Friday, September 28, 2012

Loving Mom or Distant Lady Mother: The Bond Between Anne and Elizabeth

It has long been discussed by Tudor historians what the relationship would have been like between Anne and her daughter Elizabeth. Due to practices instituted by Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Derby and paternal grandmother to Henry VIII, royal children where not raised at court. Justifiable fears of sickness (crowd disease was rampant due to lack of adequate latrines and cleaning practices) and a courtly lack of morals kept the heirs of Henry sequestered in great country houses. At these manors, the children were raised by teams of servants whose duties ranged from wetnurses and cradle rockers to academic tutors and dance instructors.
Because of this imposed practice, Elizabeth spent her first three years at Hatfield House, a country estate about twenty miles north of London. Anne would have seen Elizabeth only on great occassions when children were welcome at court such as Christmas and when the royal couple was on Summer Progress. Some writers have suggested that the situation equates to a lack of concern for the child on the part of Anne. We know, however, that Anne was raised in a similar situation, with her parents constantly away at court while she was grew up with her siblings at Hever, so this distance would not only have been required but would have seemed quite normal to the Queen. When I explored this claim, I found many signs that Anne was indeed a loving mother despite that physical distance between her and her daughter. Anne's account books showed that despite a healthy budget provided by the King to purchase clothing for Elizabeth, Anne often sent ribbons and lace to adorn the child's clothing that she personally chose.There is also a receipt for "several lengths" of orange silk (a rare and expensive color)  embroidered with Anne's royal badge in gold thread. Anne sent the cloth to Elizabeth for it to be sewn into a new dress. While hunting, Anne often sent choice cuts of venison and other animals to Hatfield and hand-picked several of the servants who made up Elizabeth's household including Kat Ashley (who would become Elizabeth's lifelong friend and confidante), the Ladies Bryan  and Shelton amongst others. Anne even chose to often sit in on the betrothal discussions for Elizabeth, an action unheard of in this time period.
All of these actions constitute what I would interpret as a great interest in her daughter's life and a healthy level of affection for her given the social constraints of Tudor England. I would surmise that Anne loved Elizabeth and went above and  beyond the normal motherly duties of this time period to express that love. For anyone to assume/express that Anne did not care for Elizabeth would expose their inherrent lack of knowledge and understanding of the social context and practices of Henry the Eighth's court.

Love Triangle

Hello followers,
I recently found this portrait on another Tudor history blog I read. The art shows the love traingle between Anne, Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. It definitely portrays Catherine and old and unhappy while Anne is young and haughty. What do you think of Henry's expression?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Search for Richard III: Remains Finally Discovered?

Richard III was the last of the ambititous York brothers (Edward, George and Richard) who ruled England following the Battle of Towton. Richard was struck down in battle at Bosworth Field after ruling only 2 years. Following the battle, which was to be the most decisive in the War of Roses, his body was interred at the Greyfriars Abbey in Leicester. Richard was the last English king to die in battle and the only king to die directly of battle inflicted wounds since Harold II in 1066 who died at the Battle of Hastings while fighting Norman invaders. Until recently the burial site was unknown due to subsequent development at Leicester. For a little of six weeks the University of Leicester has been excavating sites to determine the whereabouts of Richard's body and it may have been found! Watch the video below for details on the excavation and why experts believe these may indeed be the remains of the last Plantagenet king!

In Memory of Eric Ives

Good morning followers,
I am sad to report that this morning the family of well known, beloved Anne Boleyn historian Eric Ives confirmed that he passed on yesterday morning following a severe stroke. Ives wrote many books and articles on Anne Boleyn and was an incredible asset to our modern research and understanding on Tudor England. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family during this sad time. Rest in peace Dr. Ives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Divorced, Beheaded, Died? The Postpartum Care of Jane Seymour

After thoroughly diving into Catherine and Anne's lives my research has taken an unexpected turn; to Jane Seymour. As I began reading about her life, I found myself conforming to the popular opinions of her as the spineless, pushover wife. As an Anne addict, I also could not help but think of her as a mortal enemy. While reading a master's thesis on Jane's involvement in the fall of Anne Boleyn, the author broached an interesting topic, she accused Henry and his physicians of negligence in Jane's post pregnancy care which resulted in her premature death. Intrigued by the idea, I began looking into it. Jane's pregnancy was announced in February 1537. It is recorded by court doctors that her pregnancy was easy, Jane suffered from almost no morning sickness. Despite her easy pregnancy, Jane's labor would be far from simple. Edward's delivery took two full days and three nights, with the long-awaited heir making him apprearance in the world early on the morning of October 12. He was named after Edward the Confessor, whose feast day was the following day. Following her long labor and delivery, Jane was able to sit and greet guests before the Edward's christening on October 15, but it was evident she was not well. Two days later, the Queen's health had deteriorated so drastically that she was administered her Last Rites by her personal confessor. On October 24, 1537Jane Seymour expired. So what caused her demise? Is Henry and/or his physician to blame? Using the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, as well as numerous books on Jane and information on renaissance medicine I have explored the pregnancy, labor and post-partum health of Henry's third queen.
Jane was a young, presumably healthy woman. At the time of Edward's birth she was twenty-eight years old and as a wealthy member of the nobility she would not have suffered from the malnutrition that often causes pregnancy issues and was common amongst the lower class, in fact she was often referred to a "plump" As we have already discovered her pregnancy was easy but labor was difficult. It is safe to assume that this drawn-out delivery was as a result of a badly positioned baby. The uterus is the muscle used to deliver a baby and it would have become seriously strained given the length of labor Jane experienced. In a normal pregnancy, where the baby is not breeched, the usterus expels the placenta and other post natal bodily fluids. Given the exhausted state of Jane's uterus it might have been incapable of ridding itself of these fluids. If the fluids were retained, they would begin to decay quickly causing an infection in the body. Jane's immune system and overall health would have been compromised due to the labor, rendering her unable to fight infection. Further damage to her health would have been caused by the dirty hands, rags and tools used on her body. Little was known about hygiene and microbiology in this time period so hand washing and sterilizing was not a priority nor was there an effective treatment for infections. Historian Alison Weir claims Jane died from puerperal fever due to an infection contracted when her perineum tore. Because Queens were not examined closely by physicians and vaginal inspections were completely forbidden, we will never know what caused Jane's infection. However, we can be sure it was an infection because her doctors recorded her having "bloody flux" and heart arithmeas, sure signs of septicemia. Jane's doctors did what they could to keep her comfortable including trying to control her fevers, encouraging her to take fluids and rest as much as possible. So were they or Henry responsible for her death? My conclusion is no, social rules and medicinal treatment of the time period failed Queen Jane, not her husband. The rate of maternal mortality was very high because of the lack of infection treatments. Jane's death was unavoidable given the level of medical knowledge and intervention of the period.

Sources: NIH, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour: A Biography, Puerperal Fever and Medicine in the Middle Ages, Female Mortality in Tudor England.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Read of the Week

Over the past week I have been diving into a biography of Henry VIII's wives entitled The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Frasier. This book was really interesting because it  attempts, in 450 pages, to chronicle the lives of six complex historical figures. You can tell where Frasier's interests lie in that she spent significantly more time on Anne Boleyn and Kateryn Parr than any of the other women. Catherine of Aragon's role inthe government was downplayed and her work on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard lacked the biographical elements she included for the other four. Despite the compression of some wives' lives in the work it was a great book! I greatly appreciated how she focused on the scholarship of Catherine of Aragon, something largely ignored by historians who cast her as the pious, overly devout wife. Even though I was disappointed by the lack of background on Katherine's Howard's life prior to her royal marriage, I loved how she explored her naivete and how her spoiled upbringing contributed to her fatal indiscretions. I found the section on Kateryn Parr so enlightening, it explores her religious reformation, her intelligence (which were both profound) and how she influenced the ideology of Elizabeth I. I would recommend this book only if your interest in the wives runs very deep because several parts of the book would be hard to understand if you do not have a lot of background information.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Elizabeth I

On this day in history 1533 Anne Boleyn gave birth to Princess Elizabeth. Despite not being the longed for son, Elizabeth was adored by both of her parents. She would grow to become one of the most educated women of her time. Elizabeth spoke six languages, wrote in beautiful script and was infamous for her ability to talk, while actually saying nothing. Henry's fears about Anne not giving him an heir who was capable of ruling were unfounded because Anne's daughter is the most celebrated monarch of England. She led England into the golden years of learning, commerce and naval dominance.
Happy 479th Birthday Elizabeth!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Noli me Tangere: The Relationship of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Wyatt

I have long pondered the relationship between Anne and Thomas Wyatt. History would tell us that he was the elder brother of one of Anne's good friends, Anne Wyatt. The Wyatt family estate was not far from the Boleyn ancestral home, Hever. We can assume that as neighbors, Anne and Thomas would have been familiar with each other but not that they were close. Anne left England (Ca. 1513/4) at a very young age to serve in the house of Margaret of Austria who praised Anne's intelligence and piety. Although there is no record, we can assume that Thomas would have been fostered by a powerful family closer to court and the King's favor, as was tradition during the period. Anne lived abroad for many years returning to England in 1523. Once at court she immediately attracted attention from the men of court. One was even quoted as calling her a ..."rare beauty with a soul of gold..." Wyatt's descendant George would later write of his grandfather's attraction to Anne in his biography Anne Boleigne saying, "he was surprised by the sight thereof..." Despite the attentions foisted upon Anne, we only know of one serious relationship, that of Anne and Henry Percy. The two wished to be married, an action undermined by Cardinal Wolsey who accused Anne of reaching too high in her marital ambitions. Facing the King's displeasure and a possible dent in her sterling reputation, Anne retreated to Hever. There was no chance of a romance blooming between Wyatt and Anne during her "exile" because court records confirm that Wyatt was away at court serving as the King's clerk of jewels. Anne returned to court, becoming almost instantly the object of Henry's affections.
Anne was an extremely intelligent, observant woman. She realized how quickly the King's favor and her own head could be lost. I am certain that she would not have risked the King's love and her life to pursue an affiar with the lower born Wyatt. Wyatt's own poetry suggests that there was a lack of interest on Anne's part:
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
We may never know the true extent of the relationship between Anne and Thomas. I believe that while they may have had a flirtation prior to her marriage and coronation, Thomas was nothing more than a distant admirer afterward. Anne was known for her beauty, intelligence and wit which was sure to inspire admiration amongst the men of the court. Courtly devotion stemming from the unmarried men of the Tudor court and directed at the Queen was not uncommon; poets and musicians often praised Catherine of Aragon's piety and beauty (including her hair and face) prior to her fall from grace.
 In my opinion Thomas Wyatt represents nothing more than a case of unrequited love, as primary sources offer no other evidence. The innocence of their interaction is also suggested by the fact that Wyatt survived the execution of Anne's supposed lovers. What do you think followers? Does the poem suggest more than a trivial flirtation? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Anne's Final Pregnancy

   Lately, I have had many inquiries about the reproductive history of Anne Boleyn. Thanks in large part to the novel The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory and the subsequent Hollywood film there is a general consensus that Anne Boleyn suffered a miscarriage in which the fetus had severe abnormalities and as result Henry decided to seperate himself from her. As a historian who is greatly interested in the fall of Anne Boleyn I have explored the possibility that this is true and how it may have effected her decline in power and influence over Henry VIII. First, let us examine the root of the myth (yes, I said myth). Author Retha Warnicke is one of the first respectable historians to perpetuate this rumor. On January 29, 1536, just days after Henry suffered a near fatal fall during a jousting match, Anne went into pre-term labor and bore a stillborn son. She was cared for by a royal doctor and several midwives, there is no primary source evidence that supports the child being abnormal in any way.

    Warnicke support the theory that Anne’s miscarriage must have been abnormal saying, “Her fall was almost certainly triggered by the nature of the miscarriage she was to suffer in late January, for there is no evidence that she had been in any personal or political danger [prior]…”*

   We know this statement is misleading; careful examination of primary sources show us that Chapuys had written to Charles V speaking of the King’s new love interest Jane Seymour more than three months prior to Anne’s miscarriage. In the letter, Chapuys reveals that Henry had been wooing Jane with expensive gifts and paying her a lot of attention. It also becomes apparent through the use of these documents that the rumors regarding the Queen’s allegedly malformed fetus were not evident until almost thirty years after her death. The tales of Anne’s reproductive woes, physical deformities and witchcraft were spread by Roman priests, especially Nicholas Sander, as they sought to undermine Elizabeth’s claim to the English throne. Despite the lack of evidence for fetal abnormalities, I believe that Anne’s miscarriage damaged her relationship with Henry. She had miscarried several time, causing him to question her ability to provide him with a legitimate heir. She had also had heated confrontation with his trusted advisor Thomas Cromwell, resulting in the loss of him as her ally. Henry’s marriage to Anne had caused significant political tension between England and the other Catholic countries on the continent, but especially the Holy Roman Empire. The pregnancy shook Henry’s faith in Anne, but it was not the moment he decided to put her aside in favor of another woman. There were many factors, political, religious and familial that contributed to Anne’s fall and there is no evidence other than conjecture that Henry decided to bring charges against Anne for miscarrying a malformed child.

*Excerpt taken from The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics in the Court of Henry VIII