Anne Boleyn’s Mystery Pregnancy

Posted By on October 18, 2012

While researching for the recent webinar on Anne Boleyn’s pregnancies and miscarriages, I became intrigued by Anne Boleyn’s 1534 pregnancy, her second pregnancy and her first miscarriage, and thought you might be interested in it too.

Before I explain what I mean by “mystery pregnancy”, I want to banish the myth that Anne Boleyn had a series of miscarriages and stillbirths; she didn’t. We only have evidence for three pregnancies:

  1. 1533 – The pregnancy which resulted in the birth of Elizabeth I on 7th September 1533.
  2. 1534 – The mystery pregnancy.
  3. 1535/1536 – The pregnancy which ended in a miscarriage at around 15 1/2 weeks on 29th January 1536.

Although it is commonly thought that Anne was pregnant earlier in 1535, the only evidence for this is a letter written by Sir William Kingston to Lord Lisle on 24th June 1535, in which he wrote:

“No news here worth writing. The King and Queen are well, and her Grace has a fair belly as I have seen.”1

Although dated 1535 in Letters and Papers, Sir John Dewhurst, author of The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, points out that Kingston also asks to be remembered to “Master Porter”, Sir Christopher Garneys, who actually died in 1534. It is likely, therefore, that the letter was written in either June 1533 or June 1534, and that Anne was not pregnant in June 1535.

On with the mystery pregnancy…

We know that Anne was definitely pregnant in 1534 because there are several references to her condition in the records:

  • On 28th January 1534, the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, commented that “Anne Boleyn is now pregnant and in condition to have more children”2
  • The next mention of this pregnancy is in a letter from George Taylor, Anne Boleyn’s receiver-general, to Lady Lisle, dated 27th April 1534. Taylor wrote: “The Queen hath a goodly belly, praying our Lord to send us a prince”.3
  • In July 1534, Anne’s brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was sent on a diplomatic mission to France to ask for the postponement of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I because of Anne’s condition. Anne was described as “being so far gone with child she could not cross the sea with the King”.4
  • On 27th July 1534, Chapuys referred to the King delaying his meeting with the French King because “the lady de Boulans (Anne Boleyn) wishes to be present, which is impossible on account of her condition”.5

The mystery of this pregnancy is that we have no idea what happened. We go from Anne being heavily pregnant in July 1534 to a rather odd comment from Chapuys on 27th September 1534:

“Since the King began to doubt whether his lady was enceinte or not, he has renewed and increased the love he formerly had for a beautiful damsel of the court.”6

He doesn’t say that Anne had a miscarriage or stillbirth, he writes of Henry no longer believing Anne to be pregnant. Now, it is not clear whether this is Chapuys’ reading of the situation or fact. It may well be that Anne gave birth to a stillborn baby and that the news was hushed up, but then we have records of Catherine of Aragon’s stillbirths and miscarriages from ambassadors and the Tudor chroniclers. I find it hard to believe that Anne could have faked a pregnancy, when she would have been dressed and bathed by her ladies, but perhaps she experienced a false (phantom) pregnancy (pseudocyesis). The symptoms of a false pregnancy, which can last months, are the same as pregnancy: the cessation of menstrual periods, a swollen abdomen, enlarged and tender breasts, nipples changes and even the production of milk, the feeling of the baby moving, morning sickness and weight gain. There would have been no way for Anne to differentiate between a real pregnancy and a false one, and Catherine of Aragon and Mary I both suffered false pregnancies which fooled their doctors.

It is not known exactly what causes a false pregnancy, but one factor is thought to be an intense desire to get pregnant. Although Eric Ives believes that Anne “had no reason to be under stress at this date, having produced a healthy female child 8 months earlier”, I have to respectfully disagree. Anne was under immense pressure. It was her duty to provide him with a son and heir, that was that. Henry had got over the disappointment of Elizabeth’s gender because of the hope of a prince to come and Anne had to provide that prince, that was pressure.

I can’t say for sure that Anne suffered a false pregnancy, just as we can’t say for sure that she had a late miscarriage or stillbirth, it really is a mystery and I love mysteries. What do you think?

Notes and Sources

  1. LP viii.919
  2. LP vii.114
  3. LP vii.556
  4. LP vii.958
  5. LP vii.1013
  6. LP vii.1193
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