Pointing the finger at Anne Boleyn. June 24, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's sixth finger, Henry VIII, the six wives of Henry VIII
Silence Dogood here (again). Someone came on to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, this morning searching for “scientific proof of Anne Boleyn’s sixth finger.” Let’s try to lay that ugly slander to rest once and for all.
From everything I can discover, Anne Boleyn was extremely intelligent, talented, and enchanting, but not likeable. She used people and then discarded or, worse, turned against them. She caused the downfall of a Queen beloved by everyone in England. Because of her insistence on gaining the crown, the Catholic Church in England was overthrown and monasteries and convents were sacked. Because of her insecurities, powerful men were executed or hounded to their deaths, their families left imbittered and impoverished. To add insult to actual injury, tact appeared to be one talent that was unknown to Anne. In the ten-odd years of her rise to and fall from power, she made more enemies than a small nation. To say that she was unpopular is like saying that Limburger cheese has a mild aroma after being left in the sun on a hot day. She had the wit to rise, but not the wisdom to rise well, and the fireworks of her ascent were matched by the meteor shower of her fall.
All of which is simply to say that a lot of people hated Anne, for personal, professional, and ideological reasons. And their hatred didn’t end with her death. Strangely, it seemed to intensify instead, and rumors about her—once she was no longer alive to disprove them, defend herself, or persecute her disparagers—abounded. Two of these claimed that she had deformities, a sixth finger and a third nipple. Both are simple, outright lies.
Here’s why: In Anne’s day, any deformity was viewed as a mark of the Devil. Innocent babes faced a lifetime of ostracism and loathing if they bore “the Devil’s mark.” Had Anne borne any deformity, especially one so obvious as a sixth finger, she would have been shut away for life in her family home, Hever Castle, or exiled to a convent to moulder away in obscurity.
Instead, her family recognized her potential and did everything in their power to show her off, sending her away to the court of France. Her musical prowess was legendary, which should be enough to lay these claims to rest: Nobody in their right mind would play an instrument, which displays one’s hands like few other activities, if by doing so they’d reveal a damning deformity like a sixth finger to the world. You’d have to be a ring or nail-polish model to draw more attention to your hands.
There’s one final proof that Anne could not have been deformed: Henry VIII loved Anne, and he had a horror of illness or deformity of any kind. His fear and dread of illness was so great that he would abandon his wives, relatives, and courtiers and literally flee to another of his residences if there was illness in one of his castles. Similarly, he would flee any city where illness had broken out. There is no way in the world that he would have viewed a potential paramour with anything but the most extreme horror had she not been physically perfect in every way.
So how on earth did such a bizarre rumor get started? Two things: First, at Anne Boleyn’s trial, she was accused of witchcraft, since her enemies could not imagine how she had gained such a hold over Henry through her own enchantments (as opposed to with some help from the Devil), and they wanted to give him an ironclad reason to execute her. (They added adultery and incest for good measure.) And second, Anne had introduced French styles to England on her return from the French court, making them popular and thereby making Queen Katherine’s style of court dress seem hopelessly dowdy and old-fashioned by comparison. One hallmark of French style at the time was sleeves so long they trailed over the fingers of one’s hands. After Anne’s fall, it would have been easy for the malicious, seeking support for the witch theory, to have speculated that there had to be an ulterior motive for her fashion sense, as for everything else that she did in her short life.
Finally, here’s another nail in that particular rumor’s coffin: It wasn’t circulated until after her death. Now, I ask you, how likely is that? Anne had dozens of maids of honor attending her as Queen; privacy for such a public figure was inconceivable, then as now. Suppose Princess Di or Oprah or Paris Hilton or, say, Miley Cyrus or Michelle Obama had a sixth finger. Do you think the celebrity-watchers simply wouldn’t notice? How much more unlikely when you were the chief celebrity, the focus of all eyes, including the extremely unfriendly ones of the Spanish Ambassador, who dutifully reported every negative thing he could find to say about you? And yet, no one did notice, because the sixth finger simply wasn’t there.
Ultimate proof one way or the other will never be forthcoming, because Anne Boleyn was buried anonymously and no one knows where her bones really are. So the dreadful rumors continue to this day. But for me, at least, the evidence is overwhelming. Anne was guilty of truly gross arrogance and unkindness, of hubris in its most extreme sense, of shortsightedness. But she was not guilty of the crimes that condemned her, not any of them: not adultery, not incest, not witchcraft. She had no sixth finger or third nipple. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Anne Boleyn was a ruthless woman who gambled everything on gaining a kingdom and both lost (her head) and won (the throne for her daughter Elizabeth). Her rise to sit beside Henry VIII on the throne of England was, indeed, improbable. But she did it without the Devil’s assistance, and she did it without a sixth finger. And that not only must be, but is, the truth.
‘Til next time,