Anne Boleyn is always a controversial topic. Questions about her love life have long been debated studied by scholars in their ivory towers but along with her reputed “lovers,” she took many of her secrets to the grave. However, it appears that she may have taken a startlingly pragmatic approach to keeping her royal suitor satisfied during the years of abstinence, from 1527 to 1532. Apparently Anne Boleyn employed a body double. She was of “myddle height… well formyd and fayre” and her name was Amber Lynn.
Amber Lynn’s real name is not known. That which she used in her professional life was clearly chosen to mirror the name of Henry’s love, when Amber first appeared in a brothel in Cokke Lane, an alleyway leading from Cheapside down to the Thames. She was the most famous prostitute in London from around 1528 and there are suggestions that she visited court on several occasions, and that Henry’s courtiers wore disguises when they sailed down river to Cokke Lane. Did Anne turn a blind eye when Henry indulged? A poem found scrawled on the back of some of her household receipts implies she did far more. She may even have paid Amber’s expenses. The verse reads:
Sche dwellys in Cheapside in the nighte
Well formyd and fayre, of myddle height
And even yf you loathe thys dittye
You’ll find Mistress Amber Lynn is prettye.
A winsome smile, two dazzling eyes
Her pretty foote ys a surprise.
Most royally entertained and seen
She takes the place of Kyngis’ Quene.
After some satire levelled at various bishops of the era, the verse continues. There is also the interesting use of the description “crowe,” suggesting that Amber was dark haired, but echoing some of the more guttural and anamorphic insults directed at the future queen.
To Whitehall makes this crowe her waye
And tarries there with Kynges to playe
While Quenes look on with fires cooled
To see their lovers hotly schooled.
And in the end they pay and frown.
A costly way to win a crown.
The author of these verses has yet to be identified. It was clearly the work of some court insider, clearly a literate individual, although it is not great literature: perhaps a gentleman of the court who was privately critical of the King. If Anne was willing to allow Henry to have his fun with a woman who resembled her so closely, it would imply quite a different reading of her character. She would seem more cynical, more ambitious and focussed on gaining the crown at all costs. Perhaps she was simply being pragmatic, employing a woman who would not pose a threat to her, just as some have suggested she later encouraged her cousin Madge Shelton to submit to Henry’s advances. Maybe it was a question of better the devil you know. It also takes something of the romance out of her story. Alternatively, this inept ditty might all be lies, one more example of the force of contemporary feeling against Anne. Perhaps someone in the household of Princess Mary scribbled it down for their amusement, or it was an attempt to discredit Anne in popular eyes. In any case, it failed.
Amber Lynn disappears from history in 1532. She may have married, as there are a John and Amber Breakwynde listed as taking on the tenancy of an Inn in Southwark that August. Perhaps the loss of her body double encouraged Anne to finally take the plunge and submit to the King. Perhaps this just lifts the lid on the Tudor underworld; perhaps it just lifts the lid of a box of frogs.
Six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Hodge, John Records of the Deep: Life under Water
Munn, Llewellyn How to Live on £5 a week
Watson, Dr Eating People May Not be so Wrong After All.
Jeff R Vescent is sparkling away in the sunshine, drinking yam juice and knitting a stocking.