Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Question from Krissy - Effect of wine on the Wives

Did the constant drinking of wine effect Henry VIII's wives?


Anonymous said...

sorry i didn't elaborate on the wives' pregnancies

Anonymous said...

I would assume it would have had some effect on the fetus. There's probably no evidence of that, but it's a proven fact that alcohol affects developing babies, and the more alcohol that is confumed the more likely the risk of birth defects becomes.

Anonymous said...

I tried to answer this earlier, but my answer seems not to have gone through, so I will try again:

First, I have to say that I continue to be very impressed by the very thoughtful questions received at this site. Krissy's question is definitely among them!

Daily alcohol consumption was virtually universal in the Tudor era, regardless of whether or not one was pregnant. Standard wines and ales were the most common forms of alcoholic beverages; fortified wines and spirits were rarer or developed later. Wine was often diluted with water prior to consumption, reducing the alcohol-to-volume content ratio slightly. Ale was a staple of the diet of the less-than-wealthy and provided a significant percentage of a person's daily calorie intake. But those ales had a lower alcohol content than does beer today.

As Anonymous noted, alcohol does affect developing fetuses, without question, and can cause what is known today as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In light of the recent questions regarding Henry VIII, his wives, and their fertility, it is interesting to speculate on what role alcohol consumption may have played in the repeated miscarriages suffered by Katherine of Aragon (and other women of the period) and in the high infant mortality rate of the era. But again as Anonymnous notes, the real evidence is simply impossible to gather. We would have to know exactly how much alcohol any specific woman consumed during her pregnancy, and we would need to be able to examine the child or miscarried fetus. Neither of these things is possible 500 years after the fact, so the best we can say is that there WAS an effect, but the degree of that effect must remain unknown.

Foose said...

It's interesting to me that you don't really read any anecdotes of alcoholic women in the noble or royal classes -- even though there were a lot of unhappy marriages, alcohol was freely available, and some wives, especially Henry's were subject to unending stress. Maybe they had some other way of self-medicating. Susan James points out that a lot of Katherine Parr's religious zeal appears to have diminished significantly once she was married to Thomas Seymour -- maybe because he wouldn't put up with it, but also maybe because she no longer had a need for it.