Anne Boleyn’s Mystery Pregnancy
Posted By Claire 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:
- 1533 – The pregnancy which resulted in the birth of Elizabeth I on 7th September 1533.
- 1534 – The mystery pregnancy.
- 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
- LP viii.919
- LP vii.114
- LP vii.556
- LP vii.958
- LP vii.1013
- LP vii.1193
76 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Mystery Pregnancy”
I can’t discard the possibilty of a phantom pregnancy, but I am more inclined to think that this was a real pregnancy who resulted in a lte miscarriage/stillbirth. I can see why Henry would want to hide the fact that Anne had miscarried, as he would seem like an idiot. He went to great lengths to marry a woman who was supposed to give him sons and what happens? Same old, same old.. Miscarriage, stillbirth.
I feel so sorry that this pregnancy didn’t produce a healthy baby, it must have been a blow for Anne. It is strange, though, that nobody mentions anything about what really happened. Even if it was a phantom pregnancy, we know a lot about Mary I’s one. I don’t know why nobody would report it.
Another great article! I have to say I completely agree with you in the sense that Anne’s pregnancy appears to be a great mystery. I feel even if a cover up of a miscarriage or stillbirth was possibe; in the Tudor Courts keeping it a secret would have not been so possible…..
I think that Anne Boleyn was an extremely intelligent women and would have known that it was crucial to provide Henry with a boy, I also believe this may at the beginning been one of the reasons why she was reserved in pursuing Henry’s advances as through Catherine of Aragon’s own circumstance’s it was evident that Henry needed a male, and unfortunately for us women our fertility isn’t a certainty, but the pressure of her family and her own vanity to be Queen (to certain extent) persuaded her this was the right path to take and selfishly I thank them for it as historical what Anne managed to create/achieve in her life time is phenomenal especially in such a male dominated period.
I have no evidence of this and it really is my own personal opinion but I do believe it was a phantom pregnancy due to the sheer lack of pressure for Anne to conceive a boy, I feel sorry for Anne in so many ways but then I feel her strength of character ensured her survival for the near 10 years her and Henrys relationship lasted, unfortunately for Anne Henrys need for an heir finally surpassed his love for her…..
Look forward to your next article.
I tend to believe it was a phantom pregnancy. I wrote it as such in my novel in progress, which deals peripherally with Anne. But as you say, it’s a mystery!
I am too because of the fact that no miscarriage or stillbirth is mentioned in the records, yet Anne’s 1536 miscarriage is mentioned by Charles Wriothesley and Chapuys.
Great article, this is interesting indeed!
Just a thought – perhaps the reason this 1534 mystery pregnancy was never reported as a stillbirth is because Anne had not yet completely fallen out of favor with Henry. It could have been kept quiet on the King’s orders, and we all know what happened if you didn’t obey the king’s orders.
By 1536, Anne was out of favor with the king (her opinions on the dissolution of the monasteries, etc.) so her miscarriage was the last straw. I’d say by then, he was ready to report her miscarriage as further proof for him to move on with Jane. Not to mention the rumor was started the baby was deformed so as to imply she was a witch! Incredible times!
Thanks, as always, for your thought-provoking posts.
I know that in Antonia Fraser’s book, she states that Chapuys wasn’t with the court when they went on progress in the summer, and if Anne lost the baby then (especially if they managed to keep the loss quiet) he may well not have known what exactly happened. The comment about the king’s “doubts” is very odd, though it could also just be Chapuys’ interpretation of why Henry was distancing himself from the wife who had so recently suffered a loss. But I do think the fact that only Chapuys and Wriothesley are sources for the information on the 1536 loss is illuminating; had their letters been lost, we would know nothing about it. If Anne suffered a pregnancy loss in 1534, I don’t think it’s stretching believability too much to think that whoever knew of it (especially if it was a very small number of people) either didn’t write about it or that their writings haven’t survived for us to read.
Phantom pregnancy is definitely a possibility but it’s rare enough that I’m hesitant to say that it’s likely. Anne was certainly under pressure, but for a full-fledged case to develop after only two months … I agree with Ives in this case that that just seems too fast.
Susan,Claire I have to agree if in fact they may have thought ,Anne had another pregnecy,I don’t think is was a true pregnency they were pretty sure in those days before anounncing that the Queen was with child.If she had been ,she would have had a misscarge,which would have been in documents.So a false pregnency could have been,or maybe she was eating a little to much??Mary 1 thought she was to pregnent,sadly it was a tumor that was to be her demise. So agreed false. THX Baroness.
Hi Claire I don’t think that Anne had a blood disorder I think she was prone to premature birth . My first fact is Elizabeth birth anne entered confinement on august 26 ,1533 but gave birth on September 7,1533 now she was supposed to have two weeks not twelve days. Now when a queen enters confinement that how many weeks she till her child born like js had entered early gave brith early and Coa entered late gave birth mid February they both stayed aprox three weeks. now with Anne’s first child henry thought it was a boy so I am shore they had a good physican and a excellent midwife predict when the future boy was born . Now since she went into august 26,1533 this mean she wasn’t excepting to give birth in till mid to late September so that would make Elizabeth two weeks i think that henry over looked the fact that she was two weeks early since she was healthy and mother was to . With Anne’s second pregnancy i think she wasn’t worried about giving birth two weeks early since Elizabeth was healthy and ok or hope it would come on the right date. But sadly with her second pregnancy it didn’t come 2 weeks early it came aprox 7 months (i’m gone say seven months because it’s reported that she was with child in January and showing in april). And her last pregnancy ended in three months (my mother was a women prone to having premature birth my older brother 5 months and me at 4 months) . If you look at it each of her pregnancy gets short my months 1,two weeks,2,Seven months , 3, three months.
Thank you for this article! It is said in Wikipedia (I know it’s not a reference, but still!) that Anne got a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall in August/September 1534 but «Died within two minutes of birth». Have you ever heard anything about this theory?
Thank you again for all your articles, it is always a pleasure to the read you!
Don’t you just love wiki?! I notice they haven’t cited a reference for that ‘fact’! I have heard about this theory because there are various sites that state it as fact, probably because they used wikipedia. There is nothing in the primary sources suggesting that Anne gave birth to a son in September 1534.
Claire,Your so good!! Wiki is one of the last places to go for Fact,they our just that theory! Is it that hard to run a site and research, so one can get as you say the Facts right?Yes it is teedest work and hard to research but ,wikipedia get some facts not your theory. Baroness
Today, professionals will tell you that over 85% of physical ailments and conditions stem from stress. Stress can basically twist the body in knots. Back then, of course they did not know that it was the man that determined the sex of the child…and superstition was a way of life,so the irrational belief that it would be her fault for producing a(nother) female child would inflame horrendous stress!!
Yes, there are countless stories of couples who’ve tried years to conceive and then the woman becomes pregnant when they either give up or adopt a child. Stress does funny things to the body.
I remember reading that Anne had given birth to a deformed male child in January 1536, and that because of this Henry believed that this deformed child was God’s way of punishing him for his sins.
I’m not certain where I read this, but it might have been in Eric Ives’s biography on Anne.
Anne miscarried a baby at about 3 1/2 months in January 1536 but there is no contemporary evidence that it was in any way deformed – see https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/17501/29-january-1536-anne-boleyns-miscarriage/. The story comes from Nicholas Sander who was writing in Elizabeth I’s reign, while in exile, and who also wrote of Anne having an extra finger, a projecting tooth and a wen. It was an attempt to blacken her name and discredit the Queen.
Yes, it seems very unlikely that there was any obvious deformity in the baby which Anne miscarried in January 1536. Chapuys had sufficient information to record how many weeks the foetus was and that it was a boy, so he would surely have mentioned an abnormality if there had been one.
However, I think it is more likely that Anne had a stillbirth or late miscarriage than a phantom pregnancy. Antonia Fraser wrote ‘the most likely end of (the pregnancy) was a stillbirth: probably a month or so early, since the Queen had not retired to her chamber. Although no pronouncement was made of the fact, such mishaps were never the subject of official communications. Information about Queen Catherine’s stillbirths comes from unofficial sources.’
Fraser also suggests a plausible timeline for the pregnancy, commencing in November 1533, two months after the birth of Elizabeth. That would be early in the marriage for Anne to have suffered such anxiety as to produce a pseudocyesis.
If Anne had two miscarriages rather than just the one in 1536, it would add weight to Henry’s fear that the pattern of Catherine’s pregnancies was being repeated and that Anne would never bear a healthy prince, thus paving the way for her downfall.
I’m not surprised that both Anne and Mary had phantom pregnancies; in addition to the need for an heir, both were under the added stress of thinking that the results of their pregnancies would show divine approval (or disapproval). However, I was unaware that Catherine of Aragon had that problem. Source?
I’m on my phone and don’t have the source to hand but it was the pregnancy where she miscarried but her body carried on as if it was pregnant. Her doctors thought she was carrying the twin of the baby she lost but it wasn’t true.
The Spanish envoy Luis Caroz reports that Catherine of Aragon went into confinement even though she had miscarried and wrote “Someone had told me that five months after the pregnancy was made public she was menstruating and, even though this occurs in a few pregnant women, these are so few that I was worried things were going wrong” CSP Spain, Supplement 1, 8
Catherine’s confessor, Fray Diego, wrote that her physician “said that her highness remained pregnant with a twin sibling”. CSP Spain, Supplement 1, 7
Thanks for providing the sources …. very weird about Catherine of Aragon, because this event was early in her marriage to Henry (at least, IIRC). I don’t think she would have been under the same stress early on as she would have been later … and I don’t think the issue of “divine approval” was involved at all.
I suspect it was just a case of her body being confused after her miscarriage, hormones are funny things, but her doctors saying that they thought she was still pregnant could have had some bearing on her psyche. It would have been natural for her to take her doctors at their word. What do you mean about “divine approval”?
What I meant by “divine approval” is the idea that the birth of a son was taken as a sign that G-d approved of a specific marriage (and, of a specific religious agenda). If Anne had a son, for example, it would have been cited to show that her marriage to Henry (not Catherine’s) had divine approval; this would have helped the “pro-reformist” (or pro-Protestant) movement. If Mary had a son, it would have been cited as G-d approving her marriage to Philip and wanting her restoration of the Catholic church to continue
Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I knew what you meant but I hadn’t mentioned that.
I personally agree with Retha Warnicke’s theory (for once!) that Anne gave birth to a stillborn child between 26 June and 2 July. If you read her argument it’s compelling.
I don’t agree with GW Bernard that it was a phantom pregnancy. Ives is also perhaps right that she may have miscarried.
I therefore think it was either a stillbirth or miscarriage, probably in late June or early July 1534.
It couldn’t have been between 26 June and 2 July. George was given his instructions to postpone the meeting due to Anne being heavily pregnant near the beginning of July and Chapuys’ letter regarding Anne’s condition is dated 27th July.
I always felt terrible for Anne that she never lived up to the expectations thrust upon her to bear a male heir. I couldn’t imagine the stress her mind and body were under. No wonder she miscarried in ’36. As for the “mystery pregnancy” in ’34, I assumed she was still losing weight from her pregnancy with Elizabeth. Baby weight doesn’t just fall off, you know! 🙂
But it’s not the weight that the sources are talking about, it was believed that she was pregnant so there must have been other symptoms. If it was just a “mummy tummy” then it wouldn’t have grown
Yes, believe me I know about that baby weight, been there and done that three times! 🙂
I see how strees could potentially have caused anne to miscarry not to mention the multitude of illnesses and other somesuch that could pose dangers to the pregnancy…the real mystery seems to be why nobody seems to know what happened. Why would Henry shut it up…it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence and the majority of Catherine of Aragon’s miscarriages and stillbirths had been widely reported.
He may have been trying to spare her (or himself) the humiliation and grief especially if turned out to be a phantom pregnancy does seem the only other option. I think the only reason Mary I’s phantom pregnancy was so widely reported and known was because she had made such a big deal about her heir which doesn’t seem to be the case here.
I am going to side with Eric Ives on this one. I think she was pregnant and miscarried. One source on her having a phantom pregnancy cannot be taken as conclusive evidence. More would need to be found for verification. A Not every thing is written down at this time, and language can be used, especially by Chapuy’s, as a form of agenda setting, creating propaganda about a woman he doesn’t like.
Personally, and this is based on reading about any thing that has been written about Anne Boleyn over the years, she just doesn’t seem to be the type who would have a phantom pregnancy. Catherine had one and so did Mary, but Anne? Not likely.
My article was more a pondering on the mystery and it’s impossible to know. When you say “one source”, do you mean Chapuys? There isn’t a source for her having a phantom pregnancy and it is impossible to know whether she did or didn’t, but then there are no sources for her having a miscarriage or stillbirth either. From my reading on the subject, a false pregnancy does not distinguish between types of women and it is not known what causes it. One factor is believed to be stress/intense desire to have children and whatever “type” of woman Anne was she must have had that desire as she knew that her marriage depended on giving Henry what he wanted and expected.
I don’t know the answer, it’s a mystery and oh how I love a good mystery!
Claire,Just a Q/A,did they think that a deformed baby was some type of evil and unholy?Perhapes thats why they called her a witch??I heard that back then , was this true? THX Baroness
Although Retha Warnicke states that deformities in babies were linked to sexual sin, deformities were also thought to be due to the mother seeing ugly or scary things when she was pregnant.
Oh, I agree: definitely a mystery! Have a great weekend everyone:-))
I just want to say weather the Queen was or was’nt with child,there was something wrong in the gene pool with the King,be it Kells or something else.The King inpregnanted to many women and there were sons,so to say it was a womens stress or something in her gene pool ,I myself do not believe.Anne was a very healthy young women and I truely think had she married another she would have had many sons and daugthers.Even so it still is a sad out come,as if she had sons that lived for the King, I honestly think Henry would have still loved her even more so,and they would have stayed married. THX Baroness
I’m on the fence with this one. I’m not sure that at this point Anne would have been feeling pressured to convince her mind subconsciously for a phantom pregnancy to occur. If there was a child that was still born or born with deformities and died I think Henry would have tried to hide this. Just by his nature and behaviour that he would have been humiliated, ashamed, embarrassed and made to look like a fool to all around him because he flaunted Anne as the answer to his problem of a male heir. Henry’s ego and character was taking on a new shape and form. After all he had done for Anne she was is was not doing what was expected of her. Being a Queen and producing a male heir.
By the end of Anne’s reign her pregnancies must have left her body in a very weakened state. I think that the fertility of both Katharine of Aragon and Anne was not in question as they could become pregnant but just couldn’t go full term or produced deformed children. This is the question that still haunts me the why of not being able to produce living healthy children. Was this Henry’s dna or their dna or a combination of both ?
That is an interesting discover! I think it may be a false pregnancy, when I read your article before you state tha fact that it could be a false pregnancy I immediately thought of Mary I who had the same conditions! Her fate was in the hands of her “male heir” so she was surely most disappointed to give the King a female so she wished with all her heart and soul she had a male heir.
Oh Claire I hadn’t seen that before – is Warnicke’s argument completely wrong then?
When do you think she miscarried/gave birth to a stillborn child (if at all)? It must have been by September the latest, perhaps August?
I’d like to explore whether Katherine Howard was ever pregnant….
Either she had a late miscarriage, and it would therefore be classed as a stillbirth, August/early September and it was hushed up, or it was a phantom pregnancy. There’s no way that George would have been sent with a message regarding Anne’s condition in July if she wasn’t still pregnant or believed to be pregnant.
I haven’t seen any sources which suggest that Catherine was ever pregnant but I haven’t dug into her life as deeply as Anne’s.
A very interesting article. I am ashamed to say I know next to nothing about Anne’s pregnancies.
Conor – glad to hear that you, like me, are still working on Katherine Howard. I had to put her and the old Duchess and Norfolk House on hold until I finished my book on Queen Victoria’s family trees, (book signing for that at Gainsborough Old Hall on 24th November, at the Victorian Christmas Fair!) but that’s now being printed at last so I can get back to young Katherine and get her in the pipeline as well.
I have not looked in any great detail at her everyday life at Court, as that is not the focus of my research, and the only, not very convincing, reference to a pregnancy I came across was the gossipy letter from Chapuys to the Queen of Hungary written just after Katherine’s arrest became public knowledge, in which he reminds her he had had an inkling earlier in the year that all was not well,
“Wrote [to you] last Lent that this King, feigning indisposition, was 10 or 12 days without seeing his Queen, or allowing her to come in his room, during which time there was much talk of a divorce; but owing to some surmise that she was with child, or else because the means for a divorce were not arranged, the affair slept till the 5th inst [5th November].”
LP XVI 1328; Spanish Calendar, VI. i., No. 204; 10th November 1541
A very intriguing article and thought provoking. I think after having given birth to Elizabeth I and knowing she had failed as such, her mind and body was in turmoil. The craving of wanting to be pregnant and achieving her ultimate goal of a son, must have caused such anguish and stress. When the body is under stress so many symptoms arise and in this case the growing tummy may have been misinterpreted by all as a pregnancy when in fact her worries were manifesting themselves within her lower abdomen. Feeling sick, swelling of tummy area may just have been the end result of all that her tummy had thus far had to endure. Could the mystery of her pregnancy be because no one dared mention and record what had been the end result if so to speak she had miscarried or had a stillborn?
Thanks for the great article. What an intriguing mystery! Without further evidence, I’m not sure what to believe. Did Mary I have a phantom pregnancy? I thought I read that it was a tumor and she eventually died from it.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE… about four weeks ago I had a miscarriage. I got pregnant at the end of July when my husband came back from Afghanistan. When I found out I was pregnant I was about 6 weeks along.When I went for my ultra sound, (thank you modern medicine) they told me that I had a Blighted Ovum and that there wasn’t an embryo forming in the sac, just fluid. Now, It’s October and I just recently got a visit from our mother nature (sorry about being so blunt ) During this time I was bloated, all the symptoms of being pregnant. BUT, had it not been for modern ultra sounds I would have no idea that I was except for not having a period for three months then WHAM, all of a sudden I bleed again just like Anne did. They probably thought she was starting to go through the change just like Katherine and Henry in his mind said screw this, cuz now I know I will never get an heir!
Marilyn – I look forward to reading your book, it should be helpful for me. I have actually researched her life into some detail now particularly her birth date and her tragic fall, which I submitted to Oxford.
Thank you so much for yet another fascinating article, Claire.
I thought I had read extensively on Anne’s life but had never come across this little nugget of information. Fascinating to think we are still uncovering new detailsof her life nearly 600 years later.
I wonder what would have happened if Anne had givien birth to a boy after Elizabeth and how would history be today
Thanks, Claire, for a fascinating mystery. I lean toward the true pregnancy and still birth idea. I think Henry would have hushed it up to protect his image and the legitimacy of Anne as queen. The people would have really had something to talk about if Anne miscarried so soon…but it IS a mystery and you might think such a big thing would have been “leaked” to the outer world. Who knows? I, too, love a mystery!
Well, is it possible that Anne was pregnant, and had a still born child who was maybe deformed? Or could the child have lived for a little while, but there was something wrong with it, and was goiven to someone to take care of if it was alive? After all, Henry seems to have had a massive ego, so it migiht not do to admit he fathered a child withpsychical deformities or one who might have something like Down’s Syndrome.
Just guessing here.Of course letters and other papers disappear after time over the centruies.The fact that there is very little reference seems to me that someone had something to hide so to speak.
It seems strange that although Anne had the appearence of being well into her pregnancy, that it was recorded that ‘the King began to doubt whether his lady was enceinte or not’, why would he begin to doubt it when it seemed obvious to all?, did Henry know something the rest of the court didn’t?
What also seems weird is that Chapuys was well known to be in on all the ‘court gossip’,and nothing seemed to get by him, even though some of his writings have to be taken with a pinch of salt, that if Anne had given birth to a stillborn baby, why did he not say this instead of what he did…he was always ready to ‘crow’ about and relish in Anne’s failures.
I can see the reasoning behind keeping a stillbirth low-key, but within the court circle I think this would be very difficult if not impossible, also when a trip to France had been cancelled because of her pregnancy, thats not really keeping it under wraps, as then Europe knows too.
The baby’s sex of her last miscarriage was well known and documented even in the early stage in which it happened, so if there was a baby, as she seems to have been futher on this time, I am suprised its not written down especially what sex the baby was when miscarried, and especially by Chapuy…it is all very strange, as speculation would have been rife.
I just took it for granted that Anne had a late miscarriage/stillbirth through all that I have read, but now you have given me reason to question this Claire, with this very interesting post. Great stuff….
Great article! I think it was real, but it is possible that the pressure made her experience phantom pregnancy, I don’t exclude it. It seems to be pretty common thing to happen to women of that age. Maybe that’s why Henry started to “doubt” she was pregnant at all, maybe he sensed in some way that it wasn’t real… that there wasn’t a baby after all. Nevertheless, sad story.
I find it hard to believe that all three Queens had phantom pregnancies; it would be an astronomical chance mathmatically at any rate. But if Anne did have a miscarriage Henry may have hushed it up because Anne was not very popular with his subjects.He may have been trying not to give the people any ammo to find further fault with Anne, such as “See, he got rid of a great Queen because she didn’t give him a son; now he should rid himself of this witch who can’t give him one too.” In that situation I would think Henry would not want the people to know and hold it against Anne when he was trying so hard to win their support of his new Queen. By covering it up, he could still put on a show of affection and support for Anne that he may have started to question but did not want to be questioned about.
It does seem highly improbable that 3 women that were all part of each others lives at one time or another would suffer from something as rare as a false pregnancy, but it could have been possible.
I have been ‘scouting’ around doing a bit of research on this condition, only basic stuff mind, nothing too indepth, out of curiosity, and this is what I have found….
1 to 6 pregnancies out of 22,000 are false. Now whether that ratio can be applied to 500years ago I don’t know, for all the obvious reasons, size of population, medical knowledge etc
It usually occurs in women in their early 30’s to 40’s, though more rarely it can happen in their 20’s.
More often it occurs in women who have already had a child, or who have suffered stillbirths and/or repeated miscarriages, and there is evidence to suggest that there is an emotional reaction to their trauma that triggers a temporary hormonal imbalance, which results in the body showing signs of another pregnancy.( this could relate to Katherine when she miscarried one and showed signs of still being pregnant)
Severe underlying emotional distress and turmoil.
When a woman feels the intense need to be pregnant because of failed pregnancies, (wrong sex in this case) the fear of infertility, or impending menopause. Her body then may produce some of the signs of pregnancy, then the brain misinterprets those signs trigger the release of hormones that lead to ‘real’ symptoms.
These pregnancies can end at any stage, right up to ‘full term’, and over in some cases, some women even experiencing labour pains. Now-a-days we have the technical help of the ultra sound scan to establish whether there is a baby or not, but doctors have still found that in these cases there can still be physical changes related to pregnancy such as softened cervix and enlarged uterus.
Now when you look at these poor Queen’s all 3 had some, if not all the factors that could lead to Pseudocyesis.
Most of the problems lying with the pyschological stress they were under, to my mind anyway, when you think about the consequences of not producing children, especially male ones, for Henry.
Mary’s situation was just as stressful, not because of Henry, but because of wanting to produce an heir that would keep the country Catholic, to join Spain and England, please and keep her husband, and because she really wanted her own family, something she had always been denied. Not to mention all the stress of being Queen regnant.
Some medical conditions can mimic symptoms of pregnancy, one of them being cancer, which could have been Mary’s problem, as she was reported has having 2 false pregnancies.
It’s all very interesting, but so heartbreaking and sad too for the poor Ladies concerned. This is a great post Claire, really enjoying reading all the comments….
I admire Anne Boleyn a lot and i have read millions of books on her but i do question her. Anne’ s mother Elizabeth had a few miscarriages and most of her children did not survive long so i believe Anne should not have been so thoughtless on her fertility.
far to much of a coincidence in my mind ,not three queens ,no way but definitely something happened because if elizabeth was born sep.1533 and we know of 15/16 fetus lost in jan 1536 which would mean anne getting pregnant maybe oct.1535 then something happened in 1534 because anne and henry whole “getting married for love because i cant live without u thing”turned into “getting a male heir as quickly as possible thing” ,not much love there,very clinical,so anne would i think ,despite there being no sources available to prove this could have had much more miscarriages or stillbirths than documented ,anne seemed to have no problem getting pregnant with elizabeth so what happened ,i really dont blame henry for thinking he had been cursed ,this is also silly to thinl of three queens having phantom pregnancies .
To think that 3 Queens may have had false pregnancies as incredible, unbelievable, or dubious is understandable as it is a rare condition, but not silly, or impossible. After all both Katherine, and her daughter Mary (supposedly 2 in her case) are reported to have had them, which seems more incredible, when both are as closely related as they could be, than Anne having one too.
Katherine had just miscarried a child, yet her body seemed to continued to believe it was pregnant, possibly because of a hormone imbalance, maybe hindered by her need to believe that her pregnancy had not ended. Which is quite feasable.
Mary, the poor woman, had never been of robust health, so maybe other illnesses gave her and her docs. signs of pregnancies, mix that with her strong desire to be with child, the assumption of ‘baby on board’, is also feasable.
Anne may or may not have been really pregnant, and Claire’s post has provoked question about this, which is great. The stress that Anne was under, put on her by others, or herself, must have been great, so for her to have a false pregnancy is not out of the question, when you consider what Henry said, and how the ‘miscarriage’ lacked in its report.
Medical problems, the psyche, a mix of both, the life style they lived in, throw in nature which can be totally unpredicable, as much as statistics try to convince us otherwise, its not impossible that these three unfortunate women suffered what could have been false pregnancies.
could anne (rare as this sounds)have started going through a very early menapause ,with the loss of menstruation for several months and then returning to normal,i know this might sound a bit far fetched but it could be possible.
Hmmmm Chapuys could have just made it up to make Catherine feel better. Its just a thought.
I’ve read hundreds of books on the Tudors, some rather obscure and not specifically about them, but in several it was believed that Anne was pregnant at the time of her execution. Apparently it was kept quiet (and another reason so many documents were missing from the trial records, or sealed) as the king did not believe the child was his. Some historians believe this to be true.
well ,to juanita i have read that somewhere too but i dont know where and can understand ,if it was true ,it would definitely have been shushed up for reasons obvious,but i originally discounted it because i would have thought anne and henrys relationship had gone really downhill from the point of her miscarriage in january so there would have been little likelihood of her being pregnant,but in saying i hope she was not ,that would have been terrible .
A question for the author and the other posters (I’m new here): When you say you’re sorry for Anne’s difficulties producing a male child, or any other child, do you mean it from purely a personal standpoint (i.e. suffering a miscarriage and infertility is a terrible thing for anyone)? While I feel for Anne the woman, I’m happy things turned out the way they did if that was the only was for Elizabeth to ascend the throne. I marvel at all the things that had to go wrong, and then right, for that incredibly strong, fascinating woman to become Queen. Even though all those myopic male-worshipers of her day would disagree with me, I believe Anne fulfilled her destiny in spades when she produced Elizabeth.
*way, not “was”
Wow! I’m really enjoying your site. Love anything about these amazing families and their times.
As far as so many, many miscarriages… I’m wondering if lead poisoning may have been a factor. Others have mentioned Down’s etc., but Downs babies abort early in younger mothers, which is why older mothers need amniocentesis to determine Downs. Older mothers bodies tend to carry Downs full term, whereas younger moms miscarry.
In addressing what folks believed about deformed babies… read about what happened to Anne Hutchinson. She had a later in life miscarriage and the fetus was a bit of hair, teeth, etc. and her accusers said she’d given birth to the devil and a monster. This is from after 1630’s Boston, so these beliefs were well established by the Church 100 years post Anne Boylen.
I believe on the evidence put forward above that Anne had conceived her second child in December 1533, and that it was due to be born in September 1534. This is because queens usually took to their chamber around a month before their arrival date, and since there is no mention of Anne doing so in the last days of July, when she was reported to be pregnant, this leads me to think that she was only planning on doing so in August.
If this was the case, the birth would have taken place a month later, and so the child would have been expected in September, perhaps around the time of Elizabeth’s first birthday. Since there is evidence that the queen’s pregnancy was still being reported on in late July, coupled with Chapuys’ reference to the termination of that pregnancy in September, it indicates that Anne probably suffered a miscarriage in August 1534, a few weeks before her due date. She probably could not have suffered a stillbirth as, as Ives noted, there is no record of her taking to her chamber.
Thus I believe it’s almost certain that the queen’s pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in August, 8 months gone with child. Interestingly a few of Katherine’s pregnancies also ended at 8 months with stillbirths.
could she have been due in October.
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I believe that she carried one twin in her uterus and the other twin was an ectopic/ abdominal pregnancy. It is possible that the first baby was delivered but because the scientific knowledge of abdominal pregnancies and cesarean births were not done, the baby continued on and eventually died and calcified in her body.
I have read a lot about this and it seems very probable.
Hello. I came across this article due to my facination with Anne Boleyn as well, and for good reason. I look online every once in a while to see if anything has emerged in reference to her having had another child.
I am an American. I grew up being told by my grandmother that we decended from Anne Boleyn. The story goes that she secretly gave birth and saw that it was another girl. She then sent her maid with the child secretly to America to raise her as her own, out of fear of the Kings wrath. On the maids deathbed, she revealed to her daughter who her true mother was. That story has been passed down from generation to generation.
In the 1990s I was told by my mom that some of her cousins had told that it had finally been proven but that there would be no inheritance given due to the time that had passed and the significant number of decendants there would be by then.
I have no proof myself that any of this is true. However, it is amazing to me, that this would not be true, given the mysterious pregnancy that you speak of.
“Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England, was suspected to have had two phantom pregnancies, but this is strongly disputed; some historians believe that the queen’s physicians mistook fibroid tumors in her uterus for a pregnancy, while others suspect either a molar pregnancy (proceeding to choriocarcinoma) or ovarian cancer was to blame” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_pregnancy
Yes, there are lots of theories regarding Mary’s health and her “pregnancies”.
i don’t think anne would’ve bothered to try to fake a pregnancy. henry would find out and he’d be pissed. royal births are attended by lots and she’s constantly watched. what was she gonna do- adopt a baby in secret and pass it of as henry’s?
it’s not like she was going to go through menopause soon and was super desperate. even then, that’d be stupid and i doubt she’d fake it for that long.
“Miscarriage is when an embryo or fetus dies before the 20th week of pregnancy.”What Is a Miscarriage ? | Identifying the Causes – Planned Parenthood
Stillbirth | March of Dimes
“What is stillbirth? Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most stillbirths happen before a woman goes into labor, but a small number happen during labor and birth.”
if she was pregnant, it was at least close to 6 months, perhaps a day off.
The rate of pseudocyesis in the United States has declined significantly in the past century. In the 1940s there was one occurrence for approximately every 250 pregnancies. This rate has since dropped to between one and six occurrences for every 22,000 births. The average age of the affected woman is 33, though cases have been reported for girls as young as 6 and women as old as 79. More than two-thirds of women who experience pseudocyesis are married, and about one-third have been pregnant at least once.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_pregnancy
she’d fit the demographic, 33 and married.
A false or a phantom pregnancy is not a woman faking a pregnancy, it is a medical condition where the body actually displays all of the symptoms of being pregnant. It is an awful thing to go through. I’ve never heard of anyone suggesting that she faked the 1534 pregnancy.
“Miscarriage” is used by some medical professionals up to 20 weeks, but it is also used beyond that, it depends, but we don’t know anything about Anne’s 1534 pregnancy, the timing, the dating etc. All we know is that she was showing. I was showing from 12 weeks with my second and was huge well before 20 weeks. It depends on the woman. This pregnancy just disappears from the records, which is very frustrating.
you wrote, ” 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….”. so i was adding on.
i know phantom pregnancies aren’t women faking it. simulated pregnancy is what that’s called. some women actually go into labor w/o knowing they’re pregnant too!
chapuys wrote she was pregnant for close to 6 months at least. jan 28th ’til july 27th 1534. however, anne could’ve assumed she was pregnant when she wasn’t. (hopeful and missed period or 2 from stress. possibly even food poisoning from bad hygiene and missed period could’ve been the real reasons for her thinking she was. it can last for 6 weeks.) he also has a tendency to repeat rumors. she might’ve been pregnant for 19 wks.
i think the biggest reason for her to be pregnant as soon as possible would be to silence catherine and mary’s supporters. see- a healthy baby boy. god is on my side. give up.
she gave birth less than 5 months before jan 28. it’s not even weird for couples to try for over a year before they succeed.
also, as a 41 year old man, henry’s sperm quality would be lower and his odds of fertilizing are lower. also, women tend to have a drop in fertility in their early 30s. she could’ve been stressing about both of that, assuming she even knew.
sympathetic pregnancy is a real thing too. that’s when men think they’re pregnant and sometimes go into labor. saw it on house (tv). haha. Couvade syndrome and read about it.
there’s so much we don’t know! endocrine system screw ups might cause phantom pregnancies while Couvade syndrome could be biological or psychosomatic. was mary i who probably had phantom pregnancies completely psychological? we’ll never know.
I’m currently reading Henry VIII, King and court by Alison Weir. She claims Anne was pregnant at her execution! I’ve read pretty extensively about Henry, his court and his wives, but I have never heard this theory suggested by anyone else. Her “evidence” is Henry’s “am I not a man like other men” outburst to Chapuys. A letter to the French ambassador in April 1536 where Henry mentions “hopes of an heir” with his “most entirely beloved wife, the queen”, the fact that there was no examination by matrons prior to Anne’s execution to check for pregnancy, like there was before the execution of Lady Jane Grey and she states that Anne’s trial records were lost/destroyed as a way to cover up the fact that she was pregnant when she went to the scaffold. She proposes that Cromwell initiated the investigation without Henry’s knowledge and the reason the charges against Anne were so scandalous is because he needed to completely discredit Anne and throw the paternity of the child into doubt…. I just don’t know what to make if it all, I have always respected Alison Weir as a historian but this just seems outlandish and isn’t backed up by the slightest shred of real evidence. Have you read the book and do you have any thoughts?
Weir has actually retracted this claim, saying that she based it on an error dating a document. It’s just a shame that her book hasn’t been updated.
Eric Ives reads Henry VIII’s comments to his ambassadors as showing that he things were still fine between him and Anne at that point and that Cromwell hadn’t yet convinced the king’s of Anne’s wrongdoings, but I think that Henry had already decided that Anne was on the wayout and that he had moved on in his mind and hopes to Jane Seymour.
If Anne had been pregnant then Henry VIII would not have had her executed. There’s no way he would have killed a potential Prince of Wales.
Has anyone ever pondered over the idea that the pregnancy was real and she did deliver a baby but that the baby was another girl and the king and queen decided to send her away in private. Just an interesting thought.