Thursday, March 09, 2006

Question from Melissa - Medical reasons for the Wives child-bearing history

Where might I find information that might explain why Henry, with six wives, only fathered 3 children and why his wives suffered more than the usual number of miscarriages? Is there a modern take on a known medical condition that is something treatable today (RH factor, etc.) I know there is the "syphllis" theory, but I believe it has been addressed and dismissed.

3 comments:

BritishNut56 said...

A reference to the RH Factor, in Anne Boleyn's case, is made by Alison Weir in her book, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII".

Antonia Fraser takes a quick look at Henry's reproductive health in her work on the six wives. In the paperback version, the paragraph can be found on page 220.

Anonymous said...

The RH factor is a good guess for Anne. She seemed to have had no problem having Elizabeth but her subsequent pregnancies ended in miscarriage or still birth. There is also the story that she lost a son after Henry had a near fatal accident so it is possible that in that case she went into shock and that brought on the miscarriage.

For Katherine of Aragon it would seem that she had some sort of reproductive problem. Although Mary lived and she had an infant son who lived for a short time after birth and appears to have died from either a sudden illness or SIDS. She did have several miscarriages or stillbirths but those can be attributed to the fact that the medical practices of the time were more likely to kill than cure. Whatever the cause for them was would be hard to guess now Pre- eclampsia/toxemia gestational diabetis and untreated infection, the use of substances that could have harmed a fetus remember people drank wine and ale almost daily back then and didn't know it could harm a fetus. Then there is the fact that many medicines from the time contained such harmfull substances as arsenic, lead and mercury. Katherine could have had a hormonal imbalance a choronic illness or something as mundane as fibroids or endometriosis. Another possibility would be PID an infection that can cause infirtility and we know Henry had mistresses so he could easily have picked up the infection and passed it to Katherine. Remember three of his wives did have children who survived.

Anne of Cleaves was divorced before she ever had the oppertunity to get pregnant. And Henry claimed to have been unable to have relations with her.

Katherine Howard was young and not married for very long and Henry was already in poor health and probably couldn't father a child at that point. Which is further evidenced by the fact that he had none with Katherine Parr who after Henry's death remarried and had a daughter.

I think it is possible that it was all just a series of bad luck and Henry's impatience in waiting for and son.

Stacie said...

I just recently got some of my friends to watch The Other Boleyn Girl with me, and the exact same question came up with each of them.

I basically told them that, in addition to probable personal reproductive issues (as with Henry and Katherine of Aragon) that I believe the stillbirths and miscarriages were caused by the tradition of lying-in. As far as I understand it, the women were thrown into a dark room for weeks and even months, with little air and exercise, getting visited by family and eating really rich food.

I got it across to them that sanitation as we know it today was non-existant, and that it's no surprise at all that many of Henry's attempts at an heir were miscarried. It was the best they had, but it just wasn't a healthy environment for a pregnant woman or a newborn.