The 1533 Christmas season at Henry VIII’s court was by all accounts a merry affair. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. After 6 years of waiting King Henry VIII had officially married Anne Boleyn in January 1533. She had been publicly acknowledged and prayed for as Queen at Easter and in June a visibly pregnant Anne was crowned at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and ceremony accorded to a regnant monarch.
In August 1533 Anne took to her chambers at Greenwich Palace to await the birth of her son.
To the parent’s disappointment the child was a girl, who they named Elizabeth. Although the infant was not the predicted son and heir, both Anne and the baby had come through the labour safely. This was something to give thanks for as Anne was approximately 33 years old and therefore by Tudor standards was considered quite old to be embarking on motherhood for the first time.
Infant mortality rates in the 16th century were high and babies royal or otherwise were regularly carried off by unhygienic practices and all manner of what we would now consider minor infections. In order to minimise the risks royal children were quickly given a separate establishment or household with their own staff at palaces and houses in the country away from the dirt and dangers of London.
Anne recovered quickly from the delivery and with the little Princess Elizabeth safely cared for about 20 miles away in Hertfordshire at Hatfield House she found herself pregnant again by November 1533. Naturally her husband was delighted and surely this time it would be the healthy, robust baby boy that Henry had spent the last 24 years praying for. Indeed the Spanish Ambassador was writing to his master Charles V in February 1534 telling him that the King was ‘quite happy that he would have a son this time’.
All seemed well and in April 1534 Henry VIII was according to Anne’s biographer Eric Ives ordering all sorts of costly royal baby items. These included a silver cradle encrusted with precious stones, expensive bedding and baby clothes spun with real gold thread known as cloth of gold.
With the pregnancy advancing as normal and the Queen’s ‘goodly belly’ clearly growing the usual royal protocols and procedures were being followed. The Queen’s laying in chamber was being arranged and Anne would have been readying herself to be closeted away with her women until the baby was born and she had been through the religious purifying ceremony known as ‘churching’.
According to Ives sometime in July at Hampton Court Palace, Anne miscarried her child in what we would now refer to as a stillbirth. We can only imagine that Anne would have been heartbroken over the loss and to add to her misery her husband did not stay to comfort her. Instead he rode off from Hampton Court Palace on summer progress with a small band of courtiers. The stillbirth was never announced and in fact was actively concealed from the world.
All the evidence suggests that by the standards of the day Anne Boleyn was a devoted and attentive mother to her daughter Princess Elizabeth and so we can understand the depth of the shock, grief and devastation she must have felt after losing her baby 8 months into her pregnancy.
Did this event trigger painful memories for Henry? He had experienced several infant losses with Katherine of Aragon and according to contemporary witnesses sorely grieved the loss of his children. Could history be repeating itself?
Was he angry with his wife for not delivering him the promised son that would secure the succession and in turn the continuance of his Tudor dynasty?
Whatever his reasons for leaving her, it must have left her feeling bewildered, alone and in the worst sorrow of her life.