Miscarried of Her Savior

Anne Boleyn miscarried a male fetus on January 29, 1536. This also happened to be the day of Katherina of Aragon’s insultingly small funeral. One wonders what the superstitious Tudors made of that?

Henry’s queen was most likely into the second trimester when the fetus spontaneously aborted. In spite of continued speculation to the contrary, there is no contemporary evidence that the fetus was deformed (Ives, 2004:297). The couple was, of course, distraught. Henry visited Anne in her chamber and lamented, “I see that God will not give me male children”. His comment understandably upset Anne, who told him that she had lost the baby because his fall from his horse had scared her so badly, and because he had broken her heart by loving other women. These were completely legitimate, and even reasonable, explanations for miscarriage in this era. It was also a brilliant argument by Anne, since it repositioned the miscarriage as the result of a shock, not as the queen’s personal failing, as well as getting in a telling blow against Henry’s wandering fancy. It appears to have worked, since the king was “much grieved”, or ashamed that his behavior had caused Anne to miscarry, and stayed with the queen for a while in order to comfort her (Walker, 2002:13).

Some people think that this was the day that Anne “miscarried of her savior”, but was the fact she lost a son in January the reason Henry killed Anne in May? 

Those that believe the miscarriage directly resulted in Anne’s beheading have several arrows in their quiver. Certainly the miscarriage can be construed as a strong motivation for the king to annul his marriage to Anne.  Some say that he may have already been debating getting rid of her (Starkey, 2003:551).  After Katherina’s death, Charles V began extending olive branches toward England. The Emperor made it clear that if Henry would set Anne aside and make a “fit” marriage, there would be a complete reconciliation between their realms. Furthermore, there was no son, and  no guarantee of a male heir in the near future. Anne was a commoner and had no powerful connections to give him aid. His wife was pro-French but most of the English were in favor of an Imperial alliance. She was still very unpopular with the Catholics in his kingdom. He could replace her with a young and welcomed aristocrat from another country, who would be embraced by his people. He couldn’t get rid of Anne while she might be pregnant with his son, but once she lost the baby there was every reason for the king to do away with her.

Those who, like me, do not see this miscarriage as the source of her execution point out that even with such contextual inducements, Henry continued to fight to have Anne recognized as queen by Charles V. Before Anne’s swift fall Henry gave every reason to assume he was still committed to his queen. Moreover, it was a reasonable assumption on his part that Anne would give him more children. They had only been married for a little over three years and she had already given him one healthy child, which was a good reproductive record for a queen. Anne had proved herself to be fertile and she got pregnant easily. Considering the fact that at least half of all pregnancies miscarried during this era, her obstetrical difficulties would not have been considered unusual or insurmountable, especially given the “shock” of the king’s fall a few days prior.

In my opinion historian Greg Walker’s argument that Anne’s downfall was actually based not on her miscarriage but on some hasty words she said to one of the king’s courtiers is the correct one. it is especially likely if the king was suffering from paranoia induced by McLeod syndrome, which meant he could have turned violently and suddenly against his wife. One day in late April, the queen spoke hastily while vexed and it may have cost her everything. Anne asked Henry Norris, who was a groom of the stool and engaged to her cousin Madge Shelton, when he planned to wed. Norris hedged that he would wait just a bit longer. This irritated Anne. In her anger she told him he was looking for “dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the King but good, you would look to have me” (Walker, 2002:21). This was a major blunder. It was treason to even think about the death of the King, let alone to talk about what a new romance after his demise. Anne knew almost immediately that she had said something dangerous. She sent Norris to her chaplain, John Skyp, to swear she was faithful to the King, or “a good woman”.

This theory has widespread support among historians, for good reasons. But there may have been political undercurrents that meant her enemies had been awaiting an opportunity to dispose of her, which helped turn her hasty comment into her death warrant. For one thing, Anne had fallen out with Thomas Cromwell, a former ally who had helped craft Henry’s divorce for Katherina and the king’s current Chancellor of the Exchequer. Both the Queen and Cromwell were Reformist, but they had lately begun to differ on the direction reform should take. This came to a head in a battle over the smaller monasteries. Cromwell, from religious fervor or the more mundane desire to fill the king’s coffers, wanted to destroy every monastery and confiscate their riches for the crown. Anne wanted some of them left intact and used to promote learning and to produce scholars who would spread the gospel throughout England (Starkey, 2003:554-558).  Moreover, the Catholic faction at court, who hated Anne with a passion, were always eager to drag her down. Henry had recently started to woo Jane Seymour, a member of a Catholic-supporting family, and the pro-Catholic courtiers hoped to use the king’s lust for plain Jane to at least get Princess Mary returned to the succession, even if they could not overthrow Anne herself.

Cromwell had enjoyed a ringside seat for Anne’s destruction of  Cardinal Wolsey. He was too wise to underestimate Anne, and knew she was a formidable obstacle in the way of his plans to line his pockets with a share of the expropriated monastic goods. Working under the timeless assumption that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Cromwell began to help the Catholic faction gain more of Henry’s favor. Thus, when Anne told Norris he looked for “dead men’s shoes”, her enemies made sure the news went rapidly to the king’s ear with the worst possible interpretations. Henry believed them and appears to have become convinced Anne meant to kill him. By the time Anne was brought to trial it was clear to the whole court that the king who had loved her so fiercely now wanted her dead, and what Henry wanted, he got.

Popular belief that Anne died because of her miscarriage is not entirely erroneous, however. Although it was not the root of her downfall, it nevertheless doomed her. Henry would not have been as ready to believe Anne’s enemies and turn against her if she was still pregnant. Cromwell was probably too astute to have even tried. Furthermore, if Anne had delivered a healthy boy then she would have been safe from the king’s capriciousness regardless of her hasty words.

Therefore Anne miscarried of her savior, just not in the way most people think.

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