Anne Boleyn and witchcraft

Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn

The anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death is approaching so I’ve decided to take a closer look on events that occurred before Anne’s death. One of the most popular myths about Henry VIII’s second wife is her alleged involvement with witchcraft.

It all started with Imperial ambassador’s report. Eustace Chapuys, always ready to report anything that about Anne Boleyn, wrote that Henry VIII told one of his courtiers that he;

‘made this marriage seduced and constrained by sortileges and for this reason he held the said marriage void and that God had demonstrated this in not allowing them to have male heirs and that he considered that he could take another.’

How Chapuys did come to such knowledge? Henry VIII’s  first cousin,  Marquis of Exeter who was in touch with ambassador, reported that the king confided this information in one of his courtiers. What was the meaning of the king’s words? It is all dependant if we are reading it in original language in which Chapuys reported them. Eric Ives wonders;

“Thus, did Henry use the term ‘sortilege’, or was the word provided en route? Even if Henry did use the noun, since its primary English meaning was ‘divination’ and since Henry spoke in the same breath of male heirs, the simple construction is that he was referring to the premarital predictions that union with Anne would produce sons”. (p. 298)

Professor Ives also adds that the word ‘sortilege’ could meant also occult practices, but ;

in usual parlance ‘bewitched’ meant no more than ‘deceived’ – as in Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament: ‘Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” (p. 298)

But did the word ‘bewitched’ indicate that Anne Boleyn dabbled into witchcraft? The word ‘bewitched’ could offer two possible meanings; ‘fascinated’ or ‘enchanted’ in a supernatural way. Back in Anne Boleyn’s days, Eustace Chapuys used the word ‘enchanted’ to reflect how huge influence Anne had over Henry;

‘This accursed lady has so enchanted and bewitched him that he will not dare to do anything against her will.’

It is highly unlikely that Chapuys meant that Anne ‘bewitched’ Henry VIII in a supernatural way. He believed that she used her womanly charms to influence the king.

During Anne’s trial no accusations about her dabbling in witchcraft had been made. 50 years after her death, Nicolas Sander in his book “The Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism” wrote about Anne’s abnormalities like sixth finger, moles, huge wen under her chin and projecting tooth. But he wrote also that back in January 1536 Anne miscarried a deformed foetus.

Of course those are words of a recusant Catholic who blamed Anne Boleyn for the spread of reformation in England, but it were Sander’s untrue remarks that later spread across the world forming ‘the black legend of Anne Boleyn’ as I call it. Even today many people believe that Anne Boleyn really had six fingers, or that the child she lost in January 1536 was deformed. And people link those myths with witchcraft.  Abnormalities and deformed children were associated with God’s displeasure over certain person, or – that this person was dabbling into black arts. Witches were associated with deformities of their bodies, unnatural lustful behaviour, abominable sexual practices, or hurting other people by using evil ‘spells’. They could cause death, weather change or even impotence in males. But there is no evidence that Anne Boleyn was deformed in any way, or that she gave birth to a deformed baby. No such thing was mentioned during her trial or the trial of 5 men that were accused along her.

So, Anne Boleyn was never accused of witchcraft. When Henry VIII made a remark that he ‘made this marriage seduced and constrained by sortileges’ he probably exaggerated or merely meant that Anne promised him male heir and failed at this task. Whatever the king said or meant – Anne Boleyn certainly was no witch and witchcraft was not used against her during her trial.

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3 Responses
  1. Areti says:

    Oops I always thought that witchcraft was used against her during her trial.:P

  2. Bridgett says:

    Great article !! As always :0) Sharing on FB.

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