29 January 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn suffers a miscarriage

Posted By on January 29, 2018

On this day in history, 29th January 1536, on the same day that her predecessor Catherine of Aragon was buried, Anne Boleyn suffered a miscarriage. The imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, recorded:

“On the day of the interment 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 [Seymour], to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents.”

Although Nicholas Sander wrote in Elizabeth I’s reign that “brought forth only a shapeless mass of flesh”, contemporary accounts make no mention of there being anything unusual about the foetus. You can read more about this in my article Anne Boleyn’s final pregnancy.

The miscarriage must have been a huge blow for Anne and Henry VIII and I do think that this event made Anne vulnerable. What do you think?

As I said, on this same day, Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Abbey and you can read more about her burial in 29 January 1536 – The Burial of Catherine of Aragon.

16 thoughts on “29 January 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn suffers a miscarriage”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Poor Anne. How hopeful she must have been that she would finally delivering a son for Henry. How devastated she must’ve been when she lost this child. Even as terrible as she felt she could not imagine how her world would be completely destroyed in the next few months.

    Whenever I read that passage from Eustace Chapuy I just want to throttle him. Was he present when the news about Henry was broken to Anne? And how would he know how people react to bad news. I know he hated her but come on.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    I really don’t understand your anger at Chapuys. He is merely reporting what he had heard in line with other people about the reaction of the sad miscarriage at the end of January 1536. He has not ssid anything out of place or that indicates hatred of Anne and is often considered authentic. His record at this time tallies with Edward Hall and Charles Writhosley and it is normal surely for her husband and the Queen to be upset at the miscarriage, surely?

    Anne had gone through a couple of traumatic events in only a few days. She had heard with some alarm of the accident a few days ago and one report said that she had walked in on Henry and another woman, possibly Jane Seymour, but it could be anyone. The shock may have triggered a natural abortion or there possibly could be a medical reason. Certainly it had nothing to do with the ideas of Nicholas Sander writing several decades later, and there is no evidence that the unborn baby was deformed as he wrote. This would have been terrible for Anne. Henry was also devastated. Reports leaked out that they had an angry exchange of words, with Anne saying she was upset when she saw Henry loved others so it was his fault and Henry retorted that he saw God would not grant him male children. Did he mean with Anne or was he just upset? I believe the latter.

    I agree that Chapuys had genuine negative feelings for Anne, but I do believe he tried to be fsir in his reporting and most of the time his observations are supported by other sources. Yes, he may put his own spin on things, because he was loyal to Queen Katherine and Princess Mary but it was not worth lying in order to further his own cause. Henry was deeply affected by this loss as he looked into the idea of an annulment in February. He saw the same pattern of failure as he had gone through with Katherine. There is evidence that he consulted an expert and that he muttered about wanting a new wife. At the same time there is also evidence that Henry and Anne were still committed to each other as a couple. However, Anne was more vulnerable after this sad event and her enemies were waiting in the wings. This was a desperately sad event which caused both parents pain and it may be that they never really recovered from it. Poor Anne, she didn’t die because of this, but she must have felt more isolated and afraid and uncertain afterwards.

    1. Christine says:

      Actually you are right there Bq, as Chapyus later remarked on the charges against Anne that he did not think she was guilty, when you consider they were so monstrous, I believe although he was biased in favour of Katherine that basically he was a fair person, in fact I don’t think Henry fooled anyone over the arrest trial and execution of his second wife, everyone must have suspected if just a little that it was just an excuse to get rid of her and make it possible for Henry to marry again, Henry was impatient he didn’t want to go through a divorce or anullment again and I think he would have felt a fool in the eyes of the world, they would have thought he didn’t know what he wants, how can a King like that be trusted who swops and changes his wives like he changes his socks, the plot to stitch her up on charges of adultery incest and plotting to kill the King was just to gain him sympathy and a very good reason for executing her, it was also so his future children would be born in wedlock and thus have legal status, shocking and disgusting but it possibly seemed the easy way out for Henry.

    2. Tidus says:

      I myself have a problem with chapuys referring to
      Anne as “the concubine”. It’s insulting.

      1. Claire says:

        But it’s how he thought of her. In his eyes, Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s true and only wife, therefore, Anne was Henry’s concubine.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          He only referred to her in this way a few times. The word might have been meant as an insult, but in itself it isn’t necessarily an insult. Many great cultures raised the status of concubine. The role of concubine in China for example was to provide the Emperor with a potential heir. There were 27 ranks of concubine in China, the top six could even be raised to Empress. It was about status and not belittling. The word doesn’t mean whore or prostitute. It actually means “live in mistress” or ” official lover” and refers to a cohabiting woman or man. It is actually gender neutral. Chapuys didn’t acknowledge Anne as Henry’s wife, he saw her as his cohabiting lover. Therefore his use is actually correct as he sees things, no matter what his thoughts behind it. I am sure it may also be an insult, and it’s not very nice, but contextually Chapuys gives it the correct usage.

          It should be noted that he used “the lady” or “,belle Anna” far more often. Perhaps it depended on what sort of mood he was in or the circumstances. Regardless of how he addressed Anne, he was being honest, if biased at times and was the man inside the Court. It’s certainly the person who gives us the most details on a number of important issues and sometimes he is a rare source. Like all sources he has to be analysed with caution and remember that he had a heart for Katherine and this coloured his reports on Anne.

  3. Michael Wright says:

    I realize that Chapuy was reporting what he heard but I also got the impression that he was adding his opinion of Anne’s reaction to the bad news about her husband. If I’m wrong about that my apologies to the ambassador.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Yes, he is adding his opinion on the cause of her miscarriage, that Anne blamed Norfolk, but adds that Norfolk giving her the news that Henry had fallen from his horse, a few days before her miscarriage can’t be the cause, because he told her gently and here Chapuys repeated what was obviously being said about Anne, that she has a problem as a woman with her own fertility. Yes, I see what you mean by this part. It is a rather odd comment to make and one does wonder at his sources here but it was actually the heart of the matter.

      Eustace Chapuys is writing a couple of weeks later and there had been some rumours regarding how Henry was mumbling about not being able to have a son and needing a new wife. He had made some off the cuff remarks to an intimate friend and he was a bit raw about the whole thing. These remarks have been taken by some historians as evidence that the King was fed up, but it is more likely that Henry was up set and was merely discussing that upset with a friend. His report on the main details are reliable and he is reporting, I believe, the various ideas as to the cause of Anne’s miscarriage and the reaction of both parties to such a tragic and traumatic event. One thing all of the contemporary sources agree on, even those which are far briefer, is that Anne had a natural miscarriage, of a normal male foetus, of three and a half months and there is nothing about “,a deformed mass of flesh” which is only in Nicholas Sander many decades afterwards.

  4. Christine says:

    Cannot remember who wrote it could have been Elizabeth Norton, but the author of this book I was reading about Anne or Jane said that the latters behaviour was too virtuous to be left alone with the King, as her reputation was jealously guarded by herself and her family, this could be true as Jane to be found lolling about on Henrys lap whilst his wife was heavily pregnant would ruin the image she and her family wished to portray as a humble and modest and virtuous woman, so maybe this tale is just a myth? This miscarriage was to be the final one for Anne and yes I do believe it made her vulnerable, after Elizabeth was born Henry was confident they would soon have a son, she had proved she could carry a child and the baby was born healthy, Anne recovered well and she was soon pregnant again, but then something happened and we hear no more of the child so maybe partly due to wishful thinking she had made a mistake and realised she wasn’t, but one writer thinks she had two stillborn babies after Elizabeth, if she had then both Henry and Anne would have been getting increasingly desperate for her to have a son, the tragedy of the baby born in January 1536 was that according to some sources it was a boy, stress anxiety, possibly the shock caused by Henrys injury before, the need to have a son coupled with the upset Henrys infidelities caused her, the numerous plots around her maybe all contributed towards the miscarriage, or maybe she had an unknown medical condition that made it impossible for her to carry another child full term, maybe she could not carry sons and Henry realised this and thus began to seriously consider replacing her with Jane Seymour, queens although women were merely brood mares and Henry had married her firstly because he was madly in love with her, but also because she was young and he felt she could give him a son or two, by now his feelings towards her had faded a little and her constant nagging irritated him, he felt trapped but was still supporting her as we have discussed in earlier posts, or maybe he was just going through a sham so as not to make her suspicious, but the very real grief they both went through at the loss of their child was devastating for both of them, Anne herself must have felt doom closing in around her, apparently they both had a slanging match with Anne blaming him for flaunting Jane in front of her and he said he could see God won’t allow him anymore male children, of course what he would have meant was, God would not allow Anne to have anymore, the same day as her enemies said prayers for Katherine of Aragon as her coffin was laid to rest in the abbey of Peterborough, they must also have been gleefully toasting the end of Anne Boleyn, for a woman mourning the loss of her dead child and knowing that her once ardent husband no longer loved her the way he used to, fearing that he could try to end their marriage and cast her of, would have shattered her already fraught nerves, highly volatile that she was and she must have been very depressed, that January must have been dreadful for her and I hope and pray she had plenty of support from her family and friends.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      It’s an odd tale and I am not even at this moment certain on the source but at some point Anne certainly found out Jane was receiving attention from Henry. There appears to be either talk after her miscarriage or before or an assumption that Henry has an eye for Jane (Mistress Semel from other references is interpreted as Seymour) and someone is gossiping for her name to come up. It’s possibly the first time she is named in this way, but Henry may have been following her for some time. Jane was no stranger to the court and I believe she has been at court for some time, but Henry, like most King’s and nobles, slept with other women while he wives were pregnant. He obviously didn’t sleep with Jane, who would hold out against such a move and stuck to her virtue, but that didn’t mean he may not court or as he put it, serve her in a chivalrous manner. With a very public and upsetting miscarriage, followed by an even more public reaction and argument, people at court will have nothing better to do, so why not place Jane on the Kings knee, giving him some comfort, even if it was a story? That is how the court was. A hot bed of sex, gossip, danger and intrigue.

      The reaction of the King and the Queen was public knowledge within days and Anne’s miscarriage was discussed publicly for weeks and in dispatches for several days. She was distressed and probably unwell, Henry was not very helpful and they were not having any meaningful communication. It would not surprise me if the miscarriage wasn’t even on 29th but a few days earlier and this has been noted by a number of historians. The 29th was probably the official announcement. Some stillbirths and miscarriages were kept quiet, but this time the world and his wife knew every detail. It was the setting for a number of speculative reasons and Chapuys I feel summarized everything well in his letters. Jane dangling on Henry’s knee does not fit with the Jane who refused even money from Henry and a letter, although she may have been advised on this or the fact that Henry had meetings only with a chaperone from her family or maids. Henry later gave Jane a locket, which one assumes had his image in, that Anne saw and this caused trouble. He also had Thomas Cromwell give up his apartments which had a private corridor to the King’s apartment so as he could meet with Jane or her family with discretion. It is only by March that we know more about Jane and Henry, but even then there is little to indicate Henry was looking at her for his wife. We don’t really know when that changed because all sorts of contradictory stuff happens over the last few months of Anne’s reign and life. There are movements towards the Seymour faction and towards Mary by leading courtiers but there are also clear signs that Henry is still happy to keep his feet firmly under the table, insisting on support for Anne. This next five months are the most baffling and changeable time in Henry and Anne’s marriage and historians have a difficult time interpreting all of the evidence. I would imagine anyone else at court would have had a hard time working things out, as well.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes there doesn’t appear to be any credence to the tale that Anne found Jane with Henry and flew into a rage, thus causing her miscarriage, it was a tale repeated by Jane Dormer years later to Queen Mary or maybe she was the original source for the story, Jane was so close to Mary knowing her for many years when she was a teenager and she had often shared her bed, it was also Jane who stated that Anne was twenty nine when she died, and some of Annes earlier biographers have taken this as fact, but over the years it’s been assumed after more research that she was older possibly by about five to six years, the Nidd Hall portrait of the queen shows a woman looking much older than twenty nine with a sagging jawline and worry lines around the eyes, hardly surprising knowing the stress she was under, she did in fact discover Jane Seymour with a locket Henry had given her and kept clicking it open according to one source, Anne increasingly irritated asked to see it and Jane immediately felt awkward and didn’t know what to do, this is repeated many times, Anne then apparantly ripped it from her neck with such force she cut her fingers, after that she found every excuse to be nasty to Jane, slapping her now and then, Jane retaliated herself and this is at odds with her meek nature, if she was as gentle and meek as she was supposed to have been how come she found the nerve to stand upto Anne? Anne must have been quite terrifying in her rages and it was said no one dares say no to her not even the King, yet Jane took it all in her stride, of course she had the kings protection but she was one of Annes ladies and whilst she was with her she was in a sense at her mercy, I think underneath Janes timid smile hid a far more courageous woman than she is given credit for, we have to remember she married Henry just two weeks after Anne had been beheaded, I agree the last few months of Annes life is confusing because outwardly Henry was supporting her and then he deserted her so suddenly, as if he had just decided to push her over the edge of a cliff, we don’t know if Cromwell instigated the plot against her on the approval of Henry or wether Hemry was as much in the dark as Anne was, we don’t know if he thought his wife was actually guilty or believed the charges, so many questions to which we will never know the answers, but that’s history for you!

        1. Banditqueen says:

          If the history was straightforward it wouldn’t be so interesting. It’s because there is so much mystery, intrigue, disagreement, debate and interpretation that I find history so fascinating. I don’t mean the bland rubbish from school, but the juicy sources, with their colourful descriptions and the human stories full of life and details. I didn’t specialise in history, I am a scientist, history is an analysts dream. History is my passion and it fits everything else but I also really find there is so much humanity at the heart and we often forget all of that. Anne was a human woman with passionate emotions, from jealousy to rage and love. Henry was a man of many facets, with up and down rages and good nature, charm and friendship and dangerous and ruthless and a man who loved and gave everything to a relationship but could turn around and strike as he did with Anne and others.

          I have the life of Jane Dormer on my Kindle, maybe I will read it later. Yes, I have heard this that she believed Anne was twenty nine and she was very close to Mary. Anne did fund the locket, yes, and pulled it off, cutting her finger, although I don’t blame her. Jane must have been showing it off or at least made no effort to hide it. Henry gave very generous gifts to his Ladies, look at all the ones he sent Anne. Even if you discount the jewellery she sent back, he sent her more and she gave him a ship with a lady, meaning she agreed to his protection. No doubt he sent many things, but we do know about Jane and her locket.

          I don’t think Jane was meek, even if she was gentle and kind to Mary, because she stayed around when Anne was at her worst and she must have stood her ground or at least put up with it as Anne was the Queen and Jane was bound to obey her. However, she had a family to go home to and there is another story that Anne sent Jane home but Henry changed her decision. Anne was under far more pressure during her last five months and seeing Jane with gifts from Henry must have reminded her of how things had been when she was the mistress, Queen in waiting and Katherine saw her with items given by her husband.

          Jane I believe was kind and generous, yes, but also had a mission, to restore Mary to the succession, a mission that failed, but she was in contact with her from the day she returned from honeymoon. She was wise enough to know how to handle Henry, to back off when he warned her to and to find another way forward. She didn’t give up but she would try a different tact and Henry did let Mary back, but only after her total submission to his will. Henry by now was almost impossible to live with and any woman needed a medal to do so. Jane was careful and courageous and a more traditional Tudor wife, not someone to involve themselves in the business of state, but to intercede and provide support and an heir. Jane can’t possibly be as dull as we are led to believe because she would not have attracted Henry as he still liked intelligence and good conversation. Jane was fair, an English rose, but she was also something of a mystery. In her portrait she looks as if her hooded eyes are hiding a shrewd brain, someone who watched and learned, learning just how to win over Henry and use her virtue as a weapon to keep the King. Anne noticed something more dangerous in Henry’s attention to Jane, possibly because she was at the same time more vulnerable, trying to hold onto the love of her husband.

    2. Anyanka says:

      I believe following the 1535 Progress and certainly by at the time of Anne’s miscarriage Jane had been pushed forward as a potential mistress rather than a wife.

      It wasn’t until Henry decided that Anne was a liability that Jane became more secluded as the pure maiden under the family protection to the extent that Cromwell gave up his apartments with it’s convenient hidden passage way to Edward Seymour and his wife Anne.

      Certainly days after Henry and Jane married, Henry was grousing about the other pretty women at court.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks Anyanka, yes, I wasn’t certain, but yes, thanks for that information. I can’t even remember where it was said about her and being a mistress, but it was how Henry did things and he must have changed his mind only when Anne was losing favour during those uncertain months from March 1536.

        The progress of 1535 was a high point for Anne and Henry in many ways as they visited many supporters and prompted their reform programme. Anne of course came home pregnant and how high they must have felt from the unfortunate news of the death of poor Katherine, which left Anne unchallenged. This was a high point and they celebrated, much to the shock of people who found this inappropriate. Then it had all gone wrong, starting with a controversial fall for Henry, which we had an interesting debate about a few days ago, but then Anne lost her baby boy, much to her natural distress and for once we know Henry was also distressed and lost it. I don’t think Anne found Jane on his knee but may have found someone. I also believe it was after her miscarriage, due to the fact they were probably both resting and Henry was also preparing to mourn Katherine and authorizing stuff for her funeral.

        There is some confusion in the weeks after Anne’s miscarriage/still birth, but something was going on. There is a lot of gossip about the cause of the loss of Anne’s child, Henry has a moan about his marriage, Dr Stephen Vaughan has been consulted on annulment, a woman has been seen coming from the King, we can guess giving life to talk about Mistress Semel or Seymour, who Henry was seeing, probably before he only did so with a chaperone. Yes, your observations are very correct, Henry did only make certain he only saw her with her family after he had decided he was possibly interested in her as more than a mistress, probably after March which is when she appears more in sources. Henry I think got the message that Jane wanted to be more than a mistress after Henry sent he money and a letter ( for services rendered or intended wink wink ?). A tactical Jane ( maybe coached) carefully kissed the letter, said she was of good parents and virtuous, and no doubt she was and to give her money when she made a good match, hint hint. This of course was following Anne who had used her own virtue as a weapon to tell Henry that she would only be his wife, never his mistress. It impressed Henry on both occasions. From that time on with Jane as a potential match, Henry had to respect and protect her virtue by meeting her in a discreet setting and with her family present. Anne was vulnerable now and a rival was dangerous. I can fully understand her anger when she learned of the chambers being given up, which she must have done as there are no secrets at court, plus when she saw her with that locket, well anyone would be outraged to see an expensive piece of jewellery adorning another woman, one who by now people were talking about as their husbands concubine.

        I love that, Anyanka, “grousing over other pretty women at court” , which means he was up to his old tricks. As soon as Anne really fell, Henry sent Jane off out of the way, keeping her as it were untainted by his evil deeds that set poor Anne up and left her to the mercy of her enemies and himself.

        May I say, I love your name, Anyanka, it is so unusual and so pretty.

  5. Sharon Hutchinson says:

    It has been said that Anne miscarried what would have been her savior. I’m sure she was absolutely terrified as to what would be the outcome. Of course, back then no one would dare think out loud that maybe Henry himself was responsible for miscarriages. I’ve just read up on the matter and indeed we now know that malformed/defective sperm can indeed cause miscarriages after conception as the fetus develops. Interesting thought.

    In any case, it was Anne who paid the price. Horribly.

  6. Britannia says:

    I have read a great deal about Anne Boleyn over the years and this final miscarriage always seems to me to have contributed to Anne’s devastatingly speedy fall from grace and eventual execution. On the subject of the baby; it occurred to me that perhaps Anne may have been further along in her pregnancy than she thought-possibly at four months gestation- rather than three and a half. This would explain why the child was so easily identifiable as a male. The so called ” shapeless mass” would surely have been the expelled placental matter? As one would expect in any birth or miscarriage. .. Just my take on the various descriptions given at the time

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