On the 29th January 1536, according to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, Anne Boleyn miscarried a male child of around three and a half months in gestation. Anne’s miscarriage was a huge blow for both Anne and her husband, Henry VIII, particularly as it was a boy, but it is not clear how much impact this miscarriage had on the couple’s relationship and whether it was the beginning of the end for Anne Boleyn. Historian J.E. Neale writes that Anne had “miscarried of her saviour” and Retha Warnicke writes that “her fall was almost certainly triggered by the nature of the miscarriage she was to suffer in late January, for there is no evidence that she had been in any personal or political danger.” However, Eric Ives disagrees:-
“The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities. It did, nevertheless, make her vulnerable again.”
Vulnerable, but not the beginning of the end.
To get some idea of whether this miscarriage did have anything to do with Anne Boleyn’s fall just over three months later, we need to look at Anne’s obstetric history, after all, if Anne had had a series of miscarriages then Henry may well have been at his wit’s end in January 1536 and could have thought that his second marriage was cursed just like his first. The trouble is, we don’t have any medical records for Anne Boleyn and historians all seem to have different ideas regarding the number of miscarriages Anne suffered. Historian G. R. Elton writes of a “dreary tale of miscarriages”, Mary Louise Bruce writes that “during the first six months of 1534 she appears to have had one miscarriage after another” and Hester Chapman writes of three miscarriages in 1534, whereas F. Chamberlin writes of just two miscarriages, one in 1534 and another in 1535. So, what’s the truth of the matter? Let’s look at what the primary sources say.
- 1533 – On the 7th September 1533, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a little girl, the future Elizabeth I of England. Anne had become pregnant shortly after she and Henry had started co-habiting on their return from France in November 1532.
- 1534 – A dispatch from Chapuys to Charles V, dated 28th January, mentions Anne being pregnant and this is backed up by a letter from George Taylor to Lady Lisle, dated 7th April, in which Taylor writes “The Queen hath a goodly belly, praying our Lord to send us a prince.” Also, in July of that year, George, Lord Rochford, was sent to France to ask for a postponement of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I due to Anne “being so far gone with child she could not cross the sea with the King.” There is yet another mention of Anne’s pregnancy in a letter from Chapuys dated the 27th July. Also, Eric Ives writes of how there is evidence that Henry VIII ordered a silver cradle, decorated with precious stones and Tudor roses, from Cornelius Hayes, his goldsmith, in April 1534 and he would not have spent money on such a cradle if he was not sure that Anne was pregnant.
But what happened to this pregnancy? We just do not know. We have no reports of a stillbirth or miscarriage so perhaps it was a false pregnancy caused by stress and longing. Chapuys suggests that it may have been a false pregnancy in a letter dated 27th September 1534: “Since the King began to doubt whether his lady was enceinte or not, he has renewed and increased the love he formerly had for a beautiful damsel of the court.” However, Ives does not believe in the false pregnancy theory as he points out that Anne was not under any undue pressure at this time, having just given the King a baby girl and having every hope that she would conceive easily again. He believes that she miscarried as there is no record of Anne having taken to her chamber, so that rules out a stillbirth.
- 1535 – In a letter dated 24th June 1535, Sir William Kingston writes to Lord Lisle saying ” Her Grace has as fair a belly as I have ever seen” but we have no corroborating evidence and Sir John Dewhurst, who examines the obstetric histories of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon in his article “The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn”, wonders if the date of this letter should actually be 1533 or 1534 as it also refers to a man who died in October 1534. This could simply be more corroborating evidence for the 1534 pregnancy.
- 1536 – As I said earlier, we have evidence from a letter dated 10th February 1536, from Chapuys to Charles V, that Anne Boleyn miscarried on the day of Catherine of Aragon’s funeral, the 29th January 1536.
So, we only have real corroborated evidence for three pregnancies: one resulting in a healthy baby girl and two resulting in miscarriages. The 1534 one may even have been a false pregnancy, rather than a miscarriage. Whatever the truth, it’s not exactly a “dreary tale of miscarriages” is it and surely not something that Henry would be unduly worried about? Anne had shown that she could conceive – three pregnancies in three years shows that – so there was every hope for another successful pregnancy and the birth of a son and heir. Henry could be forgiven for worrying about the future and wondering if history would repeat itself, but I cannot see that Anne Boleyn’s January 1536 miscarriage was the last straw.Sources
- Anne Boleyn, Marie Louise Bruce
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives
- England Under the Tudors, G. R. Elton
- Anne Boleyn, Hester W. Chapman
- The Private Character of Henry VIII, F. Chamberlin
- The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, article by Sir John Dewhurst, Medical History, 1984, 28: 49-56
- Queen Elizabeth, Sir John E. Neale
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII – vii. 114, vii. 958, vii. 1013, vii. 1193, viii. 919, x. 282.