On the 29 January 1536, Anne Boleyn miscarried.
The details appear in Chapuys’ dispatch to Charles V dated February 10:
‘On the day of the interment the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child which she had not borne 3½ months, at which the King has shown great distress. The said concubine wished to lay the blame on the duke of Norfolk, whom she hates, saying he frightened her by bringing the news of the fall the King had six days before. But it is well known that is not the cause, for it was told her in a way that she should not be alarmed or attach much importance to it. Some think it was owing to her own incapacity to bear children, others to a fear that the King would treat her like the late Queen, especially considering the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel, to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents. The Princess’s gouvernante, her daughters, and a niece, have been in great sorrow for the said abortion, and have been continually questioning a lady who is very intimate with the Princess whether the said Princess did not know the said news of the abortion, and that she might know that, but they would not for the world that she knew the rest, meaning that there was some fear the King might take another wife. The Princess is well. She changed her lodging on Saturday last, and was better accompanied on her removal and provided with what was necessary to her than she had been before. She had an opportunity of distributing alms on the way, because her father had placed about 100,000 crowns at her disposal. It is rumoured that the King, as Cromwell sent to inform me immediately after the Queen’s death, means to increase her train and exalt her position. I hope it may be so, and that no scorpion lurks under the honey. I think the King only waited to summon the said Princess to swear to the statutes in expectation that the concubine would have had a male child, of which they both felt assured. I know not what he will do now. I have suggested to the Princess to consider if it be not expedient, when she is pressed to take the oath, if she be reduced to extremity, to offer that if the King her father have a son she will condescend to his will, and that she might at once begin throwing out some such hint to her gouvernante. I will inform you of her reply.’
A private note made by Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald that also claimed that it had been a ‘man child’, corroborates Chapuys’ report that Anne had miscarried a ‘male child which she had not borne 3½ months’. The only difference in this report is that Wriothesley gives the date as 30 January and states that Anne herself had said ‘that she had reckoned herself at that time but fifteen weeks gone with child’ (Ives, Pg. 298).
Wriothesley was certainly in a position to attain this information but one must question whether or not the sex of the baby could have been ascertained at only 14-15 weeks?
Even with all the modern technologies at our disposal today, the gender of a foetus can usually only be determined from around 17-18 weeks. Perhaps Anne had miscalculated? Even so, Ives points out that at this early stage the more experienced midwives were unlikely to have been on hand, so what we are left with is ‘an amateur diagnosis by the queen’s normal attendants’ (Pg. 296).
And what of the deformed foetus story? Well, it’s exactly that – a story!
In Elizabeth’s reign Nicholas Sander circulated that Anne had miscarried of ‘a shapeless mass of flesh’ (Ives, Pg. 296). Of course this is the same Nicholas Sander that also claimed Henry VIII was Anne’s father and described Anne as,
‘rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat.’
There is no evidence to substantiate Sanders’ claim. If she had given birth to a deformed foetus, why was it not mentioned during Anne’s trial, Henry’s reign or Mary’s reign?
The only likely explanation is that Sanders circulated the story to support his view of Anne the monster.
This story though does not end here…
In Retha Warnicke’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, she argues that the foetus ‘was born deformed, a tragedy constituting the sole reason for the king’s setting in motion the process that led to Anne’s execution.’ (Pg. 191)
Ives though labels this as historical ‘Newspeak’ and asserts that there is not a shred of evidence to support the ‘alleged deformity’ (Pg. 297) and I must say I am in complete agreeance.
Interestingly, there was a belief in the sixteenth century that witches were connected with monstrous births. So, the ‘deformed foetus’ story has led some historians to speculate that there was a connection between Anne’s fall and charges of witchcraft (Ives, Pg. 297).
Chapuys claims the Exeters reported that Henry had told a courtier that he had ‘made this marriage seduced and constrained by sortileges and for this reason he held the said marriage void and that God had demonstrated this in not allowing them to have male heirs and that he considered that he could take another.’ (Ives, Pg. 298)
We should though keep in mind that, as Ives points out,
‘this is Chapuys’ report in French of what he had understood of whatever a messenger had conveyed by word of mouth of a report from the Exeters of what the marquis and his wife said they had been told by ‘ung des principaux de court’ of what Henry had said to him, presumably in English. ‘ (Pg. 298)
Furthermore, and most importantly, no accusation of witchcraft was ever made against Anne Boleyn.
How did Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII react to the miscarriage?
Again, Chapuys’ dispatch is the only contemporary insight into this event. On the 10 February 1536, he reported:
‘On the day of the interment the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child which she had not borne 3½ months, at which the King has shown great distress. The said concubine wished to lay the blame on the duke of Norfolk, whom she hates, saying he frightened her by bringing the news of the fall the King had six days before. But it is well known that is not the cause, for it was told her in a way that she should not be alarmed or attach much importance to it. Some think it was owing to her own incapacity to bear children, others to a fear that the King would treat her like the late Queen, especially considering the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel, to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents.’
On the 25 February 1536, Chapuys related more information about Anne’s miscarriage:
‘I learn from several persons of this Court that for more than three months this King has not spoken ten times to the Concubine, and that when she miscarried he scarcely said anything to her, except that he saw clearly that God did not wish to give him male children; and in leaving her he told her, as if for spite, that he would speak to her after she was “releuize.” The said Concubine attributed the misfortune to two causes: first, the King’s fall; and, secondly, that the love she bore him was far greater than that of the late Queen, so that her heart broke when she saw that he loved others. At which remark the King was much grieved, and has shown his feeling by the fact that during these festive days he is here, and has left the other at Greenwich, when formerly he could not leave her for an hour.’
At first glance it looks like bad news all round for Anne and that the miscarriage was the beginning of the end for Anne and Henry’s relationship but there are some obvious inaccuracies and contradictory remarks made here by Chapuys when compared to his dispatch about the King’s behaviour after Catherine of Aragon’s death, that you can read here.
Ives also points out that although Chapuys makes a point of emphasizing that Henry and Anne were apart for Shrovetide and that he ‘left the other at Greenwich’, it is probably not as ominous at it sounds.
‘Shrovetide 1536 coincided with the key stages of the final session of the Reformation Parliament. The bill to dissolve the monasteries was on the point of being put into the Lords and, even more important, five days before Shrovetide, the final dispositions had been made to achieve victory in the king’s five-year campaign, fought against bitter resistance, to secure legislation restoring his feudal rights. Henry needed to be on the spot. If, as is likely, Anne was still convalescent, necessarily he had to go to Westminster alone.’ (Pg. 299)
Even after Anne’s miscarriage, Henry continued efforts to persuade Europe to accept Anne but the loss of another child must have added stress to their relationship and, more importantly, reawakened old fears in Henry’s mind.
Was his marriage to Anne Boleyn going to end like his first marriage? Was God also condemning their union by not blessing them with a living son?
This leads us then to question whether or not Anne had in fact miscarried of her saviour?
She was certainly left in a very vulnerable position but I agree with Ives in that,
‘The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities.’ (Pg. 300)
The seed of doubt though was planted and Anne’s enemies prepared…References
Henry VIII: February 1536, 6-10′, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536 (1887), pp. 98-108. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=75415 Date accessed: 10 January 2012.
Ives, E. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 2004.
Warnicke, R. M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, 1989.