Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Question from Sue - Henry's wives and live births

Editor's note: if you reply by email, please post your reply in the comments section too, so others can read it

I'm a professor of communication, and have recently finished The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. In reading that book, I was struck by how difficult it was for all of Henry VIII's wives --not just his first-- to give birth to live children. Katherine of Spain, for example, was pregnant a total of 10 times but only one child survived, her daughter Mary. Why was this?

Please reply to suepar@bu.edu

8 comments:

Nasim said...

There has been some debate amongst historians as to why Henry VIII had only four living children from six marriages and from two known mistresses. Historian E. Ives, who wrote a fantastic biography on Anne Boleyn, argued that Henry VIII had sexual problems, but he argued that venereal disease was not to blame. There is nothing in the history of Katherine of Aragon’s sisters to suggest a tendency to impaired childbearing and one of Henry’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, became pregnant as soon as she left Henry for her husband, William Carey. This was also the case with Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife, who shortly after Henry’s death married Thomas Seymour and became pregnant.
There is also evidence to support the suggestion that Henry was, or became, partially impotent. In 1540, his divorce from Anne of Cleves was secured on the ground of the King’s sexual incapacity. Of course this was blamed on Anne and the failed pregnancies of all of Henry’s first three wives were also blamed on them due to the sixteenth century belief that the state and fate of the pregnancy, with the sex of the child, was determined by the woman. Ives arguments have been accepted by many and a majority of Tudor historians have seen the lack of children as a result of Henry’s sexual impotence.

BritishNut56 said...

In the case of Anne Boleyn, the biographer Anne Somerset has come upon the idea that the RH Factor was a player in her still-births.

I have often wondered if family connections had anything to do with children not surviving beyond infancy, or of the mother miscarrying earlier. It seems that everybody in the royal world was connected by blood in some fashion. Altho there were 'laws' against consanguinity, these laws were never truly enforced. Close cousin could marry cousin.

In the history of any early monarchy, having children was, at best, a hit or miss affair.

Anonymous said...

One must remember that we are speaking about 1500's. There were no hospitals. Doctors (or what passed for Doctors) did not help with the birth process because it was viewed as "women's work" and not worthy of their time nor something a man would be part of or even want to be involved. Additionally, there was little or no post-natal care. The death of women and infants during childbirth was rule, not the exception.

Mashka said...

Henry VIII also had syphilus(I hope I spelled that right), a chronic, sexually transmitted disease and it is suspected that his children, and his wives were afflicted by it, as well. Also, Queen Mary's inability to have children by Phillip is thought to have been caused by ovarian cancer, meaning that Katherine of Aragon could have by hereditary means, had it as well.

GarethR said...

Henry VIII did not have syphilis. This legend was disproved by J.J. Scarisbrick in his biography of Henry VIII (1968) and dealt with in David Starkey's study of Henry's court (1985) and Eric Ives's two biographies of Anne Boleyn (1986; 2004.)

Kat said...

Actually a male physician helped out in many royal births, his name was Dr. Butts. The early modern period was the beginning of the "standardization" of medicine, which excluded women, particularly the midwives and healers who had been serving their communities for centuries. These women were starting to become shunned as "uneducated" or "superstitious" at least or "witches" at worse.

Anonymous said...

In early 2011 there was a special shown on TV. Some archeologists performed a "virtual autopsy" on Henry VIII, and determined that he probably suffered from severe diabetes, which could cause "sexual incapacity", or impotence.

epiphany said...

Also , keep in mind the kind of women Henry was attracted to; with the exception of Anne of Cleves, all of Henry's wives were tiny. Katherine of Araogn was 4 foot something, compared to Henry's 6 foot 3. The tiny, delicate women Henry married could have all had difficulty birthing the rather large babies that a man Henry's size would sire. It's ironic that AoC was described as a large robust girl, and she's the one Henry found repulsive. She probably would have given him a large brood of sons without any trouble!