On the 18th March Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York was born.

Before the birth Margaret Beaufort had outlined a strict set of protocols and necessities required for Elizabeth of York’s labour and birth. These protocols covered everything from the number and rank of the women allowed within the chambers, to the number and even the colour of the cushions used by the queen! Approximately one month before the child was due to be born, it was customary for the queen to withdraw from the world. After a church service in which people prayed for the safe delivery of the child, Elizabeth retired to a series of rooms known as the ‘lying-in chamber’. The purpose of these rooms was to recreate a womblike effect, warm, safe and shut off. To do this, thick tapestries depicting happy images so as not to upset or distress the mother and in turn harm the unborn child, were hung on the walls and over the windows. Only a single window was left open to allow in fresh air as it was believed that bright light could bring in evil spirits. Carpets would have been placed over the floor and a fire would have burned constantly.

Elizabeth may have also have had two beds, one in which she could rest and sleep in before the birth and a second in which to give birth. This second bed would have been full of pillows and covered in crimson satin, the colour helping to hide any blood stains. A birthing stool may have also been provided as another means to give birth. The queen would have been accompanied by her female servants; men − including male physicians − were strictly barred from the lying-in chamber. Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, had supported the queen during her first three pregnancies, but she had died on 8 June 1492, before Mary was born.

During her labour Elizabeth would have trusted in her Catholic faith. It is known that she asked for the Girdle of Our Lady to be brought to her from Westminster Abbey. The girdle would have been laid over Elizabeth’s stomach while she and her ladies prayed for the Virgin Mary to help the queen’s labour pains and to bring about the safe delivery of her child. Elizabeth may have also called on St Margaret, the patron saint of pregnant women and childbirth, to aid her in her labour and the birth.

It is quite probable that Elizabeth of York’s midwife for Mary’s birth would have been Alice Massey, who was also the midwife for her previous pregnancy as well as her last pregnancy (which would take place in 1503). Friar Bartholomew wrote that a midwife….

‘takes the child out of the womb, and ties the navel-string four inches long. She washes away the blood on the child with water, anoints him with salt and honey (or salt and roses, pounded together) to dry him and comfort his limbs and members, and wraps him in clothes. His mouth and gums should be rubbed with a finger dipped in honey to cleanse them, and to stimulate the child to suck.’

A midwife had to be ‘pleasant and merry, of good discourse, strong’ and have a good reputation. The profession of midwifery was not taught at schools, but rather by time and experience. Women would have learnt the trade from other women, and by assisting a midwife attending a woman in labour. Since childbirth was such a dangerous time for both mother and baby, the midwife was also granted by the Church the ability to baptise a baby should it appear that it would not live. Therefore the midwife had to be a good Catholic woman, dedicated to Christ and the Church.

The little girl Elizabeth of York gave birth to was named Mary, possibly after the Virgin Mary as she was born so close to the Tudor New Year, 25 March, known as Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (the date that Mary was told she was pregnant with Jesus). The date of her birth was recorded by Elizabeth in her psalter. Margaret Beaufort recorded Mary’s birth in her book of hours. Next to 18 March Margaret wrote: ‘Hodie nata Maria tertia filia Henricis VII 1495’, ‘Today was born Mary, the third daughter of Henry VII 1495.’

Mary Tudor Birth Note

Image from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

Margaret recorded the date as 1495 because during the early Tudor age, the new calendar year did not start until Lady Day, 25 March, so we would say that she was born in 1496, referring to the modern Gregorian calendar. Henry VII states that Mary was born in 1495 when he wrote to the Duke of Milan on 2 March 1499 rejecting a marriage proposal between Mary and the duke’s son. Mary was only three at the time; having not quite reached her fourth birthday.

Shortly after her birth, Mary would have been christened. It was vitally important that a new-born baby be christened since it was believed that an unchristened soul would forever be stuck in limbo. A baby could be christened a few minutes after birth, or even during the birthing process should the midwife believe that there was a chance it may die and the midwife was able to touch any part of the child, such as the top of its head or a limb.

Although not the last child born to Elizabeth of York and Henry VII, she would be the last child that lived to adulthood.


Beaufort Book of Hours Royal 2 A XVIII f. 29, Calendar page for March with an added date of the birth of princess Mary, daughter of Henry VII, viewed 18 March, <www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN. ASP?Size=mid&IllID=33306>.

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1871).

Croom Brown, Mary, Mary Tudor Queen of France (London: Methuen, 1911).

Guillemeau, Jacques, Child-birth; Or, The Happy Delivery of Women: Wherein is Set Downe the Government of Women … Together with the Diseases, which Happen to Women in Those Times, and the Meanes to Help Them. With a Treatise for The Nursing of Children (1635).

Licence, Amy, In Bed with the Tudors The Sex Lives of a Dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2012).

Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage and Death (Scotland, BBC, 2013).

Norton, Elizabeth, The Lives of Tudor Women (London: Head of Zeus, 2016).

Ormen, Nicholas, Medieval Children, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).


Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident of 1524

King Henry VIII held a great love of jousting. As a young teenager Henry had been denied the ability to joust in competitions as he was the sole heir to the throne. His father, Henry VII, feared his son may be injured or even worse killed. Yet when Henry came to the throne in 1509 he was extremely athletic and quickly took to the excitement and chivalry of the joust.

Throughout the early years of his reign Henry VIII participated in many fabulous jousting events one of those being on the 10th of March 1524. However the joust this day would not go as planned for the King and he faced a near disaster of which could have ended his life.

During this joust Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk was set to joust against the King. With one man at each end of the tilt the signal was given to start and both men surged their horses forward. Brandon was wearing a helmet that gave him very little vision and alarmingly the King had forgotten to lower his visor. People cried for Brandon to stop but with limited vision and unable to hear he surged forward and struck the inside of the King’s helmet sending splinters exploding over the Henry VIII’s face.

In his Chronicle Hall recounts the incident in more detail…

“The 10th day of March, the king having a new harness [armour] made of his own design and fashion, such as no armourer before that time had seen, thought to test the same at the tilt and appointed a joust to serve this purpose.

On foot were appointed the Lord Marquis of Dorset and the Earl of Surrey; the King came to one end of the tilt and the Duke of Suffolk to the other. Then a gentleman said to the Duke, “Sir, the King is come to the tilt’s end.” “I see him not,” said the Duke, “on my faith, for my headpiece takes from me my sight.” With these words, God knoweth by what chance, the King had his spear delivered to him by the Lord Marquis, the visor of his headpiece being up and not down nor fastened, so that his face was clean naked. Then the gentleman said to the Duke, “Sir, the King cometh”.

Then the Duke set forward and charged his spear, and the King likewise inadvisedly set off towards the Duke. The people, perceiving the King’s face bare, cried “Hold! Hold!”, but the Duke neither saw nor heard, and whether the King remembered that his visor was up or not few could tell. Alas, what sorrow was it to the people when they saw the splinters of the Duke’s spear strike on the King’s headpiece. For most certainly, the Duke struck the King on the brow, right under the defence of the headpiece, on the very skull cap or basinet piece where unto the barbette is hinged for power and defence, to which skull cap or basinet no armourer takes heed of, for it is evermore covered with the visor, barbet and volant piece, and so that piece is so defended that it forceth of no charge. But when the spear landed on that place, it was great jeopardy of death, in so much that the face was bare, for the Duke’s spear broke all to splinters and pushed the King’s visor or barbet so far back by the counter blow that all the King’s headpiece was full of splinters. The armourers for this matter were much blamed and so was the Lord Marquis for delivering the spear when his face was open, but the King said that no-one was to blame but himself, for he intended to have saved himself and his sight.

The Duke immediately disarmed himself and came to the King, showing him the closeness of his sight, and swore that he would never run against the King again. But if the King had been even a little hurt, the King’s servants would have put the Duke in jeopardy. Then the King called his armourers and put all his pieces together and then took a spear and ran six courses very well, by which all men might perceive that he had no hurt, which was a great joy and comfort to all his subjects there present.”

Naturally Charles Brandon as well as all those that witnessed the impact were alarmed! The impact of being hit in the head at full pace with a lance could have killed the King instantly! Or one or more of the splinters could have embedded into the King’s eyes or even his brain causing a slow and painful death. Luckily Henry VIII was not badly hurt and laid no blame upon Charles Brandon and their friendship remained intact.

Charles Brandon swore that he would never joust against the King again but Henry VIII did not take this vow seriously. Brandon was one of the few men at court that were equal to the King in skill and ability in the joust and Henry VIII wanted an opponent that could offer him a true challenge. Nine months later the pair would joust opposite one another again.

Henry VIII had escaped a near fatal jousting accident… little did he know that twelve years later he would again suffer another, far more serious jousting accident that would affect him deeply for the rest of his life.

King Henry VIII and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk



Hall, Edward 1809, Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, London.

Lipscomb, Suzannah 2009, 1536 The Year that Changed Henry VIII, Lion Hudson plc, Oxford.

Loades, David 2012, The Tudors History of a Dynasty, Continuum International Publishing Group, London.

Mackay, Lauren 2014, Inside the Tudor Court, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

The Secret Marriage of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor

On the 14th of January 1515 Henry VIII wrote to the new French King, Francis I, that he would be sending three of his men to acknowledge Francis’ accession to the throne and begin negotiations for Mary Tudor’s return to England. Thsee three men that Henry VIII selected were Sir Richard Wingfield, Nicholas West and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Brandon would see to Mary’s safe return however she would not be a widow but a newly married woman.

To understand this story we must go back to the 13th of August 1514. On this day eighteen year old Mary Tudor was married via proxy to King Louis XII with the Duke of Longueville standing in for the French King. The wedding had been organised between Henry VIII and Louis XII to secure an alliance between France and England. However it was not until the 2nd of October that Mary would leave for France where she wed Louis XII in a lavish ceremony on the on the 9th October 1514 at nine o’clock in the morning in the great hall of the Hotel de la Gruthose.

Before Mary agreed to the marriage between herself and King Louis XII she extracted a promise from Henry VII that should the aging French King die before her she would be free to choose her second husband. She reminded Henry of this in a letter stating “that if I shulde fortune to survive the said late king I mygt with your good wil marye my self at my libertie withoute your displeasor.” Further in the letter she also stated that “as ye wel knowe I have always bornn good mynde towardes my lorde of Suffolk,”.

It may very well be that Mary, even before her marriage to the French King had an eye on Charles Brandon; after all Mary and Charles would have been familiar with one another. Mary was an ever present part of the pageantry and celebrations at court and Charles was an active member and participant in jousting and courtly dances. It is most likely at these events that Mary’s eyes turned to Charles. He was an extremely attractive man for the age, well built, strong, physically fit, well dressed and very handsome. Mary was said to be one of the most beautiful princesses in all of Christendom and it would not be a stretch to think that Charles’s eyes would have turned more than once to the young, beautiful Princess.

Less than three months after her marriage, on January 1st 1515, King Louis XII died. He had been sick for several weeks previously and his death came as no surprise although it was reported that when Mary was told she fainted. Mary was sent to Cluny where she wore white, the French colour of mourning. She was to stay in seclusion for forty days to see if she was pregnant. If she was pregnant and gave birth to a son he would be the next King of France. However no one really believed this and Francis, husband of Louis XII’s daughter Claude, was quickly accepted as the next King.

Once the news of the French King’s death reached England Brandon was sent to France to return the Dowager Queen and hopefully to retrieve as much as Mary’s coin, plate and jewels as possible. Before Brandon left Henry VIII made him swear not to act foolishly and marry the young Mary until after the pair had returned to England. It is interesting that Henry VIII should make Brandon make such a promise. Clearly the King was aware of either Brandon’s affections for his sister or quite likely that Henry was aware of his own sister’s affections towards the Duke. With the promise Mary made her brother swear Henry probably had a good idea that his sister would chose Brandon for her second husband. The King’s statement also suggests that he may have been willing to agree to the marriage but as long as it was on English soil and under his conditions.

It is also important to note that just before Brandon arrived in Paris to meet with Mary two friars met with the Dowager Queen in an attempt to turn her mind against Brandon. They informed Mary that the English council would never let her marry Brandon and worse that Brandon and Thomas Wolsey performed witchcraft to turn Henry VIII’s mind towards their will. They even went so far as to suggest that Brandon’s witchcraft caused a disease in William Compton’s leg, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool’s. When Brandon heard of this later he proposed that the Duke of Norfolk had been coaching the friars. It is poignant that if it was Norfolk that sent the friars to meet with Mary then Norfolk must have been aware of some feelings from Brandon towards Mary or visa versa. Clearly at this stage their feelings towards one another were becoming well known to those at court.

Brandon, Nicholas and West finally arrived in Paris on the 31st of January 1515. They met with Mary the same day and he reported that Mary was eager to return home so that she may see her brother. Mary was only eighteen years of age, young, beautiful and available to marry again. While in France she was left vulnerable as Francis I could use her as a bargaining tool. He could have her married to another French nobleman to continue the alliance with England or even have her married to another member of nobility from another country to form an alliance.

There was also speculation that Francis I worried that if Mary returned to England Henry VIII would once more seek a treaty with the Holy Roman Empire, and betroth Mary to Prince Charles with whom she had previously been betrothed. There was also the fact that if Mary remained in France Francis I could keep her jewels and other travelling expenses. It was rumoured that Francis I even had an interest in marrying the beautiful young Mary. However that seems unlikely has he would have had to divorce his current wife, the late King’s daughter, to do so.

With such uncertainty, stress and fear surrounding her Mary Tudor decided to take matters into her own hands. The Dowager Queen proposed marriage to Brandon, of which the Duke accepted. Weather this was a spontaneous decision to marry right then and there or was thought about for several days remains unknown. However it was clear that the pair had strong feelings towards one another.

Mary and Brandon married in secret without Henry VIII’s permission. While the exact date of the marriage is unknown it can be determined that the couple married before approximately ten witnesses  at the Chapel in Cluny, between 31 January, when Brandon arrived in Paris, and 3 February. We know this because in a letter dated the 3rd Brandon wrote to Wolsey regarding a meeting he had with the Francis I. During the meeting Francis told Brandon that he knew of the secret wedding because Mary had already informed him.

Brandon had just committed treason by marrying a member of the royal family without first gaining permission from the King. The penalty for such a crime was death. Both Brandon and Mary wrote to the King to confess what they had done. Brandon laid his soul bare to Henry VIII confessing what he had done and reminding the King of their long friendship and acknowledging that everything he had, every position he had gained, was because of the King. For her part Mary reminded Henry of his promise made to her before she left for France – that should the French King die she could chose a man of her own for her next marriage. After many letters back and forth and with Thomas Wolsey having to intervene to help smooth things over, Henry VIII consented to the marriage. Charles and Mary were married for a second time in a more public wedding in France on the 31st of March. They returned home to England on the 2nd of May 1514.

There has been a great deal of debate over the centuries as to just how angry Henry VIII was with Mary and Brandon. In return for the King’s blessing Brandon and Mary were ordered to not only return Mary’s full dowry, as well as all her plate and jewels but to also pay £24 000 in yearly instalments of £1000. Brandon was also required to give up the wardship of Lady Lisle, with whom he had previously been contracted to marry. While this was a staggering sum that would have certainly seen Brandon close to poverty, records show that by 1521, six years after their marriage the couple had only replied £1324. For a King who was so furious over the marriage he certainly did not try very hard to enforce the repayments! It would seem that the fine was more for show of the King’s displeasure than any actual resentment towards the couple.

In addition to this Brandon and Mary were formally married at Greenwich on the 13th of May in front of Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon. Having the wedding attended by the King and Queen was a public way to show those at court that the King gave his blessing for the marriage. Despite what stories have been created over Brandon’s marriage to Mary Tudor it would seem that Henry VIII did not hold any lasting anger towards his favourite sister and beloved friend.

While there is a train of thought that Brandon was banished from court after his marriage to the King’s sister there does not seem to be any basis for this. Brandon and Mary did remove themselves from court for a short time after their wedding but this appears only to be for them to spend some time together as a newly married couple. In fact it was during this time away Mary conceived her first child!  Both Brandon and Mary were very aware that their favour, especially Brandon’s, relied heavily upon the King and both were back at court by the end of 1515.

Despite committing treason Brandon remained high in the King’s favour. He continued to receive grants from the King and was a regular member of council meetings and even had the great honour of jousting against the King as his equal opponent.

Charles Brandon and Mary were married for eighteen years and had four children together. Their marriage only ended by Mary’s untimely death between seven and eight o’clock in the morning on the 25th of June 1533. Despite the great difference in rank, and all that was happening around them at the time, it would appear that the marriage of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor was a true love match.

Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor



Gunn, Steven 2015, Charles Brandon, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, UK.

Harris, Barbara 1989, ‘Power, Profit, and Passion: Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, and the Arranged Marriage in Early Tudor England’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 59-88.

Hutchinson, Robert 2011, Young Henry The Rise of Henry VIII, Orion Books, London.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Loades, David 2012, Mary Rose, Amberley, Gloucestershire.

Perry, Maria 2002, Sisters to the King, Andre Deutsh, London.

Sadlack, Erin 2001, The French Queen’s Letters, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.




The Making of Two Dukes

On Candlemas eve, the 1st of February 1514, Henry VIII formally elevated two men to the tiles of Duke. Charles Brandon formally Viscount Lisle was created Duke of Suffolk. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey was created 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The ceremony took place at Lambeth and was conducted by the King.

Along with the nearly created Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk the other only Duke in the Kingdom was Edward Stafford the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham was a descendent of Thomas Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III.  In addition to this his mother was Katherine Woodville, sister of the late Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV. At the time Buckingham was also the richest peer in England with an annual income of around £6000 per year (£2,902,620.00) as well as being High Steward of England and a Privy Councillor. These positions gave Stafford a great deal of power. With royal blood running through his veins and an arrogant attitude Buckingham was a regular member at court but it was reported that he often made those around him feel uncomfortable.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk was the second of his name and came from noble family. His father, Thomas Howard 1st Duke of Norfolk was head of Richard III’s vanguard at the Battle of Bosworth and was slain by an arrow through the brain defending his King. Thomas Howard also fought at the Battle of Bosworth but was injured and captured by Henry VII. Overtime Howard proved his loyalty to the new Tudor Monarch and was restored to his title of Earl of Surry.

Howard made an advantageous marriage for himself when he married Anne of York, daughter of the late King Edward IV in 1495. After her death in 1511 Howard married Elizabeth Stafford, oldest daughter of the Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham. This made the newly created Duke of Norfolk the son in law of the Duke of Buckingham! Elizabeth and Norfolk had several children together, one of those being Mary Howard. Norfolk would seek to advance himself in the King’s favour and organised a marriage between his daughter Mary and the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. The pair were married on the 26th November 1533, although due to their young ages (both were only fourteen) the marriage was never consummated. Norfolk was now related to the King yet Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk would go one step further in 1515 and become brother in law to the King!

Unlike the Dukes of Norfolk and Buckingham, Brandon did not come from royal blood nor did he come from a noble family. His father had fought valiantly for Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth but there was no history of nobility – he had after all only been Knighted the day before the battle. Instead Brandon’s rise was due to his friendship with Henry VIII and his proven skills in military service. Born in 1485 Brandon was fourteen years older than the King but shared many common interests with him including jousting, hunting and archery. Brandon also shared a deep love of women and enjoyed participating in courtly dances and masquerades. Brandon would go one step further and in early 1515 he married Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary without the King’s permission. Although an act that was considered treason the King forgave Brandon and Mary and welcomed them back at court with only the threat of a fine. Brandon was now not only the Duke of Suffolk, the King’s greatest friend but he was also Henry VIII’s brother in law. In addition in the 1520’s with the King having no male heir it was Brandon’s son, Henry, that had a strong claim to the throne. An impressive feat for a man born of no royal blood!

The Duke of Buckingham was executed on the 17th of May 1521 upon Tower Hill. He had been charged with desiring the King’s death and seeing himself on the throne. With Buckingham’s execution it would leave only the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk who would rule as the two highest peers in the realm.

Over the decades the Duke of Norfolk would rise and fall in the King’s favour but it would be Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk that would always retain the King’s friendship as well as play an important part of the government of England at the time. He was appointed as President of the King’s council and in 1539 Brandon was appointed The Lord Grand Master/Lord Stewart of the Household. Brandon was now the first dignitary of court and was responsible for the household of the court below stairs.

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk


Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Hutchinson, Robert 2009, House of Treason The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty, Phoenix, London.

Weir, Alison 2008, Henry VIII King & Court, Vintage Books, London.

Wriothesley, C, Hamilton, W.D. (ed) 1875, A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A. D. 1485-1559, Camden Society, London.


Anne Boleyn’s Miscarriage of 1536

On 29th January 1536, the same day that Katherine of Aragon was laid to rest at Peterborough Abbey (nowadays known as Peterborough Cathedral), Anne Boleyn tragically miscarried. There has been a great deal of speculation surrounding Anne’s final pregnancy and miscarriage. Some have suggested that the foetus was disfigured and malformed while others do not give any hint at anything wrong with the baby. Here is what Eustace Chapuys, ambassador to Charles V at the English Court, had to say about Anne’s miscarriage:

“On the day of the interment the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child which she had not borne 3½ months, at which the King has shown great distress. The said concubine wished to lay the blame on the duke of Norfolk, whom she hates, saying he frightened her by bringing the news of the fall the King had six days before. But it is well known that is not the cause, for it was told her in a way that she should not be alarmed or attach much importance to it. Some think it was owing to her own incapacity to bear children, others to a fear that the King would treat her like the late Queen, especially considering the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel, to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents.” (L&P x. 282)

Keeping in mind that Chapuys was loyal to Katherine of Aragon, aunt of Charles V his master and no friend at all to Anne Boleyn, he does not make any mention of the foetus being deformed. He only states that the child was three and a half months of gestation and male.

Charles Wriothesley who chronicled the reign of the Tudors from 1485 to 1559 stated that:

“This yeare also, three daies before Candlemas, Queene Anne was brought a bedd and delivered of a man chield, as it was said, afore her lyme, for she said that she had reckoned herself at that tyme but fiftene weekes gonne with chield; it was said she tooke a fright, for the King ranne that tjrme at the ring and had a fall from his horse, but he had no hurt; and she tooke such a fright withall that it caused her to fall in travaile,” and so was delivered afore her full tyme, which was a great discompfort to all this realme”(Wriothesley 1894).

Once again there is no mention of any malformations or disfigurements of the foetus only that Anne Boleyn gave birth to a male child before it was due to be born and that it was approximately fifteen weeks in gestation.

Nicholas Sander, a Catholic writing almost fifty years later in the time of Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth I wrote that:

“The time had now come when Anne was to be again a mother, but she brought forth only a shapeless mass of flesh” (Sander 1877).

Nicholas Sander is the only person to have written that the foetus that Anne Boleyn miscarried was malformed, in fact so much so that it was nothing but a shapeless mass of flesh. One must keep in mind that Sander was a Catholic and no friend of the Protestant Elizabeth I. In addition to this statement Sander also wrote that Anne Boleyn had six fingers, suffered from jaundice, had a projecting tooth under her upper lip and a large wen under her chin! With such blatant lies regarding Anne Boleyn’s appearance it is clear that Sander wrote of a disfigurement of Anne’s final miscarriage in an attempt to discredit her and in turn her daughter Elizabeth I.

Yet what exactly would the three and a half month old foetus have looked like and just how developed would it have been? I have a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and I have been fortunate enough as part of my degree to study child development, including the development of the baby inside the womb.

According to Laura E. Berk, a well-known and highly respected professor a fetus at approximately three and a half months of age would have started to develop:

“organs, muscles, and nervous system start to become organized and connected. The brain signals, and in response, the fetus kicks, bends its arms, forms a fist, curls its toes, opens its mouth, and even sucks its thumb. The tiny lungs begin to expand and contract in an early rehearsal of breathing movements can be detected with ultrasound.” (Berk p. 93, 2000).

Berk also goes on to state that at around twelve weeks: “External genitals are well formed, and the fetus’s sex is evident.”(Berk p. 103, 1999). She also states that the length of the child would have been approximately 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm). It is clear from this that the sex of Anne Boleyn’s child would have been known and that the limbs and overall body structure would have been formed, that is it would have been clear that the foetus was a small baby. While the head of the foetus may still somewhat be large compared to the rest of the body it would in no way have been abnormal.

There is no evidence to suggest that the foetus Anne Boleyn miscarried on January 29th 1536 was, as Sander put it, “a shapeless mass of flesh”. The child would have appeared to the eye as a normal, although extremely small, baby, the sex organs clearly evident.
Losing a child, especially a male child and possible heir to the English throne must have been absolutely devastating for Anne Boleyn. To suggest that the child was in anyway deformed and misshapen surely would have added greatly to Anne’s distress.

Anne Boleyn


‘Henry VIII: February 1536, 6-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 98-108 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp98-108 [accessed 14 March 2015].

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Nicholas Sander, Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism (Burns and Oates, 1887)

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