The title page of Nicholas Sander’s book

Following on from my post a few weeks ago about Anne Boleyn’s 1534 mystery pregnancy, I wanted to examine the various theories regarding Anne’s final pregnancy which ended in January 1536, less than four months before her execution.

A Straightforward Miscarriage

The majority of historians and authors believe that Anne Boleyn’s final pregnancy ended with a miscarriage on 29th January 1536, the day of Catherine of Aragon’s burial and a few days after Henry VIII suffered a serious jousting accident.

There are three main pieces of contemporary evidence for the miscarriage, a letter written by Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, and the chronicles of Charles Wriothesley and Edward Hall:

“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.”1 Eustace Chapuys to Charles V, 10th February 1536.

“And in February folowyng was quene Anne brought a bedde of a childe before her tyme, whiche was born dead.”2 Edward Hall

“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…”3 Charles Wriothesley

All three sources state that Anne miscarried her baby, and two of them state that it was a boy and that it was at the three and a half month mark. Wriothesley goes on to put forward the idea that the miscarriage was caused by Anne suffering shock at the news of Henry VIII’s jousting accident, as does Chapuys. The dates differ, with Chapuys stating that it happened on 29th January, Hall saying February and Wriothesley saying the 30th January, and Raphael Holinshed saying in his chronicle the 29th, but we can assume that it happened at the end of January.

A Deformed Foetus

In the novel “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory, Anne Boleyn miscarries “a baby horridly malformed, with a spine flayed open and a huge head, twice as large as the spindly little body”.4 Now, obviously this is just a novel but Gregory used the work of historian Retha Warnicke as a source and Warnicke believes that Anne did miscarry a deformed foetus. In “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn”, and also her essay “Sexual Heresy at the Court of Henry VIII”, Warnicke puts forward the idea that Anne’s miscarriage was a factor in her fall because it was “no ordinary miscarriage”5 and that it was “an unforgivable act”6. According to Warnicke, the foetus was deformed and this was seen as an evil omen and a sign that Anne had committed illicit sexual acts or been involved in witchcraft. Warnicke believes this because:

  • Anne was charged with committing incest with her brother, George, who Warnicke believes was Mark Smeaton’s lover.
  • Anne was charged with adultery with Smeaton, Norris, Brereton and Weston, who Warnicke believes to have been “suspected of having violated the Buggery Statute” and who “were known for their licentious behaviour”7
  • There seems to have been a delay between the miscarriage and the news being announced, showing that there was something odd about it – Chapuys did not report it until 10th February 1536.
  • “From late January the councillors moved to protect Henry’s honour by leaking erroneous information about his consort before the public announcement of her miscarriage”8 so that the sin would be seen as Anne’s and not the King’s.

However, in my own reading on pregnancy and childbirth in Tudor times,9 I have learned that deformities, or things like birthmarks, were actually thought to have been caused by things the mother had seen during pregnancy, rather than the parents necessarily committing a sexual sin. Seeing a hare, for example, was thought to result in a baby being born with a harelip, eating strawberries was thought to result in a strawberry birthmark, and deformities were thought to be caused by shocks or sudden frights, by seeing ugly sights or pictures, or by having contact with animals. These were superstitious times.

The only source, anyway, for Anne miscarrying a deformed foetus is Nicholas Sander, a Catholic recusant writing in the reign of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I. His book “De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani” was published in 1585 and translated from Latin into English by David Lewis in 1877 as “Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism”. In the English translation, Sander wrote of Anne’s miscarriage:

“The time had now come when Anne was to be again a mother, but she brought forth only a shapeless mass
of flesh.”10

Sander went on to write of how Anne blamed Henry VIII for the miscarriage, crying “See, how well I must be since the day I caught that abandoned woman Jane sitting on your knees”, but he did not attempt to explain the “shapeless mass” or give any more details. I’m sure that if he thought it was important and suggestive of sin or witchcraft that he would have mentioned it. Sander is the only source that describes Anne’s baby in this way, and he was writing much later (he wasn’t born until c.1530). As Professor Eric Ives pointed out “no deformed foetus was mentioned at the time or later in Henry’s reign, despite Anne’s disgrace”, nor was it mentioned in Mary I’s reign “when there was every motive and opportunity to blacken Anne”.11 Ives concluded that “it is as little worthy of credence as his assertion that Henry VIII was Anne’s father” and I agree wholeheartedly. Sander, as a Catholic exile, had every reason to blacken the name of Elizabeth I and her mother.

There is also no evidence that the five men executed in May 1536 were involved in “illicit” sexual acts, or that Anne was involved in witchcraft.

Phantom Pregnancy

In her recent book on Anne Boleyn, Sylwia Zupanec12 discusses Anne’s 1536 miscarriage and puts forward the idea that it may have been a phantom/false pregnancy  and not a miscarriage at all. The evidence she puts forward for this is:

  • That Sander actually did not mention a “shapeless mass of flesh” but, according to Zupanec, “In Latin described the outcome of Anne’s pregnancy as ‘mola'”. She goes on to say that “Sander’s account is not précising the information about what had happened on 29 January 1536 so he could have meant that Anne Boleyn had suffered from phantom pregnancy, miscarried an undeveloped foetus or expelled some kind of tumour.”13 Zupanec believes that Sander’s work was “incorrectly translated” and that as a result of this historians have misinterpreted it.14 She cites two Latin works to back up her translation of “mola” as a false conception, “M. Verrii Flacci Quae Extant: Et Sexti Pompeii Festi De Verborum Significatione”15 and “Lexicon Philosophicum Terminorum Philosophis Usitatorum”16 by Johannes Micraelius, Latin glossaries of terms.
  • That rumours spread around Europe saying that Anne had pretended to miscarry and that she hadn’t been pregnant at all. Zupanec quotes the Bishop of Faenza writing to Prothonotary Ambrogio on 10th March 1536, saying that Francis I had said “that “that woman” pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister, whom the French king knew here in France “per una grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte.””17 She also quotes Dr Ortiz writing to the Empress on 22nd March 1536: “La Ana feared that the King would leave her, and it was thought that the reason of her pretending the miscarriage of a son was that the King might not leave her, seeing that she conceived sons.”18 Zupanec believes Sander’s words and these reports, when combined, suggest that Anne may have been “simply suffering from illness unknown to her contemporaries”,19 i.e. a phantom or false pregnancy.

However, if you read Sander’s original Latin, as I have done, Sander does not use the word “mola”. Here is what Sander says about Anne’s miscarriage in his book “De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani”:

“”Venerat tempus quo Anna iterum pareret, peperit autem informem quandum carnis molem, ac praeterea nihil.”20

So, he says “molem” and not “mola” and the two words have completely different meanings.

My Latin is not very good at all, so I asked Phillipa Madams (thank you, Phillipa!), a Latin expert and Latin teacher, to translate the sentence by Nicholas Sander and also the Latin references given by Zupanec. Phillipa translated Sander’s words as “an unformed shapeless mass of flesh”, which was in keeping with Lewis’s 19th century translation. As far as the references cited by Zupanec to back up the idea that “mola” meant a “false conception”, Phillipa stated that the first one (by Marcus Verrius Flaccus and Sextus Pompeius Festus  the famous Roman grammarians) gave a definition of the word “mola” as “a millstone”, used for milling grain, and there was nothing about conception or pregnancy in the definition.

The second one (Johannes Micraelius’ glossary of Latin terms) was a definition for “mola carnis” (not “carnis molem”), saying that it was a “useless conception”. Indeed, as one of Phillipa’s students, Ellen, found, there is a condition called a molar pregnancy which is caused by problems with fertilization. Perhaps this is what Zupanec is referring to when she says “false conception”, rather than a phantom pregnancy, but this is a very rare condition and today is more common in teenage pregnancies or in women over 45. In a molar pregnancy, the cells of the placenta behave abnormally and “grow as fluid-filled sacs (cysts) with the appearance of white grapes”.21 In a complete molar pregnancy, a mass of abnormal cells grow and no foetus develops, and in the case of a partial molar pregnancy some normal placental tissue forms along with an abnormal foetus which dies in early pregnancy. In most cases, today, there are no signs that the pregnancy is anything but normal, until the woman has a scan, but in some cases the woman can experience bleeding or can lose the developing foetus. The treatment is for the woman to have the “mole” removed by surgery (a dilatation and curettage, or D&C), because if it is left then there can be complications, such as the growth becoming cancerous. The woman does not miscarry the “mole” or “tumour”. Sander is quite specific in saying that Anne “brought forth only a shapeless mass of flesh”, i.e. that she miscarried or gave birth to something. A foetus in the early stages of pregnancy may have appeared as a “shapeless mass of flesh” anyway to untrained eyes.

A phantom pregnancy, or false pregnancy (pseudocyesis), is when a woman experiences many of the symptoms of a real pregnancy and believes that she is pregnant, but there is no foetus, or placenta. This just doesn’t fit with what we know about Anne in January 1536 – Chapuys, Hall, Wriothesley and Sander all write of Anne miscarrying rather than being “pregnant” for months and then there being no baby born at the end of it. We can rule out a false pregnancy in this case.

As I said before, “mola” and “molem” are two completely different words and neither Phillipa nor I can understand why the references cited are definitions of a word not used by Sander in his book. Sander clearly wrote “informem quandum carnis molem” and “molem” simply means “mass”. Phillipa explained to me “Carnis is clearly and unambiguously referring to flesh and informem can have a range of meanings from shapeless to monstrous. Even without the misunderstanding of mola/molem she clearly gave birth to something.”22 The Latin translation by David Lewis is, therefore, correct and has not been misinterpreted by historians. There is no way, in my opinion, that Sander’s words can be read as suggesting that Anne was suffering from a phantom pregnancy and it doesn’t fit the symptoms or outcome of a molar pregnancy either. That’s even if we take Sander’s words seriously. We don’t know what he’s basing his story on and we don’t take his description of Anne seriously – the six fingers, projecting tooth etc. – so we need to take his description of the miscarriage with a hefty pinch of salt too.

As far as the rumours of Anne pretending to be pregnant are concerned, they are likely to have been just that: rumours. We have Chapuys, Wriothesley and Hall, and later Holinshed23 and Sander, all writing of a miscarriage. Professor Eric Ives pointed out in his biography of Anne Boleyn that Wriothesley was Windsor Herald, a man whose “post gave him a ready entrée to the court” and that “his cousin Thomas was clerk of the signet and close to Cromwell”,24 so he would have been well informed. There is no reason to doubt these reports.


Having looked at the various theories and having examined the contemporary sources, I believe that Anne suffered an ordinary, but tragic, miscarriage in January 1536. That is what the evidence points to and that is what I will believe. It was obviously a huge blow to the royal couple, and may have been a factor in her downfall, but there was nothing strange about this miscarriage.

What do you think?


Thank you so much to Louise Stephens for drawing my attention to the fact that Lancelot de Carles also writes of Anne miscarrying a male baby. I have Lancelot de Carles’ “Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn” so I was able to find the lines:

“Adoncq le Roy, s’en allant a la chasse,
Cheut de cheval rudement en la place,
Dont bien cuydoit que pur ceste adventure
Il dust payer le tribut de nature:
Quant la Royne eut la nouvelle entendue,
Peu s’en faillut qu’el ne chuet estendue
Morte d’ennuy, tant que fort offensa
Son ventre plain et son fruict advança,
Et enfanta ung beau filz avant terme,
Qui nasquit mort dont versa mainte lerme.”25

Here, de Carles is saying that the news of Henry VIII’s jousting accident caused Anne to collapse, landing on her stomach, and this caused her to give birth “avant terme”, prematurely, to “ung beau filz”, a beautiful son, who was born dead. He backs up what Wriothesley, Hall, Chapuys and Holinshed say and de Carles was the secretary of the French ambassador so is likely to have received information from Cromwell.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x.282
  2. Hall’s Chronicle, p818
  3. A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Charles Wriothesley, p 33
  4. The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory, Touchstone 2001, p589
  5. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, Retha Warnicke, p191
  6. Sexual Heresy at the Court of Henry VIII, The Historical Journal Volume 30, Issue 02, June 1987, p260
  7. The Rise and Fall,p214
  8. Sexual Heresy, p258
  9. Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, David Cressy, and Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, Merry E. Wiesner.
  10. Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, Nicholas Sander, Burns and Oates, 1887, p132
  11. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p297
  12. The daring truth about Anne Boleyn: cutting through the myth, Sylwia Zupanec, 2012, Kindle version, Chapter 9
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. M. Verrii Flacci Quae Extant: Et Sexti Pompeii Festi De Verborum Significatione, libri XX, 1826, p424
  16. Lexicon Philosophicum Terminorum Philosophis Usitatorum, Johannes Micraelius, 1661, p825
  17. LP x.450
  18. LP x.528
  19. Zupanec
  20. De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani, Nicholas Sander, 1585, p166
  21. Molar Pregnancy, NHS. I also looked at Hydatidiform Mole and Choriocarcinoma UK Information and Support Service and Cancer Research UK
  22. Phillipa Madams, 2nd December 2012
  23. Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Raphael Holinshed, p796
  24. Eric Ives, p296
  25. 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

Related Post

81 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Final Pregnancy”
  1. I agree Claire. Warnicke’s theories are interesting but this is by far her least convincing argument. The evidence seems to overwhelmingly indicate a miscarriage, or a stillborn child, at the end of January which as Ives suggests weakened Anne but did no means instigate her downfall.

      1. Hi Claire. I totally agree with you. But i also believe what also caused all those miscarriages was the wine they were drinking. From what i learned from my mom and dad and from my cousin amanda estrada, women who are pregnant should never drink wine or any kind of alcohol beverages during their pregnancy. And what the heck is ale?

        1. Doctors generally advise that a woman suffering a recent miscarriage should ‘take a break’ before trying again, to give herbody time to recover. Unfortunately for these women, with Henry breathing down their necks, I wager they were forced back onto the job (so to speak) whether ready or not. Imagine the stress.

        2. It’s true that drinking too much alcohol throughout your pregnancy can damage the unborn child, it can also increase the risk of miscarriage but it is unlikely to cause miscarriage after three months of pregnancy. More likely is that the baby will be born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which leads to poor growth, facial abnormalities and learning and behavioural problems.
          While it was usual for women to drink alcohol while pregnant in the Tudor era, I think they mainly drank ale during the day rather than wine. Ale was the staple drink of everyone in the16th century – water was unsafe and milk was limited to certain times of the year. Even children drank it throughout the day, so I think it quite likely that the ale of Tudor times was quite weak as far as alcohol content is concerned.
          Personally, I think the reason Anne miscarried was that she probably had a Rhesus negative blood group, which would mean that after her first baby (Elizabeth) had been born, she would not have been able to carry any Rhesus positive baby to term, since her immune system would attack any Rhesus positive foetus as a foreign body.

  2. Hello :). Do you think that the description of an open spine and large head, simply sounds as if she hadnt taken in enough folic acid? Spina bifida and hydrocephalus are the results of low folic acid intake sadly. I was also thinking that the diet of the wealthy was more refined and less likely to contain rough brown bread and vegetables which was the more typical diet of the poorer people. What do you think? Anyway, I so feel Anne, even all these years later she is so vibrant and wonderful 🙂 Jane xx

    1. Hi Jane,
      That description is from Philippa Gregory’s novel so is completely fictional and from Gregory’s imagination. There is no actual description of Anne’s miscarried baby apart from Sander’s “shapeless mass” or the words of Wriothesley and Chapuys describing it as a boy of around 3 1/2 months gestation.
      You’re right about diet etc. Not much was known about good pre-natal care in those days.

      1. Oh thank goodness as that would have been such a horrible experience for her. Do you find it frustrating that we will never really know why Anne had no other babies? I have wondered if she was rhesus negative or something along those lines :(. Oh if only we could have an afternoon with her and a good chat !! I am so fascinated by Anne, can I ask you what sparked your fascination with her? Or is that too nosey? Jane x

        1. Hi Jane,
          I do find it frustrating that there are all these unanswered questions surrounding Anne, but that also adds to the appeal as I do love mysteries! I think she was just unlucky. She had one successful pregnancy and two unsuccessful ones and that’s not unusual in modern times, it’s just a shame she didn’t have more time.

          I’ve been fascinated with history ever since I was a child, it was one of my favourite subjects at school. I did a project on Henry VIII and hi six wives when I was 11 so my interest stems from that and then one of my favourite modules at uni was one on the Reformation. I actually had a dream – see – about Anne’s execution and that sparked off this very blog. You’re not being nosey, I never mind answering questions about Anne and my fascination with her.

  3. >>A foetus in the early stages of pregnancy may have appeared as a “shapeless mass of flesh” anyway to untrained eyes.>>

    Exactly, today we have the advantage of Darwin and Ultrasound etc … heaven knows what a Tudor person would make of it! There is a lovely page in ‘Evolution Revolution’ by Robert Winston (page 78) which compares the embryos of a lizard, rabbit, duck and a human – they all look the same, like a ‘shapeless mass of flesh’.

    Thanks for another fascinating article!

    1. Hello, i suppose the baby must have died way earlier ? By 15 weeks it would have been developed and recognisable. Oh bless her heart. I love Robert Winston ! Xxx Jane

      1. I loved his “This Is Your Life” wher they had many families whom he had helped have children..

        The poster board on the ward with so many happy couples that he and his team had created a family for…

        1. Yes! I really enjoyed the series he did on babies born in 2000 too. My little girl was an IVF baby born in 2000 so I really connected with the series.

      2. As the author of the webpage cited by Claire, I should mention that the embryo images that look similar are all examples of frauds that have been published in various textbooks and other academic venues. This is detailed in my book (Rational Conclusions), but it is not immediately evident from glance at this webpage, which contains citations from a chapter in the book.

        Footnotes 1583, 1564, 1566, and 1572 all show that the drawings are fraudulent:

        The definitive study that proved these drawing are frauds is located here:

  4. As always, very interesting. I think it was an unhappy miscarriage. Poor Anne. I feel so sorry for her at this point–so much was riding on the pregnancy. I th ink stress over her circumstances probably was a contributing factor. thanks!

  5. I am interested in learning all about Anne because I have been doing my family tree and found that Anne is my 12th great aunt. My link is through the Foxes, West, Knollys and Catherine Carey then Mary Boelyn. I am trying to put a face to the names and dates so as to truely get the know the person. Thank you so much for all of these articles .

    1. Mary, how interesting! How were you able to get info so far back? I have traced my family back to only 1850 when they left Scotland for Canada. Claire, thank you for all your info about Anne. I went to England when I was 14 and got hooked on the Tudors after visiting a few castles.

  6. IMO, this was a plain miscarriage that reminded Henry of all of Catherine’s miscarriages (and indicated divine displeasure with his second marriage, as well as with his first) … especially since he was getting older. If it had only been a false pregnancy, Henry might have given Anne another chance, as it would not (necessarily) have reminded him of Catherine.

  7. Great article, Claire! You are so thorough and as objective as can be, I really respect and admire your work. I hope you will keep it up for many, many years!

  8. I agree, and have always thought that this pregnancy ended, sadly, in a straight forward miscarriage. I can not see any rhyme or reason why Anne would think ‘faking’ a pregnancy and miscarriage would help her position knowing Henry as she did. Anyway how would she keep that under wraps, when she couldn’t even blow her nose without someone reporting it. Tongues wagged incessantly in that court, she would never have got away with such trickery.
    IMO there is more mystery surrounding the one in 1534,than this one. The poor Lady miscarried her baby boy, and this made her vunerable to those who wanted her gone.. So very, very sad.
    I read some articles on Molar Pregnancies, very interesting, I have never heard of these before.
    Great article, with plenty of well research detail…especially in the Latin side of of it. Well done Claire.

  9. Lancelot de Carles also mentions the miscarriage as one of the signs of Anne’s coming misfortune, the other one being a fire in her chamber from which she narrowly escapes. According to de Carles, when Anne received the news that Henry had fallen from his horse, she collapsed and fell on her stomach. This made her give birth prematurely, and he says that the baby was “a handsome son” [ung beau filz] and that she shed many tears about him. As Lancelot de Carles was writing very shortly after these events and on the basis of information he had received from other people, this seems to show that at the time people were not talking about the foetus’s being deformed.
    It is interesting that Sander does not represent the incident as a premature birth because he says that the time had come for Anne to give birth again (“tempus quo iterum pareret”) and he has Anne herself say to the king that the cause of the foetus’s deformity is her witnessing him sitting with Jane Seymour on his knees. As this relationship is represented as divine punishment for Anne because she rejoiced over the death of Catherine of Aragon, the deformation of the fetus is one more sign of her sinfulness. Sander does not even mention Henry’s accident. So there is no reason to think that Sander so many years later somehow came across reliable information that had not been reported previously.
    Poor Anne! It was not unusual at the time for a woman to have a constant series of miscarriages and few surviving children. Obstetrical care at the time was very poor, even for a queen.

    1. Thank you so much, Louise, I have the Lancelot de Carles poem and had completely forgotten that he mentions the miscarriage too. I have just updated my article with that information.

      I too think that Sander’s account cannot be taken seriously, not when Wriothesley, Hall, Chapuys, Holinshed and de Carles all corroborate each other.

      Yes, it was not unusual for a woman to have miscarriages or stillbirths. I did some research into this for a talk I did and I found the following:

      • Historian Patricia Crawford estimates that 19% of families in the 17th century died childless because they had trouble conceiving or they lost their children to disease
      • The US March of Dimes website says “As many as 40 percent of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, because many losses occur before a woman realizes she is pregnant” and that’s in our modern day world with all our medical advances.
      • avid Cressy, author of “Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England”, quotes from Isaac Archer’s diary of his wife’s pregnancies and labours in the late 17th century, so the Stuart era. In 15 years of marriage, Anne Archer was pregnant at least ten times and only had one surviving daughter. She came close to death at several points, experienced miscarriages and lost the baby either in birth or shortly after. This was not unusual so Anne experiencing one or two miscarriages was certainly not unusual.
  10. Fascinating information, especially about the Latin translation — it’s wonderful how one ambiguous sentence can be the basis for a tower of fantasy later on! How seriously do you take Wriothesley’s saying that it was “a man child”? I’m inclined to believe it, simply because he’s a contemporary source and would have been in on the current gossip. Fifteen weeks isn’t too early to spot genitalia assuming the fetus had died fairly recently.

    1. Lancelot de Carles also writes of the baby being a boy so that must have been the news that was being spread around court. Sander’s account just doesn’t tally with the other accounts but I don’t think he meant anything by it anyway. I’m sure he would have been clearer in describing it as a monster if that’s what he wanted people to believe.

  11. Another thing to note about Sander’s version of this incident is that he actually changes the dating and contradicts his own timeline. All the sources mentioned above, as well as Lancelot de Carles, place Anne’s miscarriage at about the end of January, shortly after Queen Catherine’s funeral. Sander, however, says quite clearly that Anne gave birth in the fourth month after Queen Catherine’s death (“quarto post mortem Catharinae mense”]. Of course, this puts the incident in May, the month in which Anne was arrested and executed. Later, however, he gives the correct date for her arrest, 2 May, and says that she was at Greenwich on 1 May. So his version does not even make sense internally. This is one more indication that it is not reliable in other ways.

  12. I agree with Sonetka: fascinating! Very good scholarship here, Claire, to show the weakness in Zupenac’s view. I haven’t read her book, and don’t plan on doing so, for she seems to have done some shoddy scholarship and has an axe to grind against Anne from what I have read of other reviews on her new book.

    1. I won’t be reviewing her book because I have chosen not to review factual books on Anne Boleyn since I published my own, but there was so much I disagreed with and I did feel that it was a case of twisting evidence to fit theories.

  13. Brilliant article, as usual!!! It made so sad. To think of what poor Anne went thru, so close to success and yet so far. And in barely 16 weeks later, she too, was dead and gone. Almost the same amount of time she carried her ‘saviour’ in the womb.

  14. Diet may have had a large part in the frequency of miscarriages and stillbirths. But also the infant mortality rate was high, partly I believe as aristocratic and royal babies were not fed bu their mothers but by a wet nurse. Therefore they didn’t get their mothers valuable colostrum which gives and infant its first boost to the immune system. So they would have been more prone to infection and disease and possibly malnutrition. As to Anne’s final miscarriage, according to one historian interviewed about the Tudors TV series, she believed that King Henry believed the fetus was deformed and that led him to the conclusion the child couldn’t be his – the head of the English church, defender of the faith, and King of England. Also this historian believed Anne was pregnant again when arrested and executed, but it was hushed up as Henry was so desperate to get rid of her.

      1. It may have been, I cant remember. There were a few of them. In the boxed set of The Tudors in the special features there are many more interviews, mini documentaries, bloopers, and deleted scenes. Some of which explain parts missing from the story – Anne asking Madge Shelton if she had “consoled” the king, Madge confirming it but too embarrassed to talk about it

  15. Here is a further thought about Sander and his chronology. I have reread the text carefully, and it seems to me that it is not so clear as I thought that Sander contradicts himself. He talks about Anne’s destruction, then he says that it came about in the fourth month after Catherine’s death, and after than he talks about the deformed foetus. He may be referring forward to Anne’s execution and then doubling back to give the background, in which case the date of the miscarriage is vague. However there must be time before the miscarriage for the king to grow tired of Anne and start his affair with Jane after the death of Catherine. Then after Anne gives birth, she is shown plotting to be both the wife and mother of a king, first through incest with George Boleyn and then, when that plan fails, with Norris, Brereton,Weston, and Smeaton. So the chronology is not clear, and it does not conform with the other sources. Interestingly, Sander also gives the date of Queen Catherine’s death as 6 January 1535, but that is clearly a slip.
    I still think that this account is not reliable.

  16. I think it probable she had an ordinary miscarriage. Anne’s fall was so sudden and dramatic that people are grasping at straws to try to explain it, and the deformed foetus theory, along with the phantom pregnancy idea are just people trying to find something to explain why what happened, happened.

    1. Yes, I agree. I think we have to go with what the evidence tells us and in this case Wriothesley, Hall, Chapuys, Holinshed and de Carles are all saying that it was an ordinary miscarriage.

  17. Claire,thank you for welcoming me into this community… Its so wonderful. Just talking about Tudor history is like therapy to me and makes me feel at home. I adored the article about your dream… A disturbing dream to have but how wonderful that you have that link with her xx

    1. It’s great to have you here, Jane. Have you found the forum yet? There are some really friendly people discussing things on there.

      The dream was very disturbing but it led to me following my heart and doing something I love doing so it was a good experience really.

  18. I remember reading in Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower that there may have been something wrong with Anne and Henry’s blood types that makes the first pregnancy work but all the rest fail, I just can’t remember what it was called.

    1. I think Weir put forward the idea that Anne was Rhesus Negative. There is only evidence of Anne having two miscarriages, though, so I don’t think we can jump to conclusions, many women today have two or more miscarriages without there being something wrong. It’s hard to know.

  19. Anne was destined to not have another child – especially a boy. By the time this pregnancy and miscarriage happened Henry had fallen out of love with her and his eye was roving.. That I think is more tragic than the miscarriage. Henry stopped loving her and I think that Anne realized this. Whether this was a political marriage to promote the Boleyn’s or a true marriage of love how Henry was treating her must have confused her tremendously. That is the tragedy – that someone who professed to the world that they loved you would turn their back on you. This also goes for KOA (Henry denied and dis garded her but at least he didn’t murder her). Anne’s destiny was to have the “Tudor Sun”.

    1. I think Alison Weir writes in ‘The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn’ that when Thomas Boleyn was removed from office in July 1536, if Anne Boleyn’s pregnancy had gone to term, he should instead have become grandfather to the next King of England.

      Always strikes me as very poignant.

    2. You bring up an interesting point – I’ve never believed that Ane was truly in love with Henry. He was certainly besotted with her, but IMO, Anne never got over Henry Percy, or Wolsey’s interference in their romance.I don’t think Anne actively pursued the King, in fact, I don’t think she wanted anything to do with him, at least at first, Eventually, she was persuaded by her family to go along with it, and she began to see the advantages of such a union. I think Anne found the King intelligent, compelling and charismatic, and was too ambitious to pass up the opportunity to become Queen. It also provided her with the chance to avenge the wrong Wolsey had done her, and to promote the matters that were dear to her, i.e., religious reform. During the divorce from KoA, Henry and Anne were bonded together in a common cause – kind of a ‘you and me against the world’ situation – but once that was resolved, Anne’s lack of any real love for Henry began to reveal itself, and the resentment she felt being married to a man she didn’t really love began demonstrating itself with Anne ridiculing Henry to her friends and household. Henry had a proclivity for setting those he loved on such a high pedestal they had no place to go but down. He viewed Anne as his grand passion, his soulmate. It must have become apparent to him that she didn’t share this feeling, especially after they were married, and she had what she wanted.

  20. Since it appears miscarriages were very common back then, did everyone have the same opinion that a miscarriage was a punishment of God or did Henry just use this as an excuse to move on, once he had lost interest in his current partner?

  21. I really appreciate this posting,Claire. I have always been very skeptical of Anne’s last miscarried baby being deformed. To me it just sounded like another fabrication made by ill informed people who wanted demonize Anne. I agree with you that Anne just had a normal miscarriage. For one thing; I believe that if Anne did have deformed child,than I think Chapuys would have been all over that, yet there is no mention of it what so ever from him.

  22. Claire, another great read I new of the miscarrage,and said to myself that it sealed poor Anne’s fate.I still get really testy when I here Chapuys refure to Anne ,as the concubine and Elizabeth the bastard,what fowl words he speaks.Hope all is well with you keep up the great work! THX Baroness

  23. It is my opinion that Anne suffered from RH factor. In such, the first born child is normal,
    but subsequent pregnancies end in miscarriages. If this was the case, poor Anne never stood a chance of delivering a second child, male or female.

  24. Yet another brilliant article Claire 🙂 I’m just curious, does the reference made by Chapuys to “mistress Semel” refer to Jane Seymour? Or was this another mistress?

  25. Claire, another great read,Anne loosing her son must have just pulled her heart out her body,as the lose of any child ,it would be the greatest pain one could ever endure.I do not think Henry however felt the pain a mother feels,not that he did not feel pain in Henry’s way, I think the King’s pain was more fury hatefull, of croase against the Queen as she failed him in the worst way and that sealed her fate, she had know more to save her from Henry’s wrath.Anne’s life seemed to be a nightmare, never ending and then to be put to death, poor innocent souls. Baroness x

  26. Although this is a subject that will always be obscured in mystery, perhaps Henry’s lack of success in fathering children was due to the possibility that he was syphilitic…

    Comments please

  27. I guess back in those days, no-one gave a thought to the fact that Henry’s sleeping with so many different women could have given him a sexually transmitted disease…other than syphillis (if any others were even around then), thus providing yet another hurdle for Anne to get over as far as carrying a child to term, or having it stay alive past a few hours or days. How sad that she was criticized and initially blamed for these losses, when it could very well have been 95% Henry’s fault.

  28. I have always been a bit confused about a certain issue. IF Anne EVER thought of having relations with her brother to get full pregnant , again (I really do not think this ever was even considered for a moment), did they, themselves, & anybody else that had even remotely gotten wind of it, not realize the great possibility of that baby being deformed from the get go? i have NO IDEA what percentage is given to the deformity of an incestuous birth, but, surely, Henry, Anne, George, …a TON of people would realize that she could never get away with it if the baby went to full term & she delivered.. So they would have to realize that it would not even be attempted.

  29. Ann was set up by Henry’s hench men she could not do anything to save herself because she was English had she been of foreign blood she may have stood a chance I do not think she was insestorous with her brother or whilst married to Henry she ever went with any other man a very intelligent woman they where all sceared of Ann and what she could do to their standing this is the main reason why I think she had to be gotten rid of.

  30. Regarding the issue of the “mole”–it’s a condition described by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History… (translation available here: –unfortunately, the sections don’t line up in this particular text!) They are products of the womb, but potentially troublesome (as, he notes not unironically, in the same section, were normal fetuses for childbearing women throughout most of human history…). A minor but hopefully helpful contribution to a very interesting post indeed.

  31. I have always loved the Tudors since I was a little boy, so I must thank Claire for all the hard work she has done in putting this site together. Anne’s miscarriages certainly constitute a sad story. I understand that she was probably in her early thirties by 1536, and she was certainly under a lot of stress. Perhaps these were factors which caused her to miscarry, as much as any potential difficulties with rhesus factor or STIs? If I were Henry’s wife, I think I would be more than a little stressed. Much as I love to study it, I would be scared to get out of bed in the morning if I lived at the Tudor court! Again, thank-you for the great article Claire. I’ve read that Anne might have had three miscarriages after Elizabeth. Is this true?

  32. poor Anne I imagine the pressure to have a male child would not have helped at all. Lord I’d be for the block were I in the Tudor court as a barren woman myself.

  33. Claire, you said that

    “So, he says “molem” and not “mola” and the two words have completely different meanings.”

    “As I said before, “mola” and “molem” are two completely different words and neither Phillipa nor I can understand why the references cited are definitions of a word not used by Sander in his book. Sander clearly wrote “informem quandum carnis molem” and “molem” simply means “mass”.”

    Their meanings are the same, though. It’s basically the same as if someone would use “my” instead of “mine” – it’s linguistic declension. I don’t know why the expert you have consulted didn’t grasp this, as this is a basic fact when you’re a Latin expert, as Philippa Madams claims to be. Retha M. Warnicke also talked about “mola” when referring to Sander’s account, and so did Christopher Highley in his article entitled “A Pestilent and Seditious Book” discussing Sander’s book. In fact, Warnicke and Highley both agree with Zupaneck. This is an excerpt from Warnicke:

    “Christopher Highley has argued that Sander meant for the “mass” to signify a false conception, as Anne’s incestuous marriage to her alleged father should not result in the birth of a healthy male heir.” (‘Wicked Women of Tudor England’, p. 20)

    I think that you should re-edit this article, because you made a gross linguistic mistake.

    1. I’m not a Latin expert and Philippa, who was a Latin teacher, died last year so I cannot contact her I’m afraid and I’ll have to go through my correspondence with her. As far as I can remember, “mola” is a first declension feminine noun meaning “millstone”, “moles” is a 3rd declension feminine noun meaning “mass/bulk” – “molem” is the accusative from “moles”. “Molem” and “moles” are related and mean “mass”, and “molem” was the word used by Sander. Sander was definitely talking about a mass of some kind. “Mola” was never mentioned by Sander in the first place and is not any part of the word “moles” or “molem” as far as I can see. I believe that your argument that “mola” and “molem” are from the same word is not correct. “Moles” and “molem” yes, “mola” and “molem” no.

      I do remember that the reference cited by Zupanec to back up her meaning of “mola” was defining “mola” as a millstone (Mola vocatur etiam far tostum, et sale sparsum, quod eo molito hostiae aspergantur: molas avias inepte quidam dictas putant) and had absolutely nothing to do with a mass, conception, false pregnancies or miscarriages.

      Warnicke does not agree with Zupanec’s view that Anne suffered a false/phantom pregnancy, she believes that she miscarried a deformed foetus.

      1. “Mola” – a millstone, grindstone.
        Mola, molae, molae, molam, mola, mola (singular)
        Molae, molarum, molis, molas, molis, molae (plural)

        As you can see, “mola” is not related to “molem”. However…

        “Moles” – a shapeless mass, huge bulk, weight, pile, load. Molem is used in Sander.
        Moles, molis, moli, molem, mole, moles (singular)
        Moles, molum, molibus, moles, molibus, moles (plural)

        Sander, who used the word “molem”, was saying that Anne miscarried a “mass”. Zupanec dismisses this idea, saying that he uses the word “mola” and that he has been mistranslated and that he could have been referring to a phantom pregnancy.

  34. In your article, the quote from Zupanec says that : “’Mola’ in medical terms means false conception, tumour expelled from the womb or undeveloped foetus”. In this, she is right although her first reference does not confirm this. Her second reference, however, does and I believe you should have mentioned this as it’s relevant to the discussed material.

    The second reference you and Zupanec discussed is from Johannes Micraelius’ glossary of Latin terms and it has “mola carnis” defined as “conceptio inutilis” (“false conception”). Philipa Madams, whom you have consulted (I’m truly sorry to hear about her death) translated it as “useless conception” but such a term does not exist. “False conception”, mentioned by Zupanec exists. In medical terms it would be an abnormal conception in which a mole, or misshapen fleshy mass, is produced instead of a properly organized fetus. I think there might have been a confusion between ‘false conception’ and ‘false pregnancy’ as these are not the same things and I feel that Zupanec treated them as one.

    “Warnicke does not agree with Zupanec’s view that Anne suffered a false/phantom pregnancy, she believes that she miscarried a deformed foetus.”

    In this article, you’ve quoted Zupanec as claiming that:

    “’Mola’ in medical terms means false conception, tumour expelled from the womb or undeveloped foetus.”

    The excerpt from Warnicke, quoted earlier by me (it’s from her book about ‘Wicked Women of Tudor England’), says:

    “Christopher Highley has argued that Sander meant for the “mass” to signify a false conception”.

    This “mass” is translated in Warnicke’s and Highley’s works as “mola”. It means that they are of the same opinion as Zupanec, since she had clearly stated that “mola” in medical terms may also refer to a “false conception” (among other things).

    1. I wrote this article over two years ago and at that time I had just read Zupanec’s book, checked her references and had spoken to a Latin expert, but to reply to you properly I’ll have to dig out all my notes on this and re-read Zupanec’s chapter. I wouldn’t want to comment while it’s not fresh in my mind as obviously it is in yours. A long time ago!

      What I would say is that I would not recommend relying on Sander’s account of Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage in 1536. Sander was not even born until around 1530 and had no ‘inside’ knowledge of the event. Sander is the only source for Anne miscarrying a deformed foetus (or mass/tumour if you translate it that way), whereas there are four contemporary sources for Anne having suffered a normal miscarriage – de Carles, Wriothesley, Hall and Chapuys. If it had been in any way abnormal, or there had been court gossip about it, then Chapuys would have heard about it and reported it.

      1. I only have a kindle version so cannot give page references – sorry.

        In the chapter on Anne Boleyn and witchcraft, in which Zupanec writes about the 1536 miscarriage, Zupanec writes argues that she has found “no evidence that he [Sander] wrote about “shapeless mass of flesh”.” and goes on to say that the Latin that Sander used was “mola” which “in medical terms means false conception, a tumour expelled from the womb or undeveloped foeutus.” She argues that his work was “incorrectly translated” and that it has been “subsequently misinterpreted” by historians.

        As I have stated before, it is Zupanec who is actually incorrectly quoting and mistranslating Sander. Sander never used the word “mola”, he used “carnis molem” which translates to “an unformed shapeless mass of flesh”, so the 19th century translator was spot on. She goes on to write of how Sander’s wording was “probably linked with malformed embryo (informis carnis mola)…. The phrase “mola carnis” means “conceptio inutilis” (259) translated as “failed pregnancy”.” but this is very shaky when the basis for your argument is that Sander never used “carnis molem” and that he used “mola”.

        She goes on to affirm that “there is no evidence that Anne miscarried a “shapeless mass of flesh”.” and she writes of how Francis I’s words regarding Anne’s pregnancy as a “deceit” “may indicate that she indeed suffered from false pregnancy”, the phrase Zupanec uses for phantom pregnancy, i.e. not a pregnancy at all so no tumour, mass, foetus or anything. After discussing various theories, Zupanec appears to settle more on the idea of a phantom pregnancy, not a tumour being expelled so she doesn’t agree with Highley and Warnicke anyway.

        Re Zupanec’s sources/references for this section of the chapter, she cites:
        257 – Sander
        258 – Marcus Verrius Flaccus
        259 – Johann Lutkesschwager/Johannes Micraelius

        I do not ignore any of those references in my article, I discuss all of them – see article above. I write about Marcus Verrius Flaccus and Sextus Pompeius Festus defining “mola” as a “millstone” in the reference Zupanec cites, which has nothing to do with conception or pregnancy. I then go on to talk about the Micraelius definition of “mola carnis” which is different wording to Sander anyway, he used “carnis molem”. I really do feel it is pointless to argue a theory based on the wrong word. Mola and molem do not come from the same word in Latin however you look at it, they are not declensions of the same word.

        I just do not feel that you can use Sander’s words as evidence of Anne having suffered a phantom pregnancy. Even if you take Sander at face value and put store in his account as evidence then Anne’s body definitely expelled something, whether it was a foetus or lump. I do not believe that “carnis molem” can be twisted to have the same meaning as “mola carnis”.

        The point of my article anyway is to dispute a reliance on Sander when the other sources, which are contemporary, do not corroborate what he writes. I do not agree with Highley, Zupanec or Warnicke and their various theories. I believe that the contemporary sources provide us with evidence that Anne Boleyn suffered a normal miscarriage.

  35. Right, I didn’t notice the date. No need to do that, Claire, I reached my own conclusions based on what I read here. For further info I will contact Retha M. Warnicke.

    1. Retha Warnicke is very approachable and I’m sure will be able to help you. I don’t agree with her on several points, but she is an excellent historian and her work is always well referenced.

      1. I’ve just checked my copy of Warnicke’s “Wicked Women” book too and Warnicke does indeed quote Highley as saying that Sander’s use of the word “mass” could mean false conception and that it could have been heavy menstrual flow, but I cannot find anything in the book about Sander being mistranslated or his use of “mola”. I think you’re misunderstanding my article. Highley is basing his theory on a correct reading of Sander, Warnicke is basing hers on a correct reading of Sander, Zupanec, however, is basing her theories on a misreading of Sander and is accusing the translator of mistranslating his work and historians of misinterpreting it.

        I hope that makes sense now. I don’t have a problem at all with Highley and Warnicke’s theories although I don’t agree with them because of their reliance on Sander, but I do have a problem with Zupanec’s work being based on a mistranslation and the references being suspect.

  36. It’s funny. Everyone who doesn’t agree with you must surely misunderstand your point, right? 😉 Claire, how is that you merely “don’t agree” with Warnicke on several points, but you “have a problem” with Zupanec? Is it because Warnicke is a well-known historian and Zupanec is not widely known? Personally, I think you should have a problem with Warnicke, because her theories are responsible for so many myths about Anne. Philippa Gregory based her whole novel on Warnicke’s claims and people believe that Anne was a witch who gave birth a deformed child and that George Boleyn was homosexual. There’s no shred of evidence for Warnicke’s claims yet you don’t have a problem with such a grossly inaccurate misinterpretation of historical facts .

    1. “Everyone who doesn’t agree with you must surely misunderstand your point, right? ;-)”

      Where do I say or imply that? I certainly would never want to be taken that way.

      I don’t agree with Warnicke, as you point out. I don’t agree with her “sexual heresy” theory, and it’s unfortunate that novelists like Philippa Gregory have used her theory and run with it. However, Warnicke does cite her sources and reference them properly. Her work is based on her interpretation of the sources, an interpretation I do see as a distortion but that’s my point of view and some people agree with her.

      I have a problem with Sylwia Zupanec’s theory on Anne’s final pregnancy because it is based on a source that she misquotes and references that do not say what she says they do. She accuses the 19th century translator of Sander’s book as mistranslating it but then goes on to misquote the original and mistranslate it, which then causes a whole lot of confusion. When sources are cited they need to back up the theory you’re presenting. I don’t have a problem with Zupanec herself or her book, just the way she’s presented her theory.

      I think I’ve only mentioned Zupanec in a couple of articles on here, yet I’m always disagreeing with Warnicke. This article was written just after Zupanec’s book was published so that was why I’m referring to Zupanec’s new “take” on the pregnancy. I had discussed Warnicke’s theory on many occasions and also in my books.

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to say in your comment but thanks for posting.

  37. Poor Anne lost an unborn baby in her fourth month because her stupid husband frightened her by getting himself thrown of his horse in a joust, at the age of forty five and gave his poor wife a shock and she lost their son a few days later. A sensible man does not go around taking part in dangerous sports in his mid forties while his wife is pregnant with her third child and they need a healthy son. Anne had a tragic miscarriage, like any miscarriage and four sources only say the baby was male and about three to four months gestation. There is nothing about any deformed babies or ‘a mass of flesh ” as this was only said in the 1580s more than fifty years later by a Catholic priest, whose job it was to make Queen Elizabeth look bad because she was seen as a heretic and as illegitimate. Father Nicholas Sander also wrote that Anne was covered in moles so he can’t be taken seriously. Had Anne lost a child who was so badly deformed then the News of the World aka Chapuys would have said so. He does add some gossip to his account as per Chapuys and how he saw the cause of Anne’s miscarriage and how Henry was upset by it, but he makes it clear that it was nothing more than a normal miscarriage. Nobody mentions the so called deformed foetus and yet you have Professor Warnicke who is a respected academic and does her research, taking Sanders seriously over Chapuys. She then goes on to form a theory about deformed babies being the result of sexual misconduct and that Henry believed this and that is one of the reasons Anne was tried and executed. There are two thesis published in the sixteenth century on this but it was not a mainstream belief sanctioned by the Catholic or Protestant Churches. Warnicke also talks about the men being sexually deviant and this is why they were chosen to be the co accused and Henry believed the charges. She discusses the law recently passed against Sodomy and talks about how it was viewed at the time, but as there was such a law, why not try the men under that law? Warnicke also referred to the remarks that Henry is said to have made about how Anne bewitched him into marriage and that he considered his marriage invalid and wanted a new wife. She puts great emphasis on this off the cuff remark and says this is when Henry wanted to get rid of Anne. She then associated the remark with the miscarriage and deformed foetus and links them to Anne’s inevitable fall. However, Anne was not tried as a witch and no deformed baby was mentioned in the charges against her. This is a big leap from one off the cuff remark from a distressed husband and father. Henry was deeply distressed by this loss and any such remark has to be seen in that light. He didn’t follow it up. Henry in fact gave up on the idea of any annulment and apparently stood by Anne, at least until it all went wrong at the end of the following April. These connections are totally nonsense and Warnicke has made a theory based on something which historically never happened. Unfortunately, authors like Philippa Gregory have taken these loose theories and made them into one fact, written in fiction, in the Other Boleyn Girl, but also presented as fact. According to Gregory Anne has an incestuous encounter with her brother George and miscarried of her child by him as a result. This ties into her view of witchcraft, incest or adultery and women having a deformed child as a result of bad behaviour. This was nonsense of course and it was feared that a woman may miscarry or her child be affected based on her seeing dark scenes, having nightmares, being alarmed or eating certain foods. There is no evidence to support the theory of Professor Warnicke and the charges against Anne and the men executed with her are nonsense.

  38. Ann is in my family tree and I firmly believe she was a woman ahead of her time and was brought down by men and the patriarchal society.

    I do have one question. What happened the still births or a “mass of flesh”? I mean would they have been properly buried or disposed of in some other way?

    My feelings toward Henry are that he was an abusive husband and man in general. I’ve always despised him.

  39. Thank you Claire for your commentary and precise attention to detail! I come across some grey areas about this historical account and you have done research and have biographical input on the theories out there, and come in with your own opinions on the matter. I often have the same conclusions drawn. Thank you for your painstaking works and attention to detail.

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