Monday, April 28, 2008

Question from DSnow - Anne's desire to breast feed Elizabeth

I have a question about Henry's response to Anne when she wanted to nurse Elizabeth. He said that she could not nurse the baby especially since she was a girl.

Was this statement referring to the lower status of females or could his intent be to speed her return to a fertile state (since breast feeding delays this) and he wanted to get busy with the quest for a male child?

Just wondered about others thoughts on the matter.

8 comments:

PhD Historian said...

First, I am curious where you read or heard this account of events. Was it a reliable source for accurate historical information?

To address the issue more generally, women of wealth and status did not ordinarily breastfeed their own children, regardless of the gender of the child. Both male and female infants were commonly turned over immediately to a wetnurse. Had Anne Boleyn breastfed her own child, male or female, she would have been acting well outside the norm for her era. Henry's reaction would have been to the idea of Anne breastfeeding at all, since it was a deviation from social custom, and not a reaction to the gender of the child or a desire to speed Anne's return to fertility.

Brittany said...

I'm pretty sure I read that tidbit of info from a novel once (maybe "Doomed Queen Anne" by Carolyn Meyer? That series got me into the Tudor period but for so long I thought that nearly everything in that book was proven fact, and that Anne certainly had a sixth finger and a giant mole she concealed under her 'B' necklace. *hides face*)

But that bit of information sounds really novel-like, all sensational and everything.

kb said...

The scene you refer to on 'The Tudors' falls under the general category of the theatricality instead of historical accuracy.

phd historian is right that it was extremely rare for elite women to nurse their children - male or female.

Monica said...

I am interested to see if anyone has a reliable source for this story. I haven't seen much of The Tudors or read Doomed Queen Anne but I am familiar with the story. I've read so many non-fiction and fictional books on the era that I don't know where I'd read it.

Monica said...

I Googled this and found the story on p.259-60, Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I've checked this in my copy of the book and it is there but gives no reference.

kb said...

So, Monica inspired me to look at my copy of Starkey's Six wives and lo and behold on page 511 he comments; 'There is also a story that Anne was eager to breast-feed her own baby, and was only prevented from doing so by Henry's selfish desire for a good, uninterrupted night's sleep! Refusing a wet-nurse would have been a characteristically unconventional gesture on Anne's part. But, alas, the tale is derived from Leti's fictionalised account and is without foundation.' He cites Strickland's Lives of the Queens of England II, pp. 652-3 (6 vols, 1854). I don't know who the Leti is he is referring to.

Brittany said...

Oh! So that's where I read it. Maybe it is true? Or just a weird rumor. It's kind of interesting though. But I don't see why Henry would say that specifically because she was a girl. I would think they would have been even less inclined to let Anne nurse the child if it had been a boy. I suppose that, if this took place, it would be so Anne could get back to more baby-making as soon as possible.

PhD Historian said...

You may be right, Brittany, about the fertility thing. But we must also recall that there was a belief in the 16th century, very odd to us today, that an infant could and did actually "absorb" the personality traits of whomever breastfed it. In the days when physicians believed in bodily "humors" (blood, bile, phlegm, etc) as mediators of both disease and personality, mother's milk was thought to transmit both the good and bad traits of the wetnurse. Tudor-era childrearing manuals are full of admonitions to parents to exercise caution in selecting a wetnurse and to be well informed as to her personality and character, lest the infant should become "tainted" by the milk of a wetnurse of the wrong sort. IF (and it's a big "if") the story is true, Anne may have been attempting to avoid the possibility of her child falling into the "hands" of the wrong wetnurse. As for Henry, female children were essentially useless to him, so it did not matter if a daughter was turned out to a wetnurse, even a bad one. His purported statement implies that had the child been a boy, he may have considered allowing Anne to nurse him in order to avoid that precious heir becoming "tainted" by non-royal breast milk.