Stamping Makes History: Anne Boleyn’s Nidd Hall Portrait

Our personal feelings aside, it’s not every day that the art of stamping makes history, but in this case, it has!

Pop quiz!

Who was the first ever English Queen to be executed?

The answer? None other than Anne Boleyn. For fans of Showtime’s The Tudors, Natalie Portman, novelist Phillipa Gregory, Hilary Mantle and her Wolf’s Hall book series (now TV mini series) or just history buffs in general, the name Anne Boleyn may ring a bell or two. For those of you unfamiliar, Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, who among other things, is most widely known for his six wives and his fathering of Queen Elizabeth I.

Bonus Question: What did she look like?

The answer? No one really knows. In regards to Anne, Henry attempted to erase every trace of Anne that had ever existed. Portraits were burned, decorations and personal touches to her apartments were tossed, jewelry and personal effects were burned, melted down or given to her family. Not even the court records to her trial were preserved. To this day, very few of Anne’s personal artifacts have surfaced and only a couple of remnants remain of her time as Queen. Besides her prayer book, and the letters she received from Henry, one of the more famous remnants is the interwoven H and A in the ceiling of Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, the other exists in a single piece of lead known as The Moost Happi Medal.

The Moost Happi Medal, though worn and damaged with time and with age (dated 1534), depicts the only undisputed image of Anne Boleyn. And even though a simple Google search of her name will bring up countless portraits, they were all based on women who may have looked like her in some aspects, her daughter Elizabeth, or on the few written accounts of her appearance mostly provided by the Ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor Chapuys, and done after her death. When her daughter Elizabeth became Queen, portraits of Anne became popular again and as a result, had to be commissioned and therefore no longer an accurate representation of what she actually looked like.

Anne Boleyn Nidd Hall Portrait Stamping technology
Anne Boleyn Nidd Hall Portrait

So how does stamping factor into all of this? Recently, another portrait that researchers and historians have long fought over, has been attributed to Anne Boleyn. The Nidd Hall Portrait (dated late 1500’s), as it has been called, has been widely believed to resemble Anne’s successor Jane Seymour and not Anne herself. It is thanks to modern facial recognition technology that this portrait is now considered to be one of Anne. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, as well as a variety of other sources, the developer of this particular software, Dr. Roy Chowdbury of the University of California at Riverside, is to thank for this momentous historical find. According to the article, the software “uses a verifiable portrait – in this case the Moost Happi medal – to find certain hallmark features that can be recognised in another picture. In this way, the program works out the statistical odds of a disputed portrait actually portraying the individual it claims to be.” In the case of the Nidd Hall Portrait, the software deemed it a match to the medal.

So how was this medal created in the first place? First a mold would have been created, then the hot metal poured into the mold and struck with a hammer, thus creating the stamped image. And even though the medal is damaged it is possible for scientists and artists to recreate the image that originally existed by using clues that still remain on the medal itself. It wasn’t until about 1550 that the German made screw press was invented, therefore this medal would have had to be made the old fashioned way.

So why all the hullabaloo? For a woman who has occupied the minds of everyone from Kings, the Catholic Church, and the common people for all these centuries after her death, very little is actually known about her – not even the exact year of her birth. So for those Tudor-era history buffs out there – any new light that can be shed on the key players, times, and events is extremely exciting. And who can blame them? After 500 years, there aren’t too many new discoveries that come to light – but when they do, it really makes an impression for the ages!


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