The reign of the House of Tudor in England has been the subject of a lot of films and TV series, the more recent of which include BBC Films’ The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) based on the novel by Philippa Gregory and Showtime’s The Tudors which ran from 2007 to 2010.
In both the film and TV series, Anne Boleyn’s famous “B” pendant hung from a pearl choker. Natalie Portman’s pearls in The Other Boleyn Girl (above) were smaller than Natalie Dormer’s in The Tudors but, whatever the size of the pearls, the “B” pendant hung from a pearl choker.
I never really paid much attention until recently. I find the pendant hideous. A small initial pendant might look cute on a young child but a huge one on a grown woman? And a queen at that. But then again, choosing jewelry is a matter of taste. And, considering the history of Anne Boleyn and how the twisted sense of family was ingrained in her and her siblings, the “B” pendant may have more significance than what the eye sees.
Costume and production design in period movies and TV series always entail a lot of research before clothes and accessories are created to ensure authenticity. It is hard to call something “historical” if things like architecture and costume are all wrong. In fact, costume and production design are so important that they are part of the major awards given annually.
And that brings me to the question as to whether Anne Boleyn’s “B” pendant really hung from a pearl choker as depicted in the movie and TV series.
Costume research is based on historical accounts, oral and written, and surviving artistic depictions like paintings and sculptures. How Anne Boleyn’s necklace looked like is based largely on portraits of her wearing it. Tudor England, after all, came much, much earlier than the invention of film photography and even much earlier than Instagram and Facebook.
The obvious question, of course, is how accurate the portraits are considering that the final outcome relied heavily on artistic interpretation. A website called Internetstones observes that Anne Boleyn was wearing a pearl rope (longer than 35 inches) and “part of the long necklace is wound around the neck like a choker.” This observation is boosted by the fact that in Anne Boleyn’s portraits, the pearls do appear to be of uniform size.
Obviously, the costume designers of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors do not share this view.
In The Tudors, when Anne Boleyn posed for a portrait wearing her “B” necklace, the pendant was suspended from a pearl choker and she was wearing a separate pearl rope. To make the two necklaces more distinct from one another, the pearls in the choker are much smaller than the ones in the rope.
Noteworthy is an article in Hathaways of Haworth (an entertaining history blog) on the costuming problems of The Tudors.
Even more interesting is what the “B” stands for. The obvious answer would be “Boleyn” but there is a theory that the “B” stands for Brandon and that the woman in the portrait wearing it is Mary Tudor, sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn, who became Queen of France upon her marriage to Louis XII and who became Mary Tudor Brandon after her marriage to Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk upon the death of Louis.
Although there were no firmly authenticated portraits of Jane Grey or Anne Boleyn known to copyists, a pool of portraits of unidentified women dating from the reign of Henry VIII still existed. As was common, these original paintings were not labelled and … the identities of the sitters were generally problematic. Yet for copyists in need of an image, clues within and without seem to have encouraged them to arrive at speculative identifications. The face pattern generally chosen for Jane Grey was Kateryn Parr and the face pattern chosen for Anne Boleyn was Mary Rose Tudor…
An even more detailed discussion is found in Would the real Anne Boleyn please come forward?