Anne Boleyn adopted the white falcon as her heraldic emblem and had it prominently displayed until her execution in 1536.
In 2019, an “antique carved wooden bird” caught the eye of antiques dealer Paul Fitzsimmons. Because of the crown on its head, he suspected it had royal origins, so he quickly purchased it for £75, equivalent to about $100. To Fitzsimmons’ delight, the bird turned out to be the heraldic emblem of the doomed Anne Boleyn — and is likely worth £200,000 (over $250,000).
“It is really quite an incredible find because Anne Boleyn is probably the most famous woman of all time,” Fitzsimmons told CNN. “And Henry VIII did his utmost best to completely obliterate every trace of her. All her emblems were removed from the palace, and nothing survived.”
He added, “This is really quite spectacular because it is in perfect condition and it has got all its original gilding, all its original paint.”
Tracy Borman, a leading Tudor historian and joint chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, seconded Fitzsimmons’ excitement for the rare find.
“The irony is that Anne Boleyn is the most popular of the six wives and she’s probably the one with the least surviving evidence… because she was obliterated by Henry,” Borman said.
“So that makes this really quite special and obviously I’m very excited about it. When I realized how this absolutely would have fitted with the decorative scheme, I had a shivers-down-the-spine moment.”
The bird is a white falcon, Anne Boleyn’s heraldic emblem. It’s seated on a bed of Tudor roses, with a scepter in its talons and a crown on its head. Borman suspects it was once installed in Boleyn’s private apartments in Hampton Court Palace, even before she officially became the second wife of Henry VIII.
“It’s fascinating because all of this decorative scheme was before Anne actually became queen,” Borman explained. “But it’s when she and Henry had absolute ambition that she was about to become queen.”
Sadly, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s shared ambitions would soon splinter, as the king came to blame Boleyn for not providing him with a male heir.
By the time Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn around 1522, the king had grown desperate to have a son. He and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, had produced just one surviving child — Princess Mary, later Mary I of England.
In defiance of the Catholic Church, and determined to have a male heir, the king separated from Catherine in 1531 and married Boleyn two years later. But though his actions contributed to a schism between England and the Catholic Church, he and Boleyn also failed to have a son.
Over the course of Boleyn’s four pregnancies, she had three miscarriages and gave birth to one surviving daughter, Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I of England. And by 1536, the king decided that Boleyn would never give him what he wanted.
He and his advisors fabricated accusations of adultery, incest, and conspiracy against Boleyn and sent her to the Tower of London. On May 19, 1536, Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn beheaded — and promptly married his next wife, Jane Seymour, on May 30.
Hoping to erase Boleyn’s memory, the king also had all emblems of his former wife removed from his palaces — including the wooden bird that turned up at auction 483 years later.
“It is a remarkable survivor,” said Borman. “The really interesting thing is that somebody obviously wanted to save it for posterity. So it’s likely to have been a supporter of Anne.”
Fitzsimmons agreed, speculating that the bird was saved in the frantic, desperate hours before Anne Boleyn’s beheading.
“This could have been removed literally as Anne Boleyn was about to have her head cut off,” he said.
According to BBC, Fitzsimmons suspects that the bird could be sold for as much as £200,000, though “the actual figure is possibly much higher due to the fact it is an item that belonged to Henry VIII.”
However, he’s decided to return Anne Boleyn’s wooden bird to where it belongs — Hampton Court Palace.
“It really has to go back to Hampton Court Palace,” he said. “It does carry a huge value. But it’s not about the value.”
After reading about the wooden bird that belonged to Anne Boleyn, discover the story of Mary Boleyn, who also tried to woo King Henry VIII. Or, see how the king planned every detail of Anne Boleyn’s beheading.