On the 4th of March 1522, the English court enjoyed a masked ball and pageant in honour of the Imperial ambassadors. This event is traditionally considered the day of Anne Boleyn’s official debut at the court.
Anne had grown up in the Low Countries and France for many years before she was recalled to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin, James Butler, for the purpose of resolving a dispute over the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond. In France, she had served Queen Claude of France, who was genuinely aggrieved with the necessity to say farewell to Anne.
It seems that upon her return to England, Anne arrived at the court and became Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting. She was fully entitled to be at the court thanks to her father’s position of ambassador, her birth in one of the most respectable noble families in Tudor England (though some of her ancestors on her father’s line were merchants), and her highly specific training of courtly manners, which she had received at in France. The young, charming, and exotically beautiful lady was destined to shine and blossom in the splendour of the royal court.
As Catherine’s new lady, Anne probably needed time to adapt to her new life in England, which she might have found quite boring as compared to what she was accustomed to see in France. In her lifetime, Anne was often described by her enemies and adversaries as a Frenchwoman because she liked everything French: her manners and her fashion style were predominantly French. Anne had a gift of arousing strong feelings towards herself – admiration and dedication or loathing and envy, and, even before her official debut at the court, she might have already attracted attention of other ladies to herself.
On Shrovetide (the modern Shrove Tuesday), masques, jousts, and other celebrations took place. At the royal court, it was usually marked by celebrations and a play in the King’s Hall, but in 1522 the celebrations were more opulent and complex: there was a joust on the 2nd of March and a revel on the night of Shrove Tuesday itself, on the 4th of March. Anne must have attended the joust and all the celebrations, but her debut was still ahead.
On the Shrove Tuesday revel, the festivities continued. It was a special day because the envoys of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were the honoured guests of Cardinal Wolsey at York Place (later known as Whitehall Palace).
Dressed in cloth of gold caps and blue satin cloaks, Henry VIII and his companions, each of them in a joyful mood, laid siege to the Château Vert, which was “defended” by eight ladies, each of whom impersonated one of the virtues of an ideal wife or mistress and had the name of her virtue embroidered in gold on her caul or hair-net of silk.
The eight ladies included: Beauty, Honour, Perseverance, Kindness, Constance, Bounty, Mercy and Pity. Underneath the fortress, there were more ladies – Danger, Disdain, Jealousy, Unkindness, Scorn, Sharp Tongue, and Strangeness dressed in black.
David Starkey writes about “the female defence” of the castle:
“The ladies of the Castle were the crème de la crème of the Tudor Court. They were led by Henry’s sister Mary, Queen Dowager of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Then came Gertrude, daughter of Lord Mountjoy and wife of Henry’s cousin, the Earl of Devon. And in third place, immediately after these two royal ladies, was ‘Mrs Anne Boleyn’”.
Anne Boleyn appeared played Perseverance, while Mary Boleyn was Kindness. She was a newcomer in England, and she was already at the centre of the court life, selected to play one of the eight virtues.
Why was Anne chosen for her role? Masques like the Château Vert pageant were intended to please and entertain the audience, including the foreign ambassadors invited for the festivities. Although she was new at the court, Anne stood out among all other English noblewomen: her exotic and seductive looks, her outstanding skills as a dancer, and her impeccable French manners explain her selection for the role of Perseverance.
Chronicler Edward Hall recorded the Château Vert pageant, describing it as an opulent and fascinating spectacle:
“On shrouetewesdaie at night, the said Cardinall to the kyng and ambassadors made another supper, and after supper thei came into a great chamber hanged with Arras, and there was a clothe of estate, and many braunches, and on euery braunche. xxxii. torchettes of waxe, and in the nether ende of thesame chamber was a castle, in which was a principall Tower, in which was a Cresset burning: and two other lesse Towers stode on euery side, warded
and embattailed, and on euery Tower was a banner, one banner was of iii. rent hartes, the other was a ladies hand gripyng a mans harte, the third banner was a ladies hand turnyng a mannes hart: this castle was kept with ladies of straunge names, the first Beautie, the second Honor, the third Perseueraunce, the fourth Kyndnes, the fifth Constance, the sixte Bountie, the seuenthe Mercie, and the eight Pitie: these eight ladies had Millian gounes of white sattin, euery Lady had her name embraudered with golde, on their heddes calles, and Millein bonettes of gold, with Iwelles. Vnder nethe the basse fortresse of the castle were other eight ladies, whose names were, Dangier, Disdain, Gelousie, Vnkyndenes, Scorne, Malebouche, Straungenes, these ladies were tired like to women of Inde.
Then entered eight Lordes in clothe of golde cappes and all, and great mantell clokes of blewe sattin, these lordes were named. Amorus, Noblenes, Youth, Attendance, Loyaltie, Pleasure, Gentlenes, and Libertie, the kyng was chief of this compaignie, this compainie was led by one all in crimosin sattin with burnyng flames of gold, called Ardent.
Desire, whiche so moued the Ladies to geue ouer the Castle, but Scorne and Disdain saied they would holde the place, then Desire saied the ladies should be wonne and came and encoraged the knightes, then the lordes ranne to the castle, (at whiche tyme without was shot a greate peale of gunnes) and the ladies defended the castle with Rose water and Comfittes and the lordes threwe in Dates and Orenges, and other fruites made for pleasure but at the last the place was wonne, but Lady Scorne and her compaignie stubbernely defended them with boows and balles, till they were dnuen out of the place and fled. Then the lordes toke the ladies of honor as prisoners by the handes, and brought them doune, and daunced together verie pleasauntly, which much pleased the straungers, and when thei had
daunced their fill then all these disuisered themselfes and wer knowen: and then was there a costlv banket, and when all was done, the straungiers tooke their leaue of the king and the Cardinal and so departed into Flaunders, geuyng to the kyng muche commendacion.”
In the Showtime’s “The Tudors”, Henry sees Anne at the Château Vert pageant and quickly falls for her, but this is only the show’s storyline. In reality, we don’t know when the king began to notice Anne and fall in love with her, but it seems that it happened several years later than the Shrove Tuesday of 1522, when he still might have kept Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, as his mistress (the exact dates of their alleged love affair are not know for certain).
Anne and Henry might have noticed one other, but it is unlikely that their interaction was long. On that day, Anne was in the centre of the court life for the first time. She would never be in shadows: soon she would become a scandal of the court, England, and Christendom when Henry would begin to pursue her and later would be determined to marry her.
On the day of the Château Vert pageant, Anne stepped on the path to her greatness in England, which, however, had such an endlessly tragic end.