The Other Anne Boleyn

Two Anne’s. One fighting for her Queen-ship, the other head of Princess Mary’s household.

They may have shared the same name, but it seems very unlikely they would have shared a friendship. 

During the early 16th Century (and prior to one of them being decapitated!) there were two Anne Boleyn’s ‘treading the boards’ at the royal Court. Anne was a popular name in the Boleyn family and Queen Anne Boleyn’s Aunt, who later married Lord Shelton, shared the same name.

The not-so-famous Anne Boleyn was the elder sister of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and an aunt of his daughter, Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII.

Anne was born at Blickling, Norfolk, the daughter of Sir William Boleyn and his wife, Lady Margaret Butler. In 1503, at the age of 28, she married Sir John Shelton and became Lady Shelton.

In 1533 she and her sister, Lady Alice Clere, were placed in charge of the household of her niece’s stepdaughter, Princess Mary, who famously refused to recognise the royal marriage.

In February 1534 Anne wrote to Lady Shelton to ensure that Mary no longer used her title of princess, telling her to “slap her face as the cursed bastard that she was” if she persisted. There is some evidence that Lady Shelton was harsh towards the young Mary, often taunting her with Elizabeth’s higher status, but it is widely believed that she never resorted to actually hitting the young girl to chastise her. It is actually thought that because Lady Shelton lived in terror that people would think she had poisoned the elder princess if she fell ill, she actually began to befriend her charge.

By the time of the Queen’s arrest in 1536 the two Anne’s had become further estranged. Five women were appointed to serve Queen Anne while she was imprisoned in the Tower.  Lady Shelton was among them, but due to Henry VIII’S recent affair with her daughter, Mary Shelton, Anne Boleyn made it known that she was an unwelcome companion. Sir William Kingston described the five as “honest and good women”, but Queen Anne said that it was “a great unkindness in the King to set such about me as I have never loved”.

However, despite a lack of a friendship between the two Anne Boleyn’s, when Princess Elizabeth was persecuted during her sister Queen Mary’s reign, she fled to Sir John and Lady Shelton for protection. She was later secreted in the tower of Shelton Church when Sir John’s mansion was not sufficient protection. When Elizabeth was crowned she summoned Sir John’s family to the Palace where his descendants lived during her reign.

Sir John Shelton died on 21 December 1539 at the age of 62 and Lady Shelton lived on to 1555.

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