Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Question from Joan - Anne Boleyn and polydactyly

Having pondered the Rh factor question, I felt an urge to flip through my university genetics text. I found some information that relates to Anne Boleyn.

The book briefly discusses polydactyly (having more than the usual number of digits i.e. fingers and toes). The usual number in this anomaly being six on each hand and foot. It says that the most common occurrence in this condition is to have both the hands and feet affected. Less commonly it is confined to just the hands or just the feet. Was the rumor about Anne always just about one finger on one hand? If so,that sounds like it would be exceedingly rare. Were her feet ever mentioned?

It also states that polydactyly is a dominant trait. This means that Anne's mother or father would have shown this trait in some form. Was anything ever mentioned about her parents?

My previous opinion on the finger question is that is was a false rumor concocted by Anne's enemies. I think that this bit of scientific info reinforces the rumor as untrue. Any thoughts?

[Ed. note - related threads on the "sixth finger" are posted below]


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%, Joan - The story is almost certainly one created by her enemies after she was dead.

Elizabeth M. said...

I totally agree with you and PhD Historian. Had Anne been afflicted with this deformity, in such a superstitious age, it would have elicited much comment. There were no contemporary accounts that ever said she had such a deformity. Before her fall, King henry made rumblings about being seduced into his marriage with her by witchcraft. Polydactyly was commonly associated with witchcraft, and interestingly, when Anne was brought to trial, witchcraft was NOT one of the charges leveled against her. You think if she was so afflicted, surely it would have been brought up as proof of her being a witch. I also cannot see Henry marrying a woman so afflicted. He was anxious to beget a male heir. Would he have risked everything on a woman with such a deformity, who might pass it on to her offspring? Henry was very superstitious and worried about Divine judgment, so I just do not think he would have risked dallying with a woman marked with what was believed to be a sign of witchcraft or being in league with the devil. Only when he wanted to be rid of her did he make noises about witchcraft, but even then, her trial failed to follow through and actually have her charged with that offense.

Foose said...

I have to retract a comment I made on a similar query ... I stated that perhaps "a little show of nail" might not be that problematic to people accustomed to a high mortality rate in infants and representative of a population where hunchbacks, harelips and other defects turned up regularly. However, I did Google "polydactyly" in Google Images and ... well, it was disturbing. Not the fully-formed sixth fingers -- those were rather elegant and not particularly noticeable unless your attention was deliberately drawn to it. But the images where Nature appears to have abandoned or botched the job part-way through were disconcerting even to a 21st-century rationalist and I have a gloomy view of how a 16th-century person might have regarded them. Not that I found myself looking around for kindling, of course ...

dannex said...

Our family has this mutation and I disagree that having it only on one hand or foot is rare. We have all sorts, from one hand only, one foot only, both feet and webs and so on so Anne Boleyn could have had this. It seems to come from Welsh heritage. Anne Scorgie

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I was born with 3 webbed fingers on both hands, and no thumbs - though a little stub on one which was removed in infancy. (My brother also, but not my sister. And noone since.) My father and his father had worse similar deformity.(None of my grandfather's 3 brothers had it.) Nothing known beyond that. No Welsh connection on that side as far as we know. But ironic as my mother's side was Morgan, of Welsh ancestry but nothing like it in that side of the family at all. I had no children, sadly. My maternal grandmother told me I shouldn't have children because of the deformity! I have humorously called that my grandmother's curse! It was sad for my mother who was a brilliant jazz pianist. She could play most tunes if you sang the song to her! And her hand span allowed her to play chords that other pianists couldn't.

Judith Day, nee Simes/Sims

Judith Day