The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn

By Claire Ridgway

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.
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Comments

  1. thanks for pposting this info, it really helped me on my history study of annes influence in henry’sreign

  2. After watching Wolf Hall, I am reminded of the trials and pressures on the young Anne B. to produce a male heir. Unfortunately, we now know quite certainly that Henry VIII very likely had Kell’s syndrome – which would have and indeed did have an effect on his producing a boy from Anne (and most likely Katherine of Aragon).

  3. But Henry VIII did produce sons – one was illegitimate and one he had with Jayne Seymour. Jane’s son Edward died young and Katherine’s daughter Mary ruled prior to Elizabeth I. Anne was 32 when she had Elizabeth. Perhaps her miscarriages were due to nothing more than age.

    • Ann Roehrs says:

      If you read the details re: Kell’s Syndrome you can see why there is very strong evidence that Henry VIII had it. Both of these son’s were born from a first pregnancy. The reproductive partner’s in both of these cases never had the chance to conceive with Henry VIII again. If they had, all subsequent males conceived would have been micarried or still born.

  4. Thank you! This has helped me greatly with my History assignment! the question was “To What Extent was Anne Boleyn’s final miscarriage the main reason as to why she was executed?”

  5. Graham Horn says:

    This is my first post on this forum, hopefully the first of many as these are interesting topics. Henry VIII actually had two more sons, with Katherine of Aragon. Before giving birth to Mary in 1516 there had been two sons born, Henry Duke of Cornwall in 1511, who died after 52 days, and another Henry Duke of Cornwall in 1513 who died soon after birth. How different our history would have been had either of these sons survived.

    • tracy hollinshead says:

      wow yes…i wonder what our history would have been like had they both survived…would henry Viii been as remembered in history as he is now? i think not…

  6. Clarknt67 says:

    I would just point out to a King, the birth of a girl followed by two miscarriages may have been a bigger deal than to us. As pampered and spoiled as he likely was (by mortal standards) “try, try again” may not have been in Henry’s vocabulary. Henry was of course very accustomed to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. He might have been ill-equipped to give conveiving a prince “one more college try!” with his Queen Anne. His impulse might have been to — once again — replace the wife with a woman he saw as more capable of “getting the job done.” And he was impulsive. Especially in the period following his marriage to Anne.

  7. I don’t think it’s likely that Anne suffered a false pregnancy (and thank you, thank you, thank you for not confusing false pregnancy with that fake diagnosis, “phantom pregnancy”, that the Freudians invented to make women sound crazy and inferior to men, then slapped onto Mary I to further blacken her name). I suspect her pregnancies after Elizabeth were real, only tragic.

    False pregnancy as described in this time period is usually one of three things: miscarriage or stillbirth followed by minor infection causing lingering uterine swelling; an abnormal real pregnancy, such as a complete or partial molar pregnancy, which can in some cases be resorbed by the body; or ascites from cancer or hepatitis. (Mary’s blighted pregnancy was likely one of the last two. Even the Freudians couldn’t explain how their fake invented diagnosis could have led to her death, so they generally just obfuscated the matter.)

  8. Lorraine Brenda Byrne. Bth. says:

    It was a shame that Henry did not marry Mary in the end as he already had two healthy

    children by her a girl and a son whom she called Henry. Maybe things might have ended

    differently, as Mary had a more softer approach than Anne.

  9. june deck says:

    I have always wondered what would have happened if Katherine of Aragon would have given in. I find her insistence on staying married to Henry not so much born of love but out of a feeling of entitlement. It is silly to believe she did not understand the panic Henry was feeling as she became to old to conceive. Regardless of the reasons for her tragic loss of so many pregnancies and live born children, it does seem that she held on to being the queen for less than noble reasons. It seems Henry did hold her in high regard and would have made sure she was well taken care of. Imagine how things might have been. Mary Tudor would have no doubt had a happier life, Anne would have probably been divorced instead of executed and eventually the Protestant religion would have taken root, but with much less bloodshed. Anne’s miscarriage, or miscarriages would not have seemed so devastating if the Tudor court was less fractured, team Anne or team Katherine so to speak.

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