29 January 1536 – Anne Boleyn “Miscarried of her Saviour”

Posted By on January 29, 2014

Anne BoleynOn 29th January 1536, the same day that Catherine of Aragon was buried, Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, miscarried “a male child which she had not borne 3½ months”.

You can read more about this miscarriage, my examination of the primary sources and my thoughts on the deformed foetus theory in my article Anne Boleyn’s Final Pregnancy, but in this article I want to think about something a bit different. As you know, I’ve been working on a biography of George Boleyn, Anne’s brother, and my work on this book combined with my reading of Laura Andersen’s novel”The Boleyn King”1 – an “alternative history” novel about the reign of Henry IX, the son that Anne does not lose in January 1536 and who inherits the throne – made me think about the impact of Anne’s miscarriage.

Anne’s final miscarriage had devastating consequences for Anne, George, their parents and Boleyn supporters. Anne had lost the son that her husband Henry VIII was so desperate for. It was a devastating blow.

Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had experienced at least six pregnancies, losing two sons and two daughters through premature births or stillbirths, and providing Henry with a son who lived just fifty-two days and a surviving daughter, Mary. Henry had become convinced that these dead babies were proof that the marriage was wrong in the eyes of God, that it was an incestuous union because he had married his brother’s widow. He expected God to bless his new marriage with Anne Boleyn and Anne’s pregnancy in 1533 seemed to be proof of that, until she gave birth to a daughter. When Anne miscarried (or had a stillbirth) in 1534 and again in 1536, the increasingly paranoid Henry VIII can be forgiven for wondering if his second marriage was also cursed and incestuous, he had, after all, had a sexual relationship with Anne’s sister at one point in the past.

J.E. Neale writes of how Anne “miscarried of her saviour”2 that day in 1536 and I have to agree. The miscarriage cannot be blamed for Anne’s downfall, but a son would have kept her safe from those scheming against her. If that son had lived, Jane Seymour would have been just another notch on Henry VIII’s bedpost or a courtly love flirtation, and the Boleyn family would have continued to rise at court. The ten year-old prince would have become King at Henry’s death in January 1547, Anne Boleyn would have become Regent and it is likely that she would have been helped by her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, who may well have acted in some role similar to Lord Protector, just as Edward Seymour did in 1547. George would have had immense power and by helping the young prince to rule he could have helped to shape England.

The loss of that prince in January 1536 cost Anne Boleyn her life and George Boleyn his career, the prospect of a dazzling future and meteoric rise, and ultimately his life. George had risen at court due to his ambition and his talents, but it was his link to Anne which was to be his undoing. The miscarriage left Anne vulnerable and Boleyn enemies were waiting in the wings to take advantage of this. The Boleyn siblings fell from grace and were accused not only of treason but of committing incest, an abominable act. They were brutally executed in May 1536, suffering a huge miscarriage of justice. It was the end for these stars of the court.

It was not just Anne who suffered as a result of this miscarriage and the events of April and May 1536, it was her brother and four other innocent men, not forgetting their families and a two year-old girl left without a mother. If only things had been different.

This is one of the events you will find on the interactive timeline of the events of spring 1536 over at www.thefallofanneboleyn.com.

You can read my review of “The Boleyn King” on Tudor Book Reviews – click here.

Notes and Sources

  1. Andersen, Laura (2013) The Boleyn King
  2. Queen Elizabeth I, J.E. Neale

41 thoughts on “29 January 1536 – Anne Boleyn “Miscarried of her Saviour””

  1. Sonetka says:

    I’ve wondered before just how different it would have been had Anne’s son been the one to inherit — possibly not as different as all that to begin with, since he would very likely have received the same tutors etc that Edward got, and the Boleyns and Seymour men both seem to have leaned in the same direction with regard to religion, so there would have been a distorted-mirror effect, where the same things were happening *in general* but with a somewhat different cast. Of course, what would have happened to Cromwell, and how Anne’s religious opinions would have shaken out, are things we can only wonder about.

    1. Mary says:

      In any case, I can’t imagine that he would have been the King his sister was! 🙂

  2. Kristin says:

    I have read a few things about Anne Bolyen’s pregnancies and the one thing that stands out to me is Elizabeth was the only healthy child she was able to give birth to and have live. And that her last pregnancy she miscarried and that there were visual abnormalities by description maybe spina bifida . I am sure you have read that Some believe she suffered from Rh incompatibility why she would never be able to carry another healthy child to term after Elizabeth and makes even more sense to me why the last child was malformed. Has anyone else read about this or have any thoughts on it?

    1. Claire says:

      Anne Boleyn only had three pregnancies that we know about: Elizabeth in 1533, a stillbirth or miscarriage in 1534 and a miscarriage in 1536. There is no contemporary evidence of there being any abnormalities with the miscarried baby, it’s simply described as being male and being around 3 1/2 months in gestation. The source for the malformed baby is Nicholas Sander who wrote his book in 1585 and who also described Anne as being deformed. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyns-final-pregnancy/ for more on this.

      Regarding the Rh incompatibility theory, Anne may have had it but we just cannot tell and she only had two pregnacies go wrong, which is quite normal today, never mind in a time when antenatal care was lacking and not much was known about pregnancy. It’s impossible to know.

      1. Laura says:

        Claire, wasn’t there two live sons born to Catherine of Aragon and Henry? The first on New Years Day in 1511 (Henry, Duke of Cornwall) who lived for 52 days, and the second, another Henry, born in December 1514? Less known about the second son, except that he died within a month of birth.

        I have also recently bought Laura Andersen’s book, eagerly anticipating reading it!

        1. Claire says:

          There are records of Catherine having three boys:

          • 1st January 1511 – Birth of a son, Henry, who died on 22nd February at just 52 days old.
          • 17th September 1513 – Birth of a son who was either stillborn or who did not survive long. The Venetian Calendar of State Papers records that the child was alive at birth: “a male heir was born to the King of England and will inherit the crown, the other son having died.”
          • November 1514 – According to Dewhurst, the Venetian ambassador, wrote to his senate in November that “The Queen has been delivered of a stillborn male child of eight months to the very great grief of the whole court”, Holinshed, the chronicler, ” reported that “in November the Queen was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”, and John Stow wrote “in the meantime, to Whit, the month of November, the Q was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”.

          Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was the only one to have lived more than a few hours. The others were either stillborn or died very soon after birth, we have no further details.

      2. Emma Edwards says:

        Another theory, that Henry himself might have carried an incompatible antigen responsible for the miscarriages (the Kell antigen) has been suggested. And furthermore he may have inherited this blood antigen through his maternal great grandmother, Jaquetta of Luxembourg, evidenced by the fact that many of her male relatives suffered similar tragic unfruitful natal histories to that of Henry, whereas her female relatives were successfully fecund.

        1. Mary says:

          I read once or twice that Catherine Howard had at least one miscarriage. Any information on that?

        2. CB says:

          Mary, there is no evidence that Katherine Howard was ever pregnant, much less that she experienced a miscarriage. It was rumoured that she was thought to be with child, but contemporaries were obsessed with the idea of the queen being pregnant, you see it across time. It is possible that she was simply unwell.

      3. margaret says:

        so anne went quite some time before getting pregnant again ,I would have thought that some mishap occurred in 1535 .

  3. Miladyblue says:

    The mind boggles – Anne as Regent of England for her son!

    The richness of “What ifs” and “If Onlys” is a veritable El Dorado for Anne Boleyn aficionados, for certain! I don’t think there would have been the falling out between Anne and George, as happened between Edward and Thomas Seymour, because of the emotional closeness and intellectual compatibility between the brother and sister.

    The real tragedy of an Anne Boleyn regency, however, would have been the life expectancy of Mary, unless Chapuys had somehow gotten her out of England before Henry’s death.

    What would Elizabeth’s life had been like had Anne had a son that lived past Henry’s death? We likely would not have had the “Virgin Queen,” unless something awful happened to Henry and Anne’s son. And how would things have worked out between the iron willed Anne and her daughter, the equally iron willed Queen?

  4. We can contemplate for days, how things would have been completely different had Anne’s son been born and lived. But it simply was not in the cards to end any other way. I guess none of us can re-write history, other than in fiction. But it would have definitely been interesting to see how events would have played out.

  5. RxPhan says:

    Would Anne have been as fascinating to us had she lived?

  6. Melanie says:

    I have often thought the same thing, if only!!! But I also wonder if Catherine had given Henry a son that lived would he still have tried to divorce her to enable him to have Anne?? I do also wonder if Henry Fitzroy had survived would Henry have made him King?? X

    1. Jillian says:

      It is very likely that if one of Catherine’s sons had survived, she would have remained Queen and Anne would have been a ‘courtly love flirtation’, as Claire said in her post in relation to Jane Seymour in the event of Anne producing a surviving male heir.

      Henry would not have wanted any whiff of doubt to be cast on a marriage that resulted in a son. If Anne had continued to refuse to become his mistress, as she might well have done, he may well have mourned her as the one who got away!

      1. margaret says:

        agree with you jillian and what I think that the boleyns would not have amounted to much at all at .

        1. margaret says:

          should have sais also but at least they would have been spared their awful deaths and jane Seymour would have not have lost her life.

        2. Dawn 1st says:

          That’s not quite true though is it, as Anne’s father was already an established man at court carrying out many important offices for Henry before Mary and Anne caught the eye of the King. He was a skilled ambassador and spoke French better than any one at court.
          This also applies to George, he was a page as a boy to Henry, hunted and gamed with the King, and carried out foreign missions too. He was intelligent and liked, and again on his way ‘up’ before Anne and Mary came into the equation.

          The Boleyn men did not need the Boleyn women to kick-start their careers, they were already well on their way.

  7. Anne Barnhill says:

    It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if the baby had lived….I agree Anne would have been safe, Henry’s roving eye would have continued to rove and Elizabeth would most likely have been married off to some prince–now there’s a scenario I don’t like to think about. Thanks, Claire!

  8. sophie says:

    If Anne had had this son there’s no way henry would ever have got rid of her. It’s funny to think about how far the course of history would have changed.

    You can also see how the suspicious minds at the time would have seen it, especially as it happened so soon after CoAs death.

  9. Elizabeth Smith says:

    I was employed in an OB/Gyn clinic for many years and I can say that a fetus at 15 weeks would be recognizably human. It would look quite different from a full term infant. It would be the size of a small coin and the appearance might have caused those in attendance to think it was “monstrous” although at that time in history you would think they had experience with this. It wouldn’t have been a “shapeless mass” unless it had died and had become macerated

  10. Raynie says:

    I’ve read both The Boleyn King and the second book, The Boleyn Deceit. I enjoyed them both, but I wish they had focused more on Anne.

  11. kimberly says:

    yeah, but in all liklihood, anne would’ve had mary I executed, poisoned, ect. because as long as she was alive, she’d pose a threat to the boleyn faction. it would’ve been like what happened to jane grey.

  12. Mary Cade says:


    I was wondering if there is a formal resting place for Henry VIII’s stillborn children or children that died soon after birth? Do you have any information pertaining to that?

  13. margaret says:

    I don’t agree that anne would have been safe if her son had lived,the very title of this post ,anne miscarried of her saviour says that annes life totally depended on her delivering a son at this time ,it seems henry was truly convinced he was cursed with this unfortunate happening ,this seemed a very business like union ,with not much of the supposed never ending love they had ,annes downfall had a lot more going on than the loss of this child ,I tbelieve henry truly despised anne by this stage and also something came to light about anne and her faction that shook henry very much ,the idea that if anne had delivered the promised son her life would have been safe in my mind is wrong ,in fact anne would have been downright impossible to be anywhere near ,she would have done away with mary or mary would have done away with her,,i think it was a bad union from the start and caused a lot of trouble.

    1. margaret says:

      I do feel sorry for what happened to her but then again she knew what she was getting into and should never have done what she did to Katharine of aragon by usurping her as rightful queen,and regardless of what henry wanted ,anne had a tongue in her head and had no problem talking ,she should have backed away.

      1. Janet says:

        Anne Boleyn was a sincere Protestant, unlike Henry.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Anne Boleyn was influenced by the French reformers, not the German Lutherans and she was also influenced by the Bible in the common tongue, but she wasn’t a Protestant and it is much too early to call anyone in English, unless a sincere Lutheran a Protestant. She always remained true to the sacramental ceremonies of the Catholic Church, including the Blessed Sacrament, she didn’t want the Church dismantled but reformed from within. Henry had also wanted much of the same thing but for different reasons, his own.

    2. Alison says:

      Mary would have been no threat if Anne had had a son that survived. By that point, Catherine of Aragon was dead, so any subsequent child of the Boleyn marriage could have been declared legal. Mary would have had to give way to a son.

  14. Marsha Smith says:

    This is my first time reading and also commenting here. I’ve read with interest all the what if’s. Fate seems to work in mysterious ways. But I’ve always said that Elizabeth I is the *son* that Henry VIII never had. She is one of England’s greatest monarchs.

    Fate was also at work in the 1930’s when Edward VIII abdicated and George VI took the throne. George VI was also the better man.

  15. Michelle says:

    I think if Anne had had a son, Mary would have been quickly married off to a Boleyn supporter who would keep her quietly in the country. Anne would have been safe as Henry would want no question over his sons legitimacy and the biggest tragedy would have been the the loss of Elizabeth as Queen.

  16. Laura says:

    If Anne had borne a son, there would still have been voices contesting his legitimacy, just as those voices protested the doubts of Elizabeth. After Catherine’s death, Henry may have wanted to consider remarrying Anne as as a widower, no doubts could be cast over a fresh marriage. Still would have placed doubts over Elizabeth, but then her chances or becoming Queen would have been negligible. Mary would have been married off I reckon, and I think Anne would have supported a relatively low marriage so that Elizabeth could be married off better..

    I do believe that if Henry and CofA had had a living son, there would have been no questions over the validity of their marriage; it was a love match and of deep affection, whatever it came to because of AB. Equally, if Anne had borne a living son, Henry would never have replaced her. But there would have been questions over legitimacy due to dates etc.

    Human tragedy all round for them; Catherine abandoned, Anne discarded, the trauma of those lost children and the dashed hopes, and Henry simmering away like a pressure cooker waiting to blow…

  17. margaret says:

    very true laura, I think that even if anne had borne a healthy son there would have been joy and celebrations for a while and then anne and the Boleyn factions enemies would start hovering again,anne herself was not popular and had too many enemies to be safe ,henry should have married her after katherines death to make it legal this time But he did not and that in my mind says he was really fed up even though anne at this time could have still had a son ,henry had moved away and had fallen for jane so annes days were numbered so her downfall was something that was going to happen anyway and henry was the one who could have stopped it but did not.

  18. Erin says:

    I think that to talk about the “what ifs” is entertaining but it really gets us no where because if we are going to do that we could ask what if Catherine would have been able to have another son or a son that lived then Ann would have been just like Jane Seymor it the above “what if” just another notch on Henry’s bed post or a courtly love flirtation. The could have been’s never end. What if Ann did have a son that lived who is to say that he would not have been one of the many victims of the high infant mortality
    rate of Tudor times? Then what? Then by that time Henry may have still wanted to get rid of Ann but the Jane Symour Option as his new wife may have dissappered. There are just to many what ifs. They could go on all day.

    As a side note to Mrs Ridgeway I would just like to add how much I love this site. I have never posted before but l look at your site a couple times a week and have all of your books. I love how you embrace each of Henry’s wife for who they were not just an empty shadow behind a selfish king. I love how you bring out the human emotion in the history you write and how you embrace the fact that we can like and respect all of his wives and don’t have to pick a villain out of the 6. You have a great ability to bring history to life and look at all the angles involved to come up with picture better then some of the historians can. The way you look at all details, standards of the day, and human emation inolved and still are willing to admit that in some cases since it was 500 years in the past we may never know exactly what happened is wonderful. No other history writer would do that. Keep up the great work and keep your great books coming.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, we would be what-ifing for ever!

      Thank you, I really appreciate your words, they are so encouraging. My books are very different to other history books out there, which is intentional, so I’m always pleased to hear that people understand what I’m trying to do. Thank you so much, you made my day!

  19. Randi says:

    What is your evidence that had Anne borne a healthy son, Henry would not have gotten rid of her? You can speculate about it, but a lot of people hated her, and they were trying to get rid of her as soon as she was noticed. Who is to say that they would not have succeeded in time, despite her having a son? People tend to forget that she was beheaded because she was found ‘guilty’ of the treason of plotting the king’s death, not because she had supposedly slept with other men. Whether or not she had a son, she may well have been accused of plotting to kill the king, then ruling in her son’s stead. The assumption that Anne would have been safe had she given the king a son is faulty, and it irritates me that it is constantly presented as fact, rather than as supposition.

  20. BanditQueen says:

    Given that Henry and Katherine were married for 18 years before Henry decided he was cursed and it was clear that he and Katherine and he would have no more children; and he could not have a son by his wife; is it not a very short time of less than 3 years marriage to decide the same thing?

    Yes, Henry was older now and Anne was in her mid thirties, but she could still have children as far as we know after this last pregnancy. Is this not a sign that Henry has been affected by the fall from the horse and that he had fallen out of love with Anne prior to this loss?

    Is Henry just seeing a repeat of the sad pattern of stillbirths and children that did not live as he had with Katherine in the loss of two children with Anne, and the birth of a daghter again? Given that Henry was in his mid forties; is he desperate now for a live son than he has not been before? There are many questions about the sudden change of affection that Henry had for Anne to hate. This pregnancy seems very much to have been her last chance not just for a son and heir but for remaining as Henry’s Queen. Anne had fallen out with Cromwell on public policy over the use of revenues from the monastic houses and with a movement in the council for a more Imperalistic policy it seems that Anne was perceived as being in the way of peace with the Emperor. She had also began to argue more violently with Henry over his mistresses and other matters and was open to criticism from her inter court enemies. The Seymours were in the ascendancy and the Duke of Suffolk was looking for an opportunity to make an alliance that would bring Anne down. Anne had also become fearful of her place at Henry’s side. She was fearful of Mary and Katherine and is reported as stating that as long as they were alive she could not conceive a son. May-be she was having difficulty in conceiving and was afraid she would have no more children. This pregnancy seems to have marked a reconciliation between Henry and Anne during a progress in 1535 and she was pleased that she may at last have her chance to be all she had hoped she could be. With a son to defend; Anne would be out of reach of her enemies; does not mean that Henry would still love her; he may only have visited her in public; but she would have triumphed and who knows what might have been with a son to give her respect and power.

    Sadly, worried by the hurt to Henry and may-be having come across him with a woman on his knee; poor Anne went into early labour and miscarried of what is assumed was a male child. The sources say the child had the appearance of a male and this was reported to the King, who became angry and declared that he would have no more sons by Anne. He may also have in a fit of rage have said he believed the marriage to be cursed and that he had been bewitched; not meaning that Anne was a witch but that she had used her charm as a woman to lure him into marriage. He certainly believed something was up with the marriage and expressed a wish to take another wife, However, it is clear that for some time afterwards, Anne was still in favour, in public at least and that Henry showed little sign of ending his marriage until April 1536. He had even booked a trip to France with her in May; a trip that he then cancelled and on 2nd May poor Anne was carted off to the Tower and 18 days later executed for crimes that she did not commit.

    The loss of this son as the article says made her more vulnerable to her enemies and it was easy to invent a case against her and the men that she was arrested with, to make them look guilty in order to bring her and the Boleyns down, and to the tragic end on Tower Green on 19th May 1536. I do not believe that she was executed merely as she lost a son, but the loss of the King’s love and protection through this certainly allowed those who hated her a foot in the door to construct a case against her, to bring evidence to the King, to unite with Cromwell and to persuade Henry that she and her fellows had committed treason and adultery; although the evidenc on close examination was obviously false. But once Henry had turned his back on Anne he did not want to know anything else but that she was guilty as charged. I think he was alarmed and shocked at the revelations of her adultery but he must have accepted the charges as genuine and this process certainly dates back to the loss of her son. It may not have directly led to her fall; but it opened the door for events to conspire against her. And in one way Henry was also to blame: did he not know his wife well enough or care enough to listen to her protests of innocence? Had he not been dangling his lover on his knee and taking risks while his wife was pregnant in the joust then Anne would not have lost her son? And was he not sensitive enough to see that? Or did he simply not care having fallen in love with another?

  21. Linda Joyce says:

    On a purely gynaecological note, I was told that my mother had nine pregnancies, of which I am the only survivor. Such things weren’t openly discussed sixty years ago, but I remember her telling me that her doctor said female babies had a much better survival rate, and having thought this an old wives’ tale I read this only recently in some article on obstetrics.

  22. Christine says:

    Yes girls have always had a better survival rate I think Mother Nature supplied us with that to continue the human race, the female heart is stronger as it has to sustain another life, in the fifties my mothers cousin had three miscarriages in a row, the doctors told her it was normal to miscarry your first child and second one to, it was only if you have a third one they look into it as there maybe something biologically wrong with you, at the age of twenty seven she collapsed and died of coronary thrombosis, her husband was told they could never have saved her but now of course with medical advancements they could well have.

  23. Tlb says:

    Is it possible that since Anne boyln was only about 4 months pregnant that the baby was malformed at all but was not developed since it was just past the first trimester and physicians at that time did not know what a extremely premature fetus looked like. Or that Cromwell had the physicians tell King Henry this story wanting rid of Anne?

    1. Claire says:

      There’s actually no contemporary evidence that it was at all deformed. Nothing about any doctor saying that to the King. The idea that it was deformed comes from Nicholas Sander writing in the 1580s. He was a Catholic recusant looking to blacken Elizabeth I’s name and the names of her parents. Not one report from 1536 says that anything was wrong with the foetus at all, and Chapuys would have definitely mentioned it if there had been.

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