Anne Boleyn first joined the English court on 4 March 1522 when she participated in the Chateau Vert pageant organised by Cardinal Wolsey. Though Henry VIII was also present and participated in the performance, their encounter was hardly love at first sight.
The pageant took place in the Great Chamber of York Place, the Cardinal’s London townhouse in Westminster. The room had been specially decorated for the spectacle with arras and torches and with the ‘Green Castle’ standing at one end of the chamber. The castle would have glistened in the torch light as the battlements of its three towers were covered in tiny pieces of green tinfoil. In the castle’s towers stood eight ladies dressed in white satin. Their names – Beauty, Honour, Perseverance, Kindness, Constance, Bounty, Mercy, and Pity – were embroidered in gold on their dresses. Anne Boleyn played the role of Perseverance and her sister, Mary, the role of Kindness. The ladies were guarded by young choir boys playing the role of the seven vices – Danger, Disdain, Jealousy, Vindictiveness, Scorn, Malebouche and Strangeness.
The pageant began with the entrance of eight lords dressed in blue satin and cloth of gold. The men, who represented the courtly male virtues – Amoress, Nobleness, Youth, Attendance, Loyalty, Pleasure, Gentleness and Liberty – asked for the ladies’ freedom. This request was refused so with Henry VIII at the lead, the men attacked. The lords threw dates, oranges “and other fruites made for pleasure” whilst the ladies defended the castle with rose water and “comfittes”. Eventually the Vices surrendered and the lords took the ladies by their hands and led them out of the castle to dance.
No evidence survives indicating that Anne made any impression on the King during this performance. At the time of the pageant, Henry was just beginning his affair with Anne’s older sister, Mary, and it was not until years later that Henry began showing an interest towards the younger Boleyn. However, Anne’s role as Perseverance seems appropriate considering her refusal to settle for the position of mistress and her eventual rise to queen. The location of her debut is even more fitting. York Place was transformed into Whitehall Palace by Henry VIII in 1530 as Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour. Anne Boleyn was the first queen to live at Whitehall Palace and the building works that transformed Wolsey’s townhouse into one of the greatest palaces in Europe were as much her doing as they were Henry’s.
Though hidden from sight, physical reminders of Anne Boleyn’s ‘perseverance’ still survive in modern Whitehall. In fact, part of the building in which the Chateau Vert was held still exists! The Great Chamber was built on top of a ground-floor wine cellar. This crypt survived the many building schemes at Whitehall Palace as well as the fire that brought an end to the palace in 1698. In the 1940s the cellar was moved to make way for the new Ministry of Defence building. In an incredible feat of engineering, the cellar was lifted up, shifted westwards and then lowered into the ground with the Ministry of Defence built on top of it. The cellar still survives underneath this governmental building, although it isn’t used to store wine anymore!
We are working on a new project that will bring Whitehall Palace to life again by digitally transforming Whitehall’s modern streets into the rooms, gardens, courtyards and passages of the once great Tudor and Stuart palace. The Lost Palace will open as a new visitor offer at the Banqueting House in summer 2016.
By Anni Mantyniemi , Curatorial Assistant, Banqueting House