Is there any truth to the oft-repeated rumour that Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, had an extra finger on her right hand? Or a Tudor lie used by Henry as another reason to behead her so he could marry Jane Seymour?
Anne Boleyn was married to Henry VIII for only three years, from 1533-1536, before he had her beheaded for trumped up charges of adultery, incest with her brother, treason and for being a witch.
Even though Henry appeared to be madly in love with her – he wrote countless flirtatious letters to her before they were married – he was increasingly desperate for a male heir. After Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth I), Henry started to lose interest.
Decades after Anne’s death. Nicholas Sander, a Catholic living in exile, wrote about Anne Boleyn:
“She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers. There was a large wen (wort) under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat.”
Sander though never met Anne and was writing long after she had been executed. At the time, imperfections were seen as signs of witchcraft and evil, so it would have been unlikely Henry would have taken an interest in her if Sander’s description had been true.
It is possible, according to another Elizabethan writer named George Wyatt, that Anne had a small extra piece of fingernail, which may explain where the idea came from. But the sixth finger myth ensconced in Anne’s history was a fabrication by Sander wishing to discredit Protestant Elizabeth’s reign by attacking her bloodline.
When Anne’s body was exhumed in the 19th-century from the Tower of London’s Church of St Peter ad Vincula, there was no evidence whatsoever of a sixth finger.