Monday, February 27, 2012

Question from Patricia - Anne Boleyn's French

What do you think about Anne Boleyn’s handwriting “Le temps viendra, Je, Anne Boleyn”
Love, wedding, coronation, birth, death: According to you, when did she write it and what was she talking about when she wrote this note?
Anne was English and spoke French. "Je" sounds like a little mistake. She used it like "I" in English. In French, we say “Moi”.
This is a very affecting detail.


Foose said...

In his book The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives notes that she wrote it in a book opposite a picture of the Coronation of the Virgin, so he believes it is a clear allusion to Anne's determination to be queen.

It is tempting perhaps to think of Anne, the daring courtier, as a cultural iconoclast who would use language in new and surprising ways, but I don't think this note can be taken as evidence. French was still in transition in the 16th century. In Old French, the personal pronoun "je" was used where modern French prefers "moi," according to some manuals on the French language that I looked at online. Anne apparently acquired a native speaker's command of French during her time on the Continent, and is unlikely to have made any grammatical mistakes. The French seem to have been as particular about the pronunciation of their language in the 16th century as they are today, and there are noteworthy incidents where they are recorded as mocking foreigners for some defect in their command of French (for example, the French ambassador recounting Queen Elizabeth's dragging out of "a" in such phrases as "Paaaar maaaa foi") and Anne would have been sensitive to this.

"Je" immediately in conjunction with the person's name was also a common construction in French legal documents, such as marriage contracts (my reading indicated that this is true even today), as in "I, Anne Boleyn, do hereby affirm ..." etc. That might be an intriguing reading of the note, but there's not enough evidence to support it.

Patricia said...

Thank you very much for your answer !!