidence for around 1501, not necessarily 1501 exactly, and against 1507 more compelling. I believe that Mary was the eldest and then if we go with a marriage date of 1498/9 (based on the jointure) and then consider Thomas’s words about his wife giving him a child every year in the early years of their marriage, and the financial burden that caused, then it makes sense that the five Boleyn children were born between 1499 and 1505, when Thomas inherited Hever. A date of c.1504 makes sense for George, with what we know about him, so I would suggest c.1499 for Mary, 1500/01 for Anne and then Thomas and Henry fitting in between Anne and George, 1502 and 1503? We’ll never know for sure.
      I wish Thomas Boleyn had been like his grandson-in-law, Sir Francis Knollys, and recorded the birthdates of his children, but perhaps he did and we just don’t have that document. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know for sure?

      1. E

        I thought Charles Brandon married Margaret Neville first, and then married Anne Browne in 1508?

  2. W

    Isn’t it great to have these great discussions! I also go with 1507, and have written about it too:

  3. C

    I always used to believe that Anne was born in 1500-1, mostly because I was convinced by the arguments put forward by Eric Ives, Alison Weir, etc. The reason I am more inclined to think 1507, however, is because of William Camden’s use of official archives and government documents, assisted by Lord Burghley and possibly by Queen Elizabeth herself. I really struggle to believe that the queen would not have known her own mother’s age. Moreover, even if we say that Camden erred and misdated Anne’s birth, surely Burghley – on the queen’s behalf – could have corrected him, especially if he had misplaced her birth by as many as six or seven years.

    A separate source also provides the 1507 birth date, and Jane Dormer, as Mary I’s attendant, was in a good place to know the truth, because it is hardly likely that Mary was unaware of her stepmother’s age. It is for this reason, coupled with the exhaustive research and use of official documents by Camden, that makes me think 1507 is the likelier date.

    1. T

      I’m no expert on these matters, but in an era when many people’s births were unrecorded, Anne could have lied about her age, especially if she was youthful looking. There is a possibility that she did not know her actual date of birth.

  4. L

    Thanks Claire and everyone for weighing in on this! Very interesting to read the different positions!

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Could Anne Boleyn have gone to Margaret of Austria’s court at the age of 6?