Monday, July 07, 2008

Question from Leigh - Anne Boleyn's sixth finger

Hi, I know this has been discussed before so I apologise, but I'm still confused. I always believed the rumour regarding Anne Boleyn's sixth finger to be fiction or at least part of a smear campaign against her, and I know that previous answers on here suggest that it wasn't true; however, I was surprised to find that Eric Ives believes there is some truth to it. His book quotes passages from Nicholas Sander and George Wyatt, which imply there was indeed a 'sixth finger' or a malformation, along with a mole or 'wen' on her neck. As Ives is considered to be an expert on Anne, are we to conclude that this is true?

Thanks in advance!


  1. Anything Nicholas Sander wrote has to be taken with a lump of salt, as he was so hostile to Anne and all she stood for. If you believe him, Anne was a monster with warts, a sixth finger, a goiter, flat breasts (though some rumormongers tried to even say Anne had a third nipple, and a protruding lip. If Anne indeed looked like this, then King Henry really must have been bewitched into marrying her, let alone sleeping with her. This was also the day and age where witchcraft was taken very seriously. Physical deformity of any kind was especially seen as a mark of the Devil, thus the exaggerations about Anne's supposed sixth finger and the preposterous theory that Anne's aborted fetus in 1536 was deformed in some awful way. It is very likely Anne may have had some dark moles--the polite euphemism is beauty marks--not at all uncommon in someone with the dark coloring Anne was renowned for. her purported sixth finger may very well have been a slight deformity of a nail or finger tip. But had she had any glaring physical deformities, they surely would have been recorded by her contemporaries when she first began to capture the King's attention. These reports really did not surface until after her disgrace and death. And had she suffered from any glaring abnormality, Henry, who believed in witchcraft as much as the rest of his subjects, would never have risked his kingdom for her. Again, it was only after she persistently failed to produce a mail heir and he wanted to be rid of to wed Jane Seymour, did he first mention the possibility of witchcraft with any degree of seriousness. But tellingly, witchcraft was not one of the charges leveled against Anne at her trial. All the charges were sexual in nature, and her supposed paramours would hardly have been likely to commit treason with a woman of any significant deformity. So my opinion is that the myth of the sixth finger is either that--a myth, or a very exaggerated description of something so tiny as to be inconsequential--until Anne's enemies sought to slander her by any means possible, even long after her death.

  2. I wrote about this rumor on my site:

    It repeats the same info that elizabeth gave you but I thought you might appreciate my depiction of Anne's supposed deformities. She's a real looker!

    On another note, if you go to the Tower of London the Yeoman Warders will swear up and down that Anne had six fingers. I started arguing with one of them and my husband had to pull me away.

  3. It's an interesting question. Ives supports the possibility of a malformed fingertip on George Wyatt's testimony, written much later.

    I find it odd that if Anne did have a deformity, nothing was reported at the time in the ambassadors' despatches.

    Reporting on physical deformation in royal people, particularly in women (officially because deformity could affect childbearing and the health of the children, and less officially because everyone enjoys malicious gossip about female celebrities), was a big part of their job -- you read contemporary comments on Renee of France's limp (apparently she, her sister Claude and her mother all limped); Catherine of Aragon is described as "old and deformed" at the Field of Cloth of Gold; James V spurned Marie de Bourbon because she allegedly was a hunchback; so any physical blemish in Anne would have been big news. And they -- including foreign ambassadors, Wolsey, ambitious courtiers, Papal spies -- were already probably paying her bedchamber women to find out if her courses were coming regularly, and if the King was visiting her at night, so it would have been easy to find out something about her hands, no matter how assiduously she disguised the problem in public.

  4. Thanks Elizabeth, I'm glad she didn't have a 6th finger, it would have ruined the image that I have of her - she's my favourite character from history.

    Bearded Lady: Lol, wish I'd been there to see your argument! Good for you though, sticking to your guns. It's wrong of the yeoman warders to be telling people untruths just to make history sound more appealing to the masses. Love the website by the way!

  5. With Anne always dancing or playing music if it was true you would think that it would have been seen by the king and others in the household. If so it would have been seen as a sign of the devil. It was just a smear campaign against her.


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