Thursday, July 10, 2008
Question from Elizabeth M - Anne B. pregnant at the time of her execution?
My question is does anyone know if it is true that Anne Boleyn may have been pregnant at the time of her execution? I have practically every modern biography of her written, and I have never run across that before. But in her book, Henry VIII, The King and His Court, Alison Weir mentions this as a real possibility. She is a respected historian and writer, so I can't believe she would commit something to print that cannot be backed up. If there is a source that mentions this supposed pregnancy, why have not other historians picked up on it. Is it a new source? Or is this a hypothesis on Weir's part?
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The notion that Anne Boleyn may have been pregnant at the time of her execution is certainly just that: a notion. I am not aware of any direct, explicit source from her era that mentions the possibility.
But the rumor is not unique to Anne Boleyn. The same rumor has been attached to other royal women executed in the Tudor period, including Jane Grey. I am not sure what Weir's source is for her assertion that Anne may have been pregnant, but the source for Jane was a Latin poem by Thomas Challoner in which he referred obliquely to a branch being cut off while a bud was on it. Most have dismissed this (and rightly so) as a reference to Jane's potential to continue Edward's Protestant reformation and prevent the return of Catholicism. IF there was a contemporary rumor that Anne may have been pregnant, I have to suspect that its origin lies in a loose interpretation of some similalry cryptic elegaic poem or phrase.
It was fairly common practice for all women facing execution to be examined by two or three midwives to ensure that they were not indeed pregnant, since their death could also result in an "innocent" death. Examinations of this type were not recorded for either Anne Boleyn or Jane Grey, but they probably did nonetheless occur (certainly with Jane).
If anyone has a copy of Weir's "Henry VIII: King and Court," it would be wonderful if you could share with us any information she may cite in a footnote as her source for this notion. But I rather suspect it is the novelist in Weir that felt compelled to add this little bit of imaginative extra drama to an already dramatic story.
I don't have a copy of Weir's book, but I was looking through it at the bookstore, and if I remember correctly, the assertion was that it was known she was pregnant and that it was desirable for the child to be collateral damage to cover up the fact it may not have been Henry's. (I had a choice of buying this book or The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives, and I opted for the latter, thinking I would buy Weir's book at a later date. I love Ives's book on Anne. I had his earlier volume, and I had to check out the newer version, and I went with getting that. But this was a few months ago now, and since I live 40 miles from this particular store, I only occasionally make the drive. Sadly, there is not a decent bookstore in the town where I live. I plan on making a jaunt this weekend to that store, as I want to check out Linda Portman's new book on Mary Tudor that was released here in the states a few days ago.
I've got the book (courtesy of the publisher for posting the press release --- I'm such a book whore!) and I think I've found the relevant passage. I'll post it later this evening if no one beats me to it. :)
Okay, here you go:
In fact, contrary to the opinion of nearly every modern historian, Henry had every reason to be pleased with Anne, for the evidence strongly suggests that she was pregnant again. Just as she had conceived rapidly after the birth of Elizabeth, so her reconciliation with the King after the miscarriage in January had quickly borne fruit. Henry made what was probably an oblique reference to her pregnancy that April, when he rounded on Chapuys for suggesting that God had not thought fit to send him male issue because He had ordained that England should have a female succession. “Am I not a man like other men? Am I not? Am I not?” shouted Henry. “You do not know all my secrets.” On 25 April, in a letter send to his ambassador Richard Pate in Rome, and duplicated to Gardiner and Wallop in France, Henry announced “the likelihood and appearance that God will send us heirs male,” implying that his “most dear and entirely beloved wife the Queen” was once more expecting a child.  Had Anne conceived towards the end of February, it would have been possible for the King to state this with some certainty, and clearly he was eager to do so. In the past, royal conceptions had not normally been the subject of official announcements, but the urgent resolution of the succession problem was a matter of vital national importance meriting widespread publicity. On a personal level, too, the King was anxious to show the world that he was capable of fathering an heir, and also to justify his marriage to Anne. It is unthinkable that he, a normally discreet man in such matters, would have made such a statement, knowing that his ambassadors would make it public, if there had been no certain hope of a child.
This is on page 367 of the US edition. The note  is a reference to the letter in the Calendar of State Papers.
There is further discussion in the following paragraphs about the evidence against Anne and the possible pregnancy. Mostly she makes the point that even though we are fairly certain today that the evidence against Anne was false, back then it would have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the child if even Henry had dismissed the accusations against her and she had given birth.
It's just a personal opinion, but I think Weir is over-reaching in her interpretation of the letter. Henry was a man who boasted of things that too often were not valid, a man given to exaggeration and wishful thinking, and given to self-aggrandizement. In the absence of corroborating evidence to support Weir's conclusion drawn from this one letter, I have to side with the larger body of academic historians who do not believe that Anne was pregnant at the time of her execution. Nonetheless, it is valid to say that Henry had cause, in light of the nature of the charges against Anne, to conceal any actual pregnancy. It just seems to me difficult to believe that such a state of affairs could have been kept so utterly quiet in a court that was so intensely prone to gossip and rumormongering. Numerous people would have known of a pregnancy, and it would have been virtually impossible to keep all of them quiet over the ensuing years.
By April 25th of that year 1536, Henry was totally enamored of Jane Seymour and planning on making her his wife. This was just days before Anne was sent to the Tower. Could Henry's reference to "the likelihood and appearance that God will send us heirs male" be a veiled hint to the sons he hoped he would father in the near future by Jane Seymour? It could be that Pate, Gardiner, and Wallop assumed he meant Anne, not realizing that Henry's intention was to have Anne destroyed so soon and marry Jane Seymour with such haste afterwards. I just have trouble believing Henry would go ahead with a planned execution if there was the slightest possibility Anne could be expecting. Even if he believed Anne guilty of her crimes, and in his mind there was the slightest chance the baby could be his, it just seems inconceivable Henry would risk killing a probable heir.
Likewise, the quote "You do not know all my secrets" could not be referring to a possible pregnancy of Anne, but Henry's plan to be rid of her and wed Jane Seymour.
Regarding Henry's character; I am not sure I agree that Henry would have preserved a pregnant Anne because he would have preserved the potential heir at any cost. I suspect that he was done with Anne and suspicious of everything having to do with her. Even if she was pregnant, and even if she had told him, he might have thought the prospect of a healthy male of her body, by this point, impossible.
I am conjecturing a bit here but I suspect by this point Anne represented not only the disappointment of her miscarriages, but also his disappointments with his political position complicated by the break with Rome. As Anne was a major player in this break, Henry might have wanted to remove all reminders.
He already had his future planned - Jane. With both Katherine and Anne dead, he could begin anew. This is the one part of the Showtime series that I think may be plausible.
I honestly don't think he would have preserved Anne had she been pregnant. He would have suspected the paternity of the child, suspected that the child might be bewitched or another girl, or suspected that the child would die anyway.
I agree with KB regarding Henry's attitude toward Anne and the possibility that he might ... or more correctly might not ... keep her alive if she proved to be pregnant. I also agree with Elizabeth that Henry's oblique references to secrets and God providing an heir more likely indicated his planned future with Jane Seymour, something I had not though of until Elizasbth mentioned it.
Logistically it would have been difficult for Anne to be pregnant at the time of her execution. She had to rest after her miscarriage and there may have been certain civil and religious customs that prohibited her being sexually available to the king until a certain time had passed, I think a month has been mentioned. I have also read that sexual activity was forbidden by the Church during during Lent; Henry was still observing faithfully many of the Church's strictures. If Easter in 1536 was April 16, counting back 40 days would give Anne about 4-5 days (say March 1-March 5) to conceive by Henry. I think Sundays were prohibited days, too.
Maybe the best bet she had to seduce him was Shrovetide, the English equivalent of Mardi Gras, but Chapuys stated specifically that they were apart then; Anne had blamed Henry's fall for the miscarriage so he went to spend the feast at Greenwich alone.
So that narrows opportunity even more. I think it would have been difficult for Anne to inveigle Henry to sleep with her so soon after the miscarriage. None of the queens' pregnancies followed so close upon a miscarriage.
Moreover there is the remark that Anne allegedly made regarding Henry's potency, brought up at Rochford's trial. Henry was not reliably concupiscent. Possibly he was the sort of man who did not find attractive the bodies of women who had had children, although he tried to do his duty by his wives; Elizabeth Blount was retired pretty quickly after she had Henry Fitzroy. The one widow he is associated with is Katherine Parr, who never had a child; he might not have considered her as a wife if she had been the more usual sort of mature widow who had had several pregnancies. Mary Boleyn might be an exception but there's no concrete evidence that he was sleeping with her after her first pregnancy. Henry tends to be depicted pursuing unmarried girls -- sometimes older girls, true, but none who had children. A woman who had recently miscarried might have been particularly unappealing in bed.
If Anne had been pregnant she would have told Henry as soon as she even suspected. When she was pregnant by Elizabeth, she appears to have conceived in December and was married to Henry by the end of January. That's shorter than the time frame between January 29 and her arrest. And if Henry had refused to cooperate, I think she was quite capable of a reprise of her famous "Gotta have apples!" scene during the spring of 1533 to publicly announce her pregnancy to the court and the faction supporting her rival, Queen Jane. That would have put Henry in a very difficult position domestically and diplomatically.
That is a good point Foose brought up. If she were indeed pregnant, would not Anne have brought it up at her arrest or her trial? She seemed to know she was doomed from the moment she entered the Tower, even though she held out some unrealistic hope of reprieve. Had she been pregnant, you think she would have used that as a means to have her life spared.
After Easter 1536, there is a small 10-day period through April 27 (the date Ives says the king definitely turned against Anne) where she might have gotten pregnant, depending on when her courses occurred. (Although Cromwell might have done everything in his power to prevent that -- maybe his fear of her becoming pregnant again and resuming her ascendancy was what made him hurry on the plot to bring her down.)
If so, she might just have become aware of it while she was in the Tower. But I think it would have been too early for a midwife to detect, and any physical symptoms might have been ascribed to her mental distress.
I agree with PhD historian – I believe Weir appears to be taking the letter far too literally. Henry’s expression of a desire to have a son and for God to grant him was not a unique expression and would be one he would repeat until he obtained a living son. It was also one not confined to Henry – for example shortly after reuniting with her father, Mary I wrote a letter on 1st June 1536 whereby she wrote that she prays God to grant her father and her new stepmother a prince. Yet we knew Jane was not pregnant as early as the summer of 1536. The remark was standard.
Whilst there are many unsavoury aspects of Henry’s character, I hesitant to say he would risk killing a wife who could be carrying a potential son, even if his wandering eye settled on another woman. Henry could be a rather fickle man, who could be distracted by another woman and still retain affections for the woman he was currently with. If Anne had announced a pregnancy then surely this would have renewed Henry’s desire for her, fuelled by the exciting prospect of gaining a son. And if a son had been born he could then use this to highlight to his critics that he had been right all along about removing his first wife and breaking from the Church of Rome by emphasising God’s apparent satisfaction with his actions (via the form of sending him a son). In short, why bother removing Anne if he could get a son from her and a chance to snub his critics aboard and at home.
But also why would Anne Boleyn say nothing about the pregnancy? I understand that Weir is not wildly fond of Anne and is perhaps too quick to confirm every negative accusation relating to her, but the idea that Anne would say nothing about her pregnancy and try to save the child seems very odd. An unborn child was viewed as innocent of the crimes of its parents and even if Henry believed the child not to be his, killing an unborn child was still a serious taboo. Why did she not claim the clause of ‘benefit of the belly’?
Overall I found her theory to be undeveloped. However I believe it is something she is going to build upon in her future work on Anne Boleyn’s last days (which I believe is coming out sometime 2009/2010?)
Yes, I am eagerly looking forward to Weir's book on Anne's last days. I believe it is going to be called "The Lady In the Tower." It will be interesting to see if she expounds on this theory of a supposed pregnancy.
And I agree with Nasim. I just do not believe Henry would kill an unborn child. If he believed the child to not be his, he could easily have divorced Anne--as he did in her last days in the Tower--and then sent her to a nunnery to give birth. If he were insistent, she could still be put to death after the birth. But it seemed to be a pattern with him--he began to fancy another woman, and then when his wife became pregnant, he was back at her side, maybe not as amorously as before, but displaying affection and happiness at the prospect of a possible heir. But even if he thought Anne were carrying a bastard, I do not think he would have murdered an innocent unborn child. For all his faults, Henry was a deeply religious man, and child-murder was a heinous crime. He was enamored of Jane Seymour, but he wanted a son more. If Anne were pregnant again, I think he would have waited to see what transpired. If it ended in another miscarriage, stillbirth, or girl, then Anne would have been gotten rid of, one way or another. But if her pregnancy produced a longed-for son, then I think Jane Seymour would have gone bye-bye like Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn.
Personally, I think that when Henry VIII made that statement to Chapuy about the possibility of having male heirs, and not knowing all his secrets ,he might have been referring to Jane ( ..wasn't she one of Henry 's secrets?) . Jane might have been pregnant at the time, which would explain why Cromwell was so sure that Henry VIII was going to married Jane,and why Henry VIII was so quick to get rid of Anne. If Henry VIII thought that Jane was carrying his heir, it would motivate him to get rid of Anne.It would also explain Mary's letter, shortly after reuniting with her father, Mary I wrote a letter on 1st June 1536 whereby she wrote that she prays God to grant her father and her new stepmother a prince. Although Jane was not pregnant until the summer of 1536. Jane might have lied to Henry VIII, or had a miscarriage. According to David Loades Henry VIII had announced to Chapuys that he was considering announcing Mary as his heir prior to Jane getting pregnant with Edward. So something has to happen to make Henry VIII believe he might not get a heir from Jane ( such as a miscarriage, perhaps?)
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