29 January 1536 – Anne Boleyn loses a son

Posted By on January 29, 2015

Anne Boleyn NPGOn 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:

  1. Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador at the court of Henry VIII
  2. Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, chronicler and cousin of Thomas Wriothesley, who was close to Thomas Cromwell.
  3. Lancelot de Carles, secretary to Antoine de Castelnau, French ambassador at the court of Henry VIII.
  4. 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…

Eustace Chapuys

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.”

Charles Wriothesley

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.”

Edward Hall

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

36 thoughts on “29 January 1536 – Anne Boleyn loses a son”

  1. catia says:

    Poor dear Queen Ann, now and forever the best Queen this country has ever had.
    i will love you forever.

    1. Rayner DeVere says:

      It is so sad, and I think Anne would have known this was the end for her. It was this child that virtually kept the doomed couple together. She would have also known about Jayne Seymour and as any woman will know, the deceit is terrible. Clearly, Henry had been making plans to move on prior to the pregnancy. An unforgiving, wicked man.

      I am not sure she would have been the best Queen England would have known, but then she did not have time afforded her to grow into that role. I can’t but think and feel for the late Princess of Wales, Diana, who indeed would have been the best Queen this world could have wished for. She to, like Anne was dispatched so that the Prince Regent could marry his divorced adulterous Camilla, splitting two families apart and fracturing the moral fabric that has built our Society and upheld by the monarch. Unlike Anne, Diana was dispatched in a tunnel.

      The Monarchy is and always will be, completely ruthless.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        The death of Princess Diana was a tragic car accident, caused by the stupid press not leaving her alone, but an accident just the same. She was not killed by the monarchy.

      2. Victoria says:

        Why is it that Diana is always treated as a saint in the relationship, she too had her faults, wonderful mother that she was, no one denies this, but she also had other relationships.
        On Anne, living in such dangerous times, she didnt stand a chance, I also think Elizabeth 1 was one of the greatest Queens ever.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes Diana did what she could for charities and she was a good mum but she was after all only human, I read that she made nuisance calls to an art dealer who she was obsessed with even tho he had a wife, Scotland Yard traced the calls back to her, she also could have been playing about with Will Carling which caused his wife a lot of upset, I liked Diana but she wasn’t a saint, in a biography of Prince Charles the author writes that she was very demanding and Charles had to get rid of his pet dog because she didn’t like him, weather or not Diana loved Charles we just don’t know she could well have been dazzled by the thought of being Queen one day but they wernt suited anyway, like centuries before them theirs was just another arranged royal marriage, Charles truly loves Camilla he wasn’t seeing lots of other women behind Dianas back, but she was married at the time otherwise he would have married her and then Diana would have been spared the misery she went through, but there are two sides to every story and although poor Diana died tragically young and in the most awful circumstances it’s nice that Charles himself was allowed to marry his one true love and is now happy, Camilla is probably a very nice woman I remember watching their wedding and how nervous she was, I thought that was quite touching and the spectre of Henry V111 was there when they made their nuptials, if anyone remembers it was because of him that the Queen is the head of the church and it wasn’t considered appropriate that she attended also, there was quite a debate in the papers about it.

      3. shelagh says:

        I see no correlation between Anne and Diana. What happened between Charles and Diana happens between millions of modern couples. Where I do see a link is that Diana was chosen because she had no record and Charles needed an undisputed heir, and she wanted a crown. They deserved each other. The main tragedy in that relationship was Camilla refusing him when they were both younger because unlike Diana, she didnt crave limelight and publicity. I think Charles and Camilla are a true love story, Charles and Diana was a business arrangement. And she renaged when she got beyond her station in it. The Royals didnt kill her, her own disfunctionality and a tragic accident did.

  2. Brigitte says:

    With all due respect, Catia- and we all love Anne Boleyn here- but I think her daughter, Elizabeth I, was the greatest queen the country ever had. One only has to look at a list of her accomplishments to see that.

    1. Carol says:

      Well said. I agree completely. Elizabeth 1 is my favourite Tudor.

      1. Christine says:

        Elizabeth or Good Queen Bess as the people called her was a great Queen she had the common touch but there was another Queen who many people don’t think of now, her statue stands in Westminster and she was the first warrior Queen she valiantly led an assault against the Roman Legions and down the ages her name has become a legend, her name was Boudicea Queen of the Iceni tribe the Romans described her as terrifying to behold she was tall with long red hair, I think the similarities between her and Elizabeth are striking, they both had fiery tempers and their subjects found them quite frightening, yes I think if were talking about the greatest monarchs who ruled this country then Boudicea should stand alongside Elizabeth.

    2. JudithRex says:

      well, perhaps her criteria is different from yours?

  3. Christine says:

    Can’t imagine how she felt, grief at losing her child the anxiety of wondering how long she would be Henrys wife, knowing her enemies could strike any minute, and having to cope with Henrys anger and disapointment it’s a wonder she never went mad, it just goes to show that remark about her baby being a shapeless mass of flesh was just a myth because if it was true how would they have known it was a boy? A lot of myths have surrounded Anne ever since.

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    Anne’s miscarriage must have been terrible for her to bear…for the king, it meant no heir…but it was her BABY…and how she must have grieved for him. So sad.

  5. selkie says:

    I do not believe it, not only since it was written so far after the fact, but also because some writers say that Catherine had given birth to a deformed fetal as well.
    I think it just depended on what faction the author sided with which wife did.

  6. Siobhan Glenn says:

    The one thing that always struck me with this statement is the fact that the pregnancy was only about 3 months along, I am no doctor, however we all know that babies do not start out fully formed and just grow during the 9 months, they develop features and organs over the period of the pregnancy. Therefore a baby miscarried at 3/4 months could well have looked deformed to them. Whether or not it was the lack of medical advances at this age, that they did not know the development rates of babies in the womb. Or did her enemies simply use this to their advantage when describing the miscarriage to the King? Whatever it was poor Anne had to cope with this tragedy whilst being in fear for her life.
    It’s a shame Henry could never know that his longed for “son” and heir, had already been born and would become one of our greatest monarchs, Elizabeth 1

    1. shelagh says:

      Well said, I have often wondered that myself.

      1. Kym says:

        Exactly Siobhan.
        I have never believed the deformed theory. A child that young would have been under developed which is very different the surgeons of that period wouldn’t have known the growth stages of a child unless they had a foetus at every month which I highly doubt.

        I think the fact that the child was under developed gave fuel to Anne’s enemies that she had miscarried due to the child’s deformity and some would have assumed that she may have used some form of witchcraft in order to conceive, don’t forget the ignorance of people around this time.

        I would like to think that he was able to watch from the heavens and realise that he had in fact fathered one of the strongest toughest monarchs in history in his daughter Elizabeth. I remember reading an account where she one wrote to a member of her council and the letter was so fierce that he passed out! Elizabeth was the toughest Tudor without a doubt

  7. I am in the belief that anne loved the king too much and had to suffer all his extra marital nuances that when she caught him with mistress Seymour as she was great with child that this brought her to miscarry her child the son that they wanted so badly that things had gone down hill real fast after that and that the king had lost his interest in the queen anne and was seeking another alliance with mistress seymour

  8. Banditqueen says:

    Given how desperate Henry was for a son, dangling his current mistress on his knee in the private royal apartments, knowing Anne would and could walk in at any time seems to me a senseless and insensitive thing to do. He was already aware that his foolish behaviour, jousting as a young man, not even caring to have his armour fitted properly, causing his fall and possibly knocking him out, had caused Anne alarm. One would have thought that Henry would have taken more care, given more concern for his wife`s safety and her condition. The way Henry acted was not wicked but it shows reckless disregard for Anne or their unborn child. Maybe like many men he did not think or more likely did not care. He was too infatuated with his new passion to realize that Anne was still vulnerable and possibly in danger of losing their child, one more shock would be too much for her. Medically they may not have known, but by experience the midwives should have known that Anne was still in the first four months of her pregnancy, when most miscarriages occur. Henry was an experienced father, his own instincts should have warned him that Anne was vulnerable and to be extra careful around her. Given that he wanted this child to be healthy and was so desperate, he should have been pampering Anne, not feeling sorry for himself with Jane Seymour.

    The loss of this child was a real tragedy for both Anne and Henry, but it made Anne open to people who did not want her as Queen. There is no evidence that Henry was planning to abandon his wife at this point, or that the miscarriage was seen by contemporary evidence as being caused by wickedness, as Philippa Gregory loves to buy into, it was seen as tragic but Henry took it personally. Henry was upset and angry, he saw God denying male children and wondered why. Anne blamed Henry for the fact that she was heartbroken to see that he loved others. But there is evidence to suggest that Anne and Henry got over the loss and that she had regained his support for a few months. Until Anne had a healthy son, however, she was never going to be totally safe as Queen, for all that she bossed him around. Henry was not getting any younger, and neither was Anne; he did not have the luxury of time, unfortunately he needed a son and heir now. Anne was running out of time.

  9. Christine says:

    Iv often wondered what happened to all the dead babies that were born to Catherine and Anne’s last baby, were they christened and buried I would have thought they had been given honourable burials as befitted Princes?

    1. Banditqueen says:

      This is a very good question, what happened to the still born child is something that may need more study, but there are a few examples that give some clues. On tombs memorials have been known to name children, including children who died in infancy. I noticed recently on a mid Tudor fancy tomb references and images with descriptions, by this period in English that memorialized two still born children. A documentary some time ago pointed out still born children buried at some point in the tomb of their mother. The mother had lived much longer and had more children. An aborted foetus would most likely have been taken away by the midwife, but probably not buried as we know. I am not sure what they did, but it is not likely that they had a funeral, but may still have mourned or had prayers. They were not baptised as they were not alive. Only if the child drew breathe, even for a short time did the midwife baptize them, quickly as they may die at any moment. Midwives were licensed to baptize children. Even today anyone can baptize children in case of risk of immediate death. Still born babies could be wrapped up and taken to the local friars who buried them. From the eighteenth century the church allowed the studies of a still born foetus or miscarriages by universities and scientists to understand and prevent them in future. Some foetus would be disposed of by the midwife, but how I am not sure about. There is one touching piece of evidence from the ancient world, from Egypt, in the tomb of Tutenkhaman two small unborn children were found. The two tiny bodies, one five months in the womb, one of seven, had been carefully mummified, even the internal organs had been removed. They had then been placed as was the custom of the time in their royal father’s tomb. If they were capable of such advanced methods of care for the foetus in ancient times, it gives hope that some care was taken in similar cases in the Medieval and Tudor Times. Certainly this is a subject that certainly needs thorough and expert investigation.

      1. Christine says:

        It’s certainly a subject that remains a mystery King Henry may have had them buried in his parents tomb, after all they were royal and I can’t see them being buried in an ordinary plot of land even if it were on the royal estates.

      2. Christine says:

        How is your husband Bandit Queen, I hope he’s getting on well?

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks for remembering, he is generally fine, but the blood tests showed he may need more radiotherapy, the last test was taken wrong so when he went last week the results were not there, so we have to wait and see. It’s worrying but at least now his general health is good, which means his chances of ‘recovery are raised. Thanks for asking.

        2. Claire says:

          How frustrating about the test results being taken wrong. How long will you have to wait to find out? Thinking of you both.

        3. Christine says:

          Your welcome it’s annoying they made a mistake tho, but at least he feels ok.

        4. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks Christine and Claire, we will go back in two weeks, the doctor rang yesterday and the test is stable, neither up or down, but it should be 0. It’s been indicating cells at .4, which is low, but the radiography may want to give him treatments. Thanks. Sorry to go off subject.

        5. Claire says:

          Don’t apologise for going off subject when it’s something we care about. It’s good that he’s stable even if the result is not quite what it should be. I hope that you have much better news next time. Thinking of you!

    2. Kym says:

      It’s an awful thing to say but I think it depended on how long they lived. Royal children were seen as ‘issue’ in those times, worshipped while alive but then no more than an afterthought when they died. Henry VIII wasn’t the only Monarch to have lost children.

      Off the top of my head the only child that I can think of that had a ‘decent’ burial was the eldest son of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart line, who died when he was roughly 11 years of age. Poor Anne lost all 18 of her children but her eldest son is the only one that I can remember reading and visiting where he is buried, (Windsor Castle where he lies with Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Charles I)

      I would hope that there had been a christening of some kind, I can’t see Catherine of Aragon letting her children go to their graves without some kind of service considering how strong her faith was.

      Unfortunately another thing we do have to consider is that Royalty and the rest of the country were two different worlds, Royalty used their offspring as bargaining tools to create stronger alliances so to them, a dead child would have been worthless.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes royal children were used as bargaining tools but I believed they were loved by their parents who were after all only human, no matter how blue their blood was, if you were a peasant of a royal you still felt the loss of a child deeply.

  10. Kym says:

    I have never believed that the child that Anne miscarried was deformed in any way and have always believed it was a tale concocted by her enemies.
    For Anne time herself was running out, she had failed through no fault of her own to deliver the healthy son the king craved. The stress that Anne would have been under would have been immense and she had few friends to call upon during her hour of need. Who knows what the future for Anne would have been if she had gone full term but she didn’t. Henry was convinced that God would grant him no more children with her, meaning he would not have his longed for male heir with Anne.
    Henry wasn’t shy about his flings he had with women at court including the queens ladies one of who bore him a son that Henry acknowledged. he hadn’t been too bothered regarding Catherine’s feelings who only had one surviving child by Henry so there is no reason to assume that once Anne was Queen herself that she would have been treated any differently. How many times had Catherine suffered a miscarriage after suffering a shock we do not know
    Regarding Jane Seymour, she had indeed caught Henrys eye for Jane was sailing on a barge towards the tower before Anne’s body was barely cold and they were wed 10 days later so that in itself suggests that Henry had had his eye on Jane for some time, Jane actually played on her modesty and virtue.
    I have always had a soft spot for Anne, I believe that she was cruelly used as a mere pawn by her power hungry relatives already at court who aimed to fly higher. None of them stood by her when the time came and were prepared to abandon her to her fate

  11. Giselle says:

    A miscarriage at that short gestation could well have been a blighted ovum — placenta but no fetus. If such things were unknown then it would be possible that the lack of a fetus made them confuse placenta tissue with a misshapen child.

  12. Coll says:

    Did anyone ever think it was something wrong with Henry?

    1. Lynda Coffman says:

      I have often wondered about the number of miscarriages even though a miscarriage was not uncommon then

      I just found this site today and am enjoying it very much

    2. Charlene says:

      If they did they never would have told him.

  13. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Miscarriage/Pages/Causes.aspx “Misconceptions about miscarriage
    An increased risk of miscarriage is not linked to:
    a mother’s emotional state during pregnancy, such as being stressed or depressed”—-old studies said stress causes miscarriages, but now new ones. although, “Some experts believe that prolonged bouts of severe stress (like a death in the family, losing a job, etc.) can negatively impact a pregnancy, causing complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, and even sleep and behavioral disorders in young children. http://www.parents.com/advice/pregnancy-birth/my-pregnant-body/can-too-much-stress-during-pregnancy-be-bad-for-my-baby/———might've been a blessing in disguise. imagine how henry would’ve treated a kid w/a behavioral disorder.

  14. Dee says:

    Have you ever wished you could go back in time and prove to the cruel, obsessive ‘must have a son’ Henry VIII that the male decides the sex of the baby, not the female! What he put women through in the face of his cause!!!

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