Anne Boleyn’s Miscarriage – 29th January 1536

Jan29,2011 #miscarriage

On the same day that her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon, was laid to rest, Anne Boleyn miscarried. The Imperial ambassador reported the miscarriage to his master, Charles V:-

“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

On the 25th February, Chapuys mentioned the miscarriage again:-

“I learn from several persons of this Court that for more than three months this King has not spoken ten times to the Concubine, and that when she miscarried he scarcely said anything to her, except that he saw clearly that God did not wish to give him male children; and in leaving her he told her, as if for spite, that he would speak to her after she was “releuize.” The said Concubine attributed the misfortune to two causes: first, the King’s fall; and, secondly, that the love she bore him was far greater than that of the late Queen, so that her heart broke when she saw that he loved others. At which remark the King was much grieved, and has shown his feeling by the fact that during these festive days he is here, and has left the other at Greenwich, when formerly he could not leave her for an hour.”2

It is clear from Chapuys’ reports that both Anne and Henry were devastated by the loss of their son adn with hindsight we can see that this miscarriage made a huge impact on Anne’s future, that she had “miscarried of her saviour”3. However, Chapuys is prone to exaggeration and Eric Ives points out that his reference to Henry VIII pretty much ignoring Anne for three months just is not true for “Chapuys had forgotten his own report of the king’s behaviour after Katherine’s death”4. Also Chapuys reads far too much into the King leaving Anne at Greenwich to celebrate Shrovetide at Whitehall – Anne had just had a miscarriage, surely she needed to recover!

Catholic recusant, Nicholas Sander, who was in exile during Elizabeth I’s reign, wrote of how Anne Boleyn had blamed her miscarriage on catching the King with Jane Seymour on his lap, and Jane Dormer (Duchess of Feria and lady-in-waiting to Mary I) also wrote of this and reported that “there was often much scratching and bye-blows between the queen and her maid.”5 Eric Ives calls such reports “late embroidery”6 because there is plenty of evidence of Henry making “determined efforts to persuade Europe to accept Anne as his legitimate wife” and concludes:-

“The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities. It did nevertheless make her vulnerable yet again.”7

But what about the deformed foetus story?

The Deformed Foetus

“The Other Boleyn Girl” book has Anne miscarrying a “monster”:-
“In the midwife’s bloody hands was a baby hardly malformed, with a spine flayed open and a huge head, twice as large as the spindly little body.”8
This idea comes from Nicholas Sander’s report that Anne miscarried “a shapeless mass of flesh”9, but Nicholas Sander was only around 6 years of age in 1536 and he was purposely trying to blacken Anne Boleyn’s name when he was in exile during her daughter’s reign. His report of this deformed foetus is not backed up by any other source and don’t you think that Chapuys would have gleefully reported it to Charles V if this had happened? Both Chapuys and the chronicler Charles Wriothesley simply state that she miscarried a male child of around 15 weeks in gestation.

Was Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage responsible for her fall?

You can read my article on this at “Was Anne Boleyn’s Miscarriage Responsible for her Fall?” but I agree with Eric Ives – it made her vulnerable but it did not cause her downfall. A successful pregnancy resulting in a boy would obviously have saved Anne Boleyn but we cannot pin her downfall and execution on the events of the 29th January 1536.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x.284
  2. Ibid., 351
  3. “Queen Elizabeth”, J. E. Neale
  4. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p299
  5. Ibid., p300
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “The Other Boleyn Girl”, Philippa Gregory, p277
  9. “The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism”, Nicholas Sander

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12 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Miscarriage – 29th January 1536”
  1. Thank you for that information Claire. I guess I do put more stock in that date than Ives, you and others do.

    I think the devastating loss and subsequent postpartum depression knocked Anne off her game. I think it left her vulenerable to her enemies and more importantly left her mentally depleted so that she couldn’t “perform” as she had in the past and perhaps caused her to react more shrilly pr lash out more than she might have otherwise.

    I have always thought that Anne was further along than 3 1/2 months. For starters, could they recognize a miscarried fetus as a male that early in a pregnancy back in 1536 England? And I thought there had been a suggestion she got pregnant on the progress of the previous summer/fall.

    1. A fetus at 15 weeks is completely formed already with the genitals clearly recognizable as male or female, so they would have been capable even in 1536 to tell if it was a boy or girl.

      1. Thanks. We sometimes forget how much medical knowledge there was availible in the Middle Ages because they were more involved on a personal level.

  2. A lot of things sure happened in January and to think in just a few short months Anne will be executed. I think that her miscarriage was such a strain on her emotionally and hormonally that it caused her to say and do the wrong things which might of lead her to her ultimate demise. I often wonder if she would of had time to emotionally heal from what sounds like post pardum, that she mist likely would of gone on to have a healthy son in due time. It’s a shame she never got that chance.

  3. Claire, good article again, very informative.

    My only issue is that you quote historical figures and then bring in ONE historical fiction account from Philippa Gregory. I feel that you constantly attack her because you don’t agree with her portrayal of Anne. I don’t think it’s fair to bring her up all the time, especially when looking at historical accounts, hers is mere fiction-it is her interpretation of what happened or maybe even not what happened but something that created a great read and she acknowledges that it is fiction. Also, if anything you should be somewhat thankful to Philippa for opening people’s eyes to the Tudor world, and sparking an interest for people to research the real people and events and come to their own conclusion about what happened. If not for this book and other fictional accounts of the Tudors your site probably would not be as popular.

    1. Hi Belle,
      I actually really like Philippa Gregory, I have many of her books and have given her many positive reviews on our Tudor book review but I criticise TOBG because Philippa Gregory blatantly says in the notes that her book is based on fact and that Anne Boleyn was guilty of at least one murder. She is therefore saying that her book is not fiction but a retelling of the story and I have emails EVERY week without fail from people who have taken the book as the truth because of what is written in the notes and so treat it as fact. I’d be happy if it was presented merely as fiction but it isn’t.

    2. Belle,

      Phillip Gregory deserves to be attacked with critism for her portrayal of real people. I had first read TOBG and saw the movie when I was twelve, so of course I was led to really believe that this fictional account of historical figures was correct because of Ms Gregory’s insistence that her fictional novel was based on fact. This ‘historical author’ has incriminated a defensless woman and those associated with her, and in extension has given millions of people the wrong impression of a woman who, essentially, is the cause of the reformation and the establishment of the Church of England. I do agree with your point that if not for fictional portrayals of these people that society would be unaware of their exsistence, but this portrayal is so offensive and disgusting that I don’t even know if I could call it literature or even ‘historical’ for that matter. Ms Gregory’s work is based on nothing but empty theories – I mean, she based the fall of Anne Boleyn in TOBH on empty facts – facts that were supplied by a Catholic man whom at the time of the miscarriage, was not even six years old yet when Anne Boleyns daughter came into power. This Man – to tarnish the Queens name and legitimacy – spouted these lies based on no fact.

      If Ms Gregory even wanted to claim that her novel was based on ‘fact’ then maybe, if she had more diginity, would have read the accounts by the Spanish Ambassador – Eustace Chapuys who wrote to the Emperor and I know I’m paraphrasing here, but basically said ‘the male child was around 3 1/2 months…’ and made no mention of deformity. No documents even support the ‘deformity’ claim as it has no doctrine of basis – there are no accounts to support these lies yet it seems that nearlly the majority who has read TOBG believes that Anne Boleyn did indeed committ incest and sleep with ‘hundreds’ of men, when, in reality – it would have been almost impossible, with the constant company of Anne Boleyns ladies in waiting not to mention the guards that would have guarded her apartments. I mean, come on!

      And, no offence Belle, but I’m pretty certain that many of those who have resarched Anne Boleyn and the Tudors would never be thankful for a woman whom tarnished the name of someone who, if did not marry the King and produce Elizabeth the I, history may have been irrevolcably different and our society now would most certainly be not as it is now – there would be no Churh of England, for gods sakes!

      I’m sorry, I never would have ranted this much normally but I’m so sick of people thinking that Philippa Gregory should be given some sort of award for spewing irrational theories.

      And again, i’m sorry if you think this is a personal attack but it’s been a long week and I saw your comment and I, well, yeah – went wil with my rant.

      Sorry 🙂


    The above is an intersting take on the Rh factor in Henry’s wives’ many miscarriages I’m sorry I cant find the correct thread which discussed this area in more detail.

    And I would so say how much I agree with your analysis of PG and her stuff . I dont like her work myself , but I do take your point , that it is not so that it is ( to me , bad) fiction but that she asserts that it is fact!

  5. Personally I disagree strongly with Professor Warnicke’s theory on the deformed foetus which led to Anne falling from power. She herself states that Cromwell conjured up adultery with other men to obscure the real reason Anne fell – the miscarriage.

    However what evidence is there? A comment from a Jesuit who was openly hostile to Anne Boleyn, who was a child when she died? And frankly, as many have stated, had Anne born a deformed foetus, Chapuys – who hated her – would surely have revelled in revealing it in his exchanges.

    Personally I think it’s a betrayal of Anne. I think she bore a dead son, but there was nothing wrong with it – Chapuys just mentioned its sex, while de Carles referred to it as ‘beautiful’. I think there is a 1% chance it was deformed, if that.

    And I am strongly against the 1507 birthdate. I think the very latest Anne was born was in 1502 due to the evidence that points towards it.

  6. It is Wernicke who says that perhaps Anne was Rhesus negative and that therefore without medical help as we have now she would not have had a full term second child.Tragic when by all accounts it was a well formed boy…
    Talking of P.Gregory, I most object to her description of the Duke of Clarence’s drowning in malmsey wine. He is my ancestor.

    1. Two sources agree that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in wine but one Mancini is unreliable, he spoke no English and much of his report is rumour or second hand. Yet it is a contemporary source for the protectorate and early reign of Richard iii.

      The other one, the Crowland Chronicle, much closer to Yorkist government, stated it was believed he had been drowned in a vat of wine, although it is unclear how he was executed.

      This is what is known..He was distraught at the sudden death of his wife and son in 1476/7 and believed poison had been used. He was denied justice by his brother King Edward iv and took matters into his own hands. The woman hired to care for his wife, Isabella Neville, eldest daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and a rich heiress, arrested and charged with murder and witchcraft. She and her husband were hung. He then hired two sorcerers to counter act the harm on his family and challenged his brothers authority and spread rumours about his legitimacy and his marriage. He was arrested, tried and condemned to death. It was several months before the death sentence was carried out in the Tower of London. All historians agree the date of his private execution was the 18th February 1478 on the orders of his brother. Later King Richard stated in a letter that he believed George was killed under the influence of Elizabeth Woodville but this was with hindsight after her family had plotted against him. It isn’t a contemporary source and is only an opinion. We actually don’t know the method used, although the malmsey wine theory became popular in Shakespeare and later histories. It was only mentioned once and as a rumour in another, more reliable source. Many modern historians both question it and quote it as fact rather than a possibility. He was executed privately, in secret almost on 18th February 1478 and this was one method rumoured to have been used. He was buried with his wife and child in the Clarence Vault in Tewkesbury Abbey. However, the skulls believed to be his and those of Isabella are also mixed up with another skull and pieces of bones. They haven’t been tested for DNA. They were put back into the vault having been on display a few years ago.

      PG unfortunately states fiction as fact and has a vast audience who are stupid enough to believe her. It is possible he was executed in this manner, but far from certain.

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