Nicholas Sander (Saunders), one of the twelve children of William Saunders and his wife, Elizabeth Mynes, was born in Charlwood, Surrey, in about 1530. He enrolled in Wykeham's School in 1540 and in 1548 he was made a fellow of New College, Oxford. (1) As a strong supporter of Cardinal Reginald Pole he had a difficult time during the reign of Edward VI.
Sander served as a professor of canon law but after the death of Queen Mary he went to live in Rome. According to his biographer, T. F. Mayer: "When Sander reached Rome, he was probably lodged in the English Hospice through the patronage of Cardinal Morone, the protector of England. Sander appeared as one of its auditors in early 1561 and as a chamberlain in May 1563.... He may have been involved in the decision that English Catholics could not attend protestant services." (2)
In about 1564 he traveled to Louvain, the home of many English Catholic refugees. (3) 1570 he supported the decision by Pope Pius V to declare that Elizabeth was a heretic. (4) He moved to Madrid in 1573 where he became the official spokesman of English Catholics. In 1579 he "decided that more aggressive action against the Protestant regime of England was needed". (5)
Nicholas Sander died in 1581. During his life he worked on a book about Tudor England. Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism, was published in Cologne in 1585. The book provided a very hostile portrait of Anne Boleyn. Although he was only a child when she was alive he provided a very detailed description of her: "Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under her upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen (tumour or wart) under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat." (6)
Several historians have pointed out that Sander was only a child when Anne Boleyn died. George Wyatt was the grandson of Thomas Wyatt, who was close to Anne. He was her 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. (7) He dismisses Sander's claim 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." (8) There is no evidence that Anne "wore a high dress", which was not fashionable at this time. Her portraits show that she did not usually cover her neck. (9)
Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under her upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen (tumour or wart) under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. She was handsome to look at... She was the model and the mirror of those who were at court, for she was always well dressed, and every day made some change in the fashion of her garments.
On 24th January 1536 he (Henry VIII) took a heavy fall. He was unconscious for over two hours... Henry recovered, apparently none the worse apart from a few bruises, but five days later Anne was delivered of a stillborn son. She claimed that it had been the shock of Henry's accident that had brought this about, but there had been earlier signs of difficulty, and it is likely that the true cause was quite different. Shaken as he was, the king again became a prey to superstitious fears. Had he now done something else to offend a God who was proving so unsympathetic? Many years later Nicholas Sanders, who was a bitter enemy of everything that Anne represented, told a story to the effect that the foetus had been deformed, and that Henry convinced himself that he could not have been the begetter. This was plausible in the sense that it represented a view widely held at the time that deformity in a child was the consequence of unlawful procreation; but there is no contemporary evidence either of deformity or of such a reaction on Henry's part.
The most complete extant description of Anne's appearance that has survived from her lifetime is in a hostile report of a Venetian ambassador, who described her when she was on a visit to Calais in 1532. Sympathetic to Catherine of Aragon, he said disparagingly about the king's love: "Madame Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the English king's great appetite and her eyes, which are black and beautiful."
In contrast, Nicholas Sander, who probably never saw Anne, claimed in his Latin history, which was published almost fifty years after her death, that she was very tall and physically disfigured. An enemy of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, Sander attempted to ridicule the English Reformation by clothing Anne with the outer appearance that he thought best reflected her inner nature, as he perceived it. Believing that by her enchanting and sensuous ways she had manipulated a king besotted with passion for her into destroying both his marriage and the English Church, Sander gave her the invented monstrous features of a witch...
Some biographers have tried to reconcile the scurrilous remarks of Sander, the first writer to portray Anne publicly as deformed... Had there been even a hint of a deformity in Anne's appearance, the Venetian, as well as the Imperial ambassadors, some of whom knew her father quite well because of his diplomatic experience, would have eagerly revealed this intriguing fact to their respective governments.
Sander showed his bias by describing her as "rather tall of stature with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under her upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen (tumour or wart) under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat." She was handsome to look at."
This bizarre description was written by a man who was only nine when she died; there is no evidence that Anne "wore a high dress", which was not fashionable at this time. Her portraits show that she did not usually cover her neck. Often the accusations of witchcraft marred people's description of her - how else could she have made good King Henry forsake his devoted wife and the Pope?