Anne Boleyn was married to Henry VIII for only three years before he had her beheaded for spurious charges of adultery, incest and treason.
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, Henry started to lose interest.
It is in Elizabeth’s reign, however, that the fallacious rumour of the sixth finger began – decades after Anne’s death. Nicholas Sander, a Catholic living in exile, wrote, “She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat.”
Flaws in the report immediately appear: Sander never met Anne and was writing long after her execution. It can be argued that a man like Henry would have not have been attracted to a woman with the physical defects described above. Especially as, at the time, imperfections were seen as signs of witchcraft and evil.
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.
Anne’s body was exhumed in the 19th-century from the Tower of London: there was no evidence whatsoever of a sixth finger.
This article was first published in BBC History Revealed magazine