A royal badge

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein (Royal Collection)

This fireback stands in a house in Woodchurch, in Kent. Its somewhat plain appearance belies a connection with one of the great dramas of Tudor England. For on its surface are three impressions of the badge of Anne Boleyn, which is first known from the Letters Patent raising Anne to the peerage as Lady Marquess of Pembroke in 1532, eight months before she married Henry VIII and became his second queen. Later, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, would also use it.

The badge shows a crowned falcon holding a sceptre and standing on an oak tree stump from which are issuing red and white roses. As with heraldic badges in general, Anne’s badge comprises several symbolic elements: the falcon represented the earldom of Ormonde to which her father, Thomas, was heir; the tree stump or ‘woodstock’ may refer to Henry VIII’s Plantagenet lineage, the manor of that name being a significant royal property for centuries; and the red and white roses signify the houses of Lancaster and York from which Henry was descended through his father, Henry VII, and his mother, Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV.

Hever Castle, Kent

While the badges on the fireback had been placed carefully in the sand mould, the initials ‘T’ and ‘B’ appear to have been added as an afterthought, perhaps to a subsequent casting. The ‘B’ is a bit odd, and looks as though it could have been a pair of shackles were it not a mere 8.6cm high. Whatever was used it was certainly not from a traditional character set; other instances are known of objects being employed as a substitute for letters on firebacks. The obvious question is, whose initials were they? The ‘B’ invites the assumption that it stands for Boleyn, the ‘T’ perhaps for Anne’s father, and that this fireback once stood in the Boleyn family’s seat at Hever Castle, 40 miles from Woodchurch. But we will probably never know.

And finally the slots cut into the bottom of the fireback. They are seen in a variety of forms on a small number of backs, and are to accommodate andirons, or iron firedogs, on which burning logs would be placed.