Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Question from Greta - More on Anne's sixth finger

Hello there!
I'm very, very interested in Tudor history for 3 years now and read almost every book on this subject that I could get my hands on. I'm especially interested in anything that revolves around Anne Boleyn. Now there have been many discussions on whether she did have a sixth finger or not and so forth. I know this issue has been dealt with ad nauseam.

But recently I found a quite interesting read:
George Younghusband "A short history of the tower of London". It's also a google book, the link is http://books.google.de/books?id=rjoBjOwXp5MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=short+history+tower#PPA131,M1

Scroll down to p.128, there begins a passage on Anne's beheading, her burial and the discovery of her remains in the 18th and 19th century.

The particular passage I'm asking about I shall quote:
"These [Anne's bones] were examined by experts who came to the conclusion that they were several hundred years old, that they belonged to a woman of from twenty-five to thirty years of age, that she had a very small neck, whilst there was the signs of a sixth finger on one hand". (p.131)

So how trustworthy is this story? Since Younghusband tells us no sources I have some doubts. Yet I found out that he was the Keeper of the Jewel House in the Tower of London after 1917. Or is there any further information on those "experts", who they were, is there anything like an official report or something?

Thank you very much.

[Ed note - This is somewhat related to the previous post and the previous burial thread, but specifically about the sixth finger]

10 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Younghusband wrote his book in 1924, so he was not an eyewitness to the exhumations carried out decades earlier. I have to suspect he was simply repeating the same kind of tourist-oriented "tall tales" that many tour guides offer even today.
Take his account with the proverbial grain of salt.

Jennifer said...

The idea that Anne possessed six fingers is completely and utterly ridiculous. This myth is due to the later hostile Catholic writers, like Nicholas Sander, who tried to blacken her reputation and give evidence to prove she was a witch. According to these stories, she also possessed a huge devil's mark, six fingers, three nipples, etc. One must only stop and remember these attributes are typical characteristics of witches as presumed by the Early Modern witch hunters.

Logically, she could never have gone to court and attracted the attention of a king if she had these deformities. If they had even been a little bit true, like George Wyatt's claims that she indeed possessed a sixth nail when he was writing at the end of the sixteenth century, then these "witch's marks" or "devil's marks" would certainly have been used against her earlier. They would have come up in her trial and would have been hard proof to have her burned as a witch. They would have been mentioned in earlier sources, in particular the dispatches of Chapuys, the biased Spanish Ambassador, who was always ready to believe the worst of Anne.

The point is this myth must be firmly stamped out, simply because it just isn't possible it was true. The Tudor Court was in no way tolerant of deformity, especially King Henry, who would not have wanted a woman who had the marks of a witch to sire his sons. This fantasy is in completely in keeping with the typical image of the witch - indeed Anne with her outspokenness may have seemed that way at times - but no weight should be given to these myths, much like other witch accusations of the period.

Joan said...

I was just looking at the "Anne Boleyn Gallery" on this website. There is a portrait by an unknown artist which does feature Anne's hands. Doesn't the thumb on her left hand look rather odd?

Elizabeth M. said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Jennifer. There were no contemporary sources remarking on Anne's supposed deformities--the sixth finger, the three nipples, the mole. Being such a prominent person at court for such a long period, surely, if she had any deformities as these, they would have been commented upon, especially, as Jennifer points out, by Chapuys. Even he had to grudgingly admit Anne was a handsome woman. Furthermore, these kinds of deformities would have been taken as signs of allegiance with the Devil. Hranted, many believed Anne was a witch, and even Henry, when wanting to be rid of her, commented she had tricked him into marrying her by witchcraft. However, witchcraft was NOT one of the charges brought against her at her trial. Had she been such a physical monster, I cannot imagine Henry risking everything, including his mortal soul, which he did by breaking with Rome, for the sake of a woman with six fingers, three nipples, a large mole, and projecting teeth. Likewise, the preposterous theory that she miscarried of a deformed fetus in January, 1536 can also be put down to people like Nicholas Sander who had nothing better to do than blacken her name. A deformed fetus would also have been taken as a sign of witchcraft. There were again no contemporary sources to remark on this. It was known she miscarried of a male child--had it been deformed, surely, that would have gotten out, as well. True, Henry may have wanted it kept secret, but then he would have had no shame on himself. He would only have had to say that he was bewitched, and the deformed child was proof. But that was never said, either immediately after she lost the child, or at her trial.

Jenna said...

Elizabeth M I wanted to comment on a couple of things that you broung up. It has always been my understanding that Anne Boleyn was not that pretty. Not ugly, but not a great beauty. "Even he (Chapuys) had to grudgingly admit Anne was a handsome woman." Did he really say that and can you direct me to the source?

Also we know today that a miscarried baby might very well be deformed and one of the reasons for miscarring a fetus or even look deformed due to the fact that it had not fully developed when miscarried.

And one more thing that I wanted to comment on is that while in the 16th century it might have been believed that King Henry VIII had risked his mortal soul for pulling away from Rome, as you stated, "I cannot imagine Henry risking everything, including his mortal soul, which he did by breaking with Rome, for the sake of a woman with six fingers, three nipples, a large mole, and projecting teeth." but surely today you know that he did not risk his mortal soul or his Divine Grace just because he pulled away from Rome. I never quite understood what exactly Rome was doing FOR countries and their people anyway except pretty much sucking them dry of resources and claiming properties and possessions for the Holy Church/Pope. The one thing that was sad about what transpired was that in disconnecting with Rome while establishing the Church of England it kept Catholics from being able to worship as they wanted. I do hope that you know that Protestants as well as Catholics have favor with God and will make their final home in heaven and that in hindsight what Henry did really did not hurt him in the eyes of God. As a Protestant I would think that according to the way the Catholic Church treated people back then that what Henry did was a good thing exept for not allowing a choice.

Foose said...

I have to say I don't believe in a full sixth finger -- that would have been really noticeable and freakish -- but there may possibly be something in George Wyatt's claim of a "some little show of nail" in addition to the regular fingernail on one of Anne Boleyn's fingers.

It's a very minor, practically unnoticeable, deformity. Wyatt, writing in the 1590s, allegedly got his information from one of Anne's ladies, Anne Gainsford, who might be regarded as a credible source. (Apparently he was trying to refute Nicholas Sander, he of the wen and sixth finger and protruding tooth in his portrait of Anne.) He could have just denied Sander's "sixth finger" story outright, but he didn't. I've looked on the Web and there really is something called the "double fingernail of a fifth finger" that occasionally crops up in populations (unfortunately, no pictures that I could find).

I think we have an idea that 16th-century people were vigilantly on the alert to denounce anyone with any kind of deformity as a witch. This seems to have come later, in the 17th century. Possibly in reality during Anne's time period, the rate of physical defects was relatively common, so that you'd have to really stand out in your deformity to invite the accusation of witchcraft or defective moral character -- say a dwarf or a hunchback. Minor defects might have been reasonably overlooked by most people confronting a high mortality rate in infants, especially among the upper classes. (I don't have any evidence for this among the aristocracy and gentry, really, but a certain number of royal people seem to have had defects without being called witches; James II of Scotland had an enormous scarlet birthmark across his face; Jeanne de Valois, the first wife of Louis XII, was apparently spectacularly deformed; Louis XII's second wife and daughters had significant limps. Nor might a minor deformity be a bar to sexual appeal; Louis XIV, admittedly in the following century, fell in love with the noticeably limping Louise de Valliere.)

Henry VIII doesn't strike me as particularly superstitious -- you can't go tearing down ancient shrines and sanctioning the removal of relics and saints without having a fairly cold-blooded attitude on popular folk belief. So if Anne had this very tiny defect, he might not have cared. Possibly, the reason it did not turn up in records is that it really was unnoticeable, except by intimates. Sixteenth-century female courtly conduct involved a lot of needlework, musical-instrument playing and prayer, so a sixth finger would have definitely become obvious. A "show of nail" might not be.

Jennifer said...

I hear what you are saying, Foose, but I disagree. Obviously George Wyatt was treading on very dangerous and unknown ground, so he did not completely refute the deformity - but rather lessened it to "be safe". I still think that this tiny deformity would have been referenced by an earlier source, especially in Cromwell's case against Anne. In any case, Anne Gainsford was not a particularly unbiased witness, and she was remembering events from decades earlier.

The point is that in the Early Modern period, the majority of the population believed in witches, and even Henry VIII passed a law against them entitled "An Act against Conjurations, Enchantments, and Witchcrafts" in 1542. Although the most intensive period of witch hunting in England occurred in the seventeenth century, the belief was quite common in the previous century.

Of course we will never know the truth about Anne's supposed deformity, but there were just too many hostile sources around her, and that even a small deformed nail would have instantly been understood to be a witch's mark, especially by Charles V's people. During this time period witch hunting was indeed active in the Holy Roman Empire, especially with the Carolina Code of 1532. I don't think they would have passed on the chance to exploit the perfect proof that one of their enemies was actually a witch in league with the devil.

Elizabeth M. said...

Jenna--it was Nicholas Sander who said Anne was pretty yo look at. My mistake. Sander wrote "Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth."
Sander goes all over the place in this description. first he describes a woman with a wen, six fingers and a projecting, with a complexion like jaundice, and then ends by saying she was pretty to look at. Virtually all the known portraits of Anne show her with the traditional low-cut neckline popular in her lifetime. The one picture of her, a Holbein drawing of a woman in a high-necked nightgown and cap, is not definitely identified as Anne.
So yes, she was not a raving beauty. She was not the blonde, fair-skinned of beauty so valued in the 16th century. But she was not the paradoxical "pretty to look at" hag Sander described her as, either.
As for the miscarried infant, Anne was approximately three and a half months pregnant when she miscarried. That made her about 14 weeks along, give or take, and fetal sexing can be determined nowadays as early as 13 weeks. So the miscarried infant probably had just enough evidence visible to see the sex of it. Miscarriages were common in those days of nearly non-existent pre-natal care, so midwives would be hopefully aware if the dead fetus looked anything surprisingly out of the ordinary. Retha Warnicke, in her book The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, devotes considerable argument to the theory that the fetus was not just premature, but deformed in some more obvious, possibly sinister, way. My argument with this is that there were no contemporary sources that related that the dead fetus was anything more than that, a dead fetus. It could be seen it had the appearance of a male child, but that was it.
As for Henry breaking with Rome, I meant it in the context of what was believed THEN. The Catholic church was dominant, and the people of England knew nothing else. When Henry set himself up as head of the Church of England, breaking with Rome, it was only a little over a ecade since Martin Luther, the "Father of Protestantism" had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church. By breaking with the church, many of Henry's subjects were terrified--they felt adrift at being so suddenly severed from the traditional religious observances they had known all their lives. The sacking of the monasteries did not help. Yes, there was fear then that the King was risking his immortal soul for the sake of a mere woman and to satisfy his lust. Many people did not understand all about the quest for a male heir. They just saw their king casting off a beloved queen in Catherine for a mysterious woman who was known to be in sympathy with the "heretics" of Europe.
As to religion, it was a double-edged sword. True, when the Reformation was taking place in England, Henry clamped down on the "old religion" and sacked the monasteries. But his daughter, "Bloody" Mary Tudor was equally less tolerant, in fact, more intolerant, of the Protestants in England being allowed to practice their faith unhindered.
As for Henry finding a home in Heaven. People of different faiths, I believe, do find an eternal home in Heaven, but only after they have asked forgiveness for their sins. Whether Henry asked forgiveness and was granted a home in the realm of his maker, only God knows.

Anonymous said...

I am not quite sure where I read this but during Queen Victoria's reign Anne Boleyns body was identified and then reburied at the Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula which is located at the Tower of London, where of course her body was exhumed from somewhere on the grounds. It was said that she was 5'3 and did not have a sixth finger. Even if this happens to not be true, i agree with everyone else's previous statements that it would have been unheard of for a King to marry someone who had any type of bodily deformity.

Anonymous said...

She definitely had 6 fingers, my husband is a direct decendant of Anne and he was born with 6 fingers. He has 2 thumbs, the same as her.