Posted By Claire on January 29, 2015
On 29 January 1536, tragedy struck King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn suffered a miscarriage, losing “a male child which she had not borne 3½ months”.
This miscarriage was a huge blow for the couple, who desperately wanted and needed a son, but it also had devastating consequences for Anne because it made her vulnerable. You can read all about this in my article 29 January 1536 – Anne Boleyn miscarried of her saviour, but for now I’d like to examine the primary source accounts of this miscarriage.
It is often claimed that Anne Boleyn miscarried a deformed foetus but this idea is only backed up by one historical source and it’s not a contemporary one either. In his 1585 book De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani (translated into English as Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), Sander recorded:
“The time had now come when Anne was to be again a mother, but she brought forth only a shapeless mass of flesh.”
It is not clear what he meant by “shapeless mass of flesh”, and his record has been used to back up the idea that Anne’s miscarriage was “no ordinary miscarriage” and that the deformed foetus was seen as a sign that Anne had committed illicit sexual acts or been involved in witchcraft. However, Sander was writing in 1585, forty-nine years after Anne’s miscarriage, and he was only a small child when Anne suffered the miscarriage. We also have to bear in mind that he was a Catholic recusant writing in Elizabeth I’s reign and that he was hostile to Elizabeth and her mother. He was the one who also described Anne as having an extra finger, a wen, a projecting tooth etc.
We have four other sources for Anne’s miscarriage and these are contemporary sources:
- Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador at the court of Henry VIII
- Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, chronicler and cousin of Thomas Wriothesley, who was close to Thomas Cromwell.
- Lancelot de Carles, secretary to Antoine de Castelnau, French ambassador at the court of Henry VIII.
- Edward Hall, lawyer, member of Parliament and chronicler.
None of these sources mention anything unusual about the miscarriage and all four of these sources were close to court or had access to people at court.
Let’s look at these sources in turn…
On 10 February 1536, Chapuys wrote to Charles V and his letter included the following:
“On the day of the interment [Catherine of Aragon’s funeral] 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.”
In his A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Charles Wriothesley recorded:
“This yeare also, three daies before Candlemas, Queene Anne was brought a bedd and delivered of a man chield, as it was said, afore her tyme, for she said that she had reckoned herself at that tyme but fiftene weekes gonne with chield […]”
Lancelot de Carles
In his Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn (Poem on the Death of Anne Boleyn), de Carles wrote:
“Quant la Royne eut la nouvelle entendue,
Peu s ’en faillut qu’el ne cheut estendue
Morte d’ennuy, tant que fort offensa
Son ventre plain et son fruict advan?a,
Et enfanta ung beau filz avant terme,
Qui nasquit mort dont versa mainte lerme.”
Translated into English by Susan Walters Schmid:
“When the Queen heard the news
She very nearly collapsed
Dead of worry, so much so that she wounded
Her full belly and growing baby,
And she gave birth to a fine boy prematurely,
Whose stillbirth caused her tears to flow.”
In his chronicle The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, which we refer to as Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall recorded:
“And in February folowyng was quene Anne brought a bedde of a childe before her tyme, whiche was born dead.“
4 versus 1
In my opinion, it makes no sense at all to believe a source written so many years after the event when there are four contemporary sources saying otherwise. Four sources tell us that Anne Boleyn suffered a miscarriage and three of them mention it being a boy. None of them mention deformities or anything unusual, it was simply a tragic miscarriage.
You can read more details on Sander’s statement and how historians and authors have used it in my article Anne Boleyn’s Final Pregnancy.
Notes and Sources
- Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, Nicholas Sander, Burns and Oates, 1887, p132
- LP x.282
- A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Charles Wriothesley, p33
- Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carles, lines 317-326, in La Grande Bretagne devant L’Opinion Française depuis la Guerre de Cent Ans jusqu’a la Fin du XVI Siècle, George Ascoli.
- Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carle, and the Uses of Documentary Evidence, Susan Walters Schmid, dissertation Arizona State University 2009
- Hall’s Chronicle, p818