Anne Gainsford, the daughter of John Gainsford and Anne Hawte Gainsford, was born in Crowhurst, Surrey. (1) She joined the household of Anne Boleyn and in 1528 she claims that her mistress was caught reading Obedience of a Christian Man. In the book William Tyndale had argued that kings had authority over the church. It was taken away by Richard Sampson, the Dean of the Chapel Royal, as it was a banned book. (2) Boleyn claimed it was "the dearest book that ever dean or cardinal took away" and she eventually got it back. (3)
Anne Gainsford married Sir George Zouche. On 2nd May, 1536, Anne Boleyn was arrested and was taken to the Tower of London. On 12th May, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, as High Steward of England, presided over the trial of Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton at Westminster Hall. (5) Except for Smeaton they all pleaded not guilty to adultery.
Anne Gainsford was forced to give evidence against the men. Few details survive of the proceedings. Witnesses were called and several spoke of Anne Boleyn's alleged sexual activity. One witness said that there was "never such a whore in the realm". The evidence for the prosecution was very weak, but Thomas Cromwell "managed to contrive a case based on Mark Smeaton's questionable confession, a great deal of circumstantial evidence, and some very salacious details about what Anne had allegedly got up to with her brother." (6) At the end of the trial the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the four men were condemned by Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley to be drawn, hanged, castrated and quartered. Eustace Chapuys claimed that Brereton was "condemned on a presumption, not by proof or valid confession, and without any witnesses." (7)
Anne and George Boleyn were tried two days later in the Great Hall of the Tower. In Anne's case the verdict already pronounced against her accomplices made the outcome inevitable. She was charged, not only with a whole list of adulterous relationships going back to the autumn of 1533, but also with poisoning Catherine of Aragon, "afflicting Henry with actual bodily harm, and conspiring his death." (8)
George was charged with having sexual relations with his sister at Westminster on 5th November 1535. However, records show she was with Henry on that day in Windsor Castle. Boleyn was also accused of being the father of the deformed child born in late January or early February, 1536. (9) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne. (10)
Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V that Anne Boleyn "was principally charged with... having cohabited with her brother and other accomplices; that there was a promise between her and Norris to marry after the King's death, which it thus appeared they hoped for... and that she had poisoned Catherine and intrigued to do the same to Mary... These things, she totally denied, and gave a plausible answer to each." She admitted to giving presents to Francis Weston but this was not an unusual gesture on her part. (11) It is claimed that Thomas Cranmer told Alexander Ales that he was convinced that Anne Boleyn was innocent of all charges. (12) George and Anne Boleyn were both found guilty of all charges and executed.
After the death of Anne Boleyn, Anne Gainsford served Jane Seymour as lady-in-waiting. Later, she lived at Codnor Castle. In the 1580s, George Wyatt began work on a biography of Anne Boleyn. His work was based on the reminiscences of his family and those who had known her, such as Anne Gainsford Zouche. (13) Wyatt dismissed the claim made by Nicholas Sander that she had six fingers on her right hand. "There was found, indeed, upon the side of her nail, upon one of her fingers, some little show of a nail, which yet was so small... albeit in beauty she was to many inferior, but for behaviour, manners, attire and tongue she excelled them all... she was indeed a very wilful woman." (14)
Pierre de Bourdeille Brantôme remembered Anne Boleyn in his later years as "the fairest and most bewitching of all the lovely dames of the French court". according to Lancelot de Carles, her most attractive feature was "her eyes, which she well knew how to use. In truth, such was their power that many a man paid his allegiance." She used her eyes, he tells us, to invite conversation, and to convey the promise of hidden passion. It was a trick that enslaved several men...
Anne's charm lay not so much in her physical appearance as in her vivacious personality, her gracefulness, her quick wit and other accomplishments. She was petite in stature, and had an appealing fragility about her. Her eyes were black and her hair dark brown and of great length; often, she would wear it interlaced with jewels, loose down her back. But she was not pretty, nor did her looks conform to the fashionable ideals of her time. She had small breasts when it was fashionable to have a voluptuous figure, and in a period when pale complexions were much admired, she was sallow, even swarthy, with small moles on her body. George Wyatt says she had a large Adam's apple, like a man's... Wyatt, grandson of the poet Thomas Wyatt and Anne's first biographer, who compiled his work at the end of the sixteenth century from the reminiscences of his family and those who had known her, such as her former maid of honour, Anne Gainsford.
Anne did have a small deformity, which her enemies sometimes delighted in describing as a devil's teat. Wyatt tells us she had a second nail "upon the side of her nail upon one of her fingers", about which she was rather self-conscious, for she took pains to hide it with long hanging over-sleeves, another of her fashionable innovations. Nicholas Sander described it as a sixth finger, as did Margaret Roper, the daughter of Sir Thomas More.