May 19, 2011

Witchcraft and Anne Boleyn

Rather than focusing on Anne Boleyn's death today, I thought I would focus on some of the most famous myths about her. Below, I present research on the accusations of witchcraft against Anne Boleyn, including where this accusation came from, how history has been warped to make it seem like it is the reason for her death, and why people of her time would have believed this allegation.

According to Warnicke, Anne
"was charged with inciting, in witchlike fashion, five men to have sexual relations with her...That Anne was indentified as the initiator of these contacts was consistent both with the need to prove that she was a witch and not a passive victim and with the contemporary belief that 'demonic' women were thought to be able to entice men into unnatural carnal acts..." (203).
Remember, at this time it was not treasonable for a Queen to cheat on a King.
Obviously, it would be very stupid to do so, but it wasn't until Katheryn Howard that Henry made it treasonable. Rather, the treason charge on Anne Boleyn came from her "conspiring the King's death" with her lovers. Her "lovers," especially the lowly Mark Smeaton, were invented and used to show how depraved and wicked she was. Though witchcraft wasn't the charge against her, Cromwell (and probably Henry) used it to show that she was unfit to be Queen, that the King had been coaxed into marriage against his natural will, and that she deserved death.
Warnicke also points out that while in the Tower,
Anne, in her hysteria, said it would not rain in England until she was released. This could be interpreted as a sign of witchcraft as "witches were thought to be able to control the wind and the weather." Though Anne did not intend for this statement to be used in this manner, Cromwell took every little bit of "evidence" against her and twisted it to make it seem as if she were evil and deserving of her fate.
Perhaps the most well known "evidence" that Anne was a witch came from Nicholas Sander. Sander was born after Anne's death. He also hated Anne's daughter Elizabeth, who was Queen when he wrote
against Anne. He is responsible for the many "myths" associated with Anne. He claimed that she was a
"very tall (tall women were thought to be excessively lusty), sallow in complexion (perhaps a reference to their perceived habit of living in the forests), with a wen under her chin (possibly an early reference to the witches' teat which could be found in various places including the pudenda); with a projecting tooth under the upper lip (gobber teeth were associated with witches) and six fingers on her right hand (fingers and fingernails played a prominent role in witchcraft)..." (245).
In an effort to discredit Elizabeth, Sanders wrote many inaccurate descriptions of Anne. These descriptions have sadly been passed down as fact by some.

In his excellent biography, Eric Ives recounts the story of Anne's last miscarriage in detail. He explains that on Jan. 29, "Anne miscarried, and to make the blow worse, the baby had been a son." He goes on to discuss Henry's reaction, saying "the disaster was to him the horribly familiar and totally convincing voice of God." He told a servant in secret that "God was again denying him a son; he had been seduced into marriage with Anne by witchcraft - the marriage was null and void, and he would take a new wife." Ives doesn't go into a lot of detail about what Henry meant by "seduced by witchcraft." He simply states that "what the comment about witchcraft referred to is not clear; perhaps the king had in mind the flood of encouraging auguries which had greeted Anne's pregnancy in 1533" (434).

Warnicke also tackles the "mishappen fetus" story. She explains that "Witches were thought to give birth not only to deformed creatures and monsters but also to stillborn children, which reportedly had been bewitched to death by their devil-worshiping mothers..." (246). Thus, if the story is true, Cromwell could have used it to push Henry to get rid of Anne. Likewise, Henry (who was very superstitious and by this time in love with another woman) could have seen it as a "sign."

Regardless of the "evidence" against Anne, it is easy to see that she was a victim of a superstitious time, where powerful men used stories and misinterpretations to condemn an innocent woman.


  1. Heyyah can you add more witchcraft info from tudor times as we need it for a project!
    Many thanks! :)

  2. can you add stuff about Matthew Hopkins too?


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