Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Question from Deb - Pregnancy examinations before executions

I was reading the blog at PHd Historians website, and some of the questions about Lady Jane Grey have made me remember a question that I have wanted to ask but never get around to it. Some people wanted to know if LJG was examined prior to her execution to see if she was pregnant. I have heard that other women were as well. Here is my question - What if Jane was pregnant? Or Anne Boleyn for that matter? Would the execution have been delayed? Would the mother be spared? Is there any record of this type of situation occurring? I don't know if anybody knows the answer, but I would be very interested in hearing your comments about this. Thanks!

Related discussion on Anne Boleyn's possible pregnancy at execution here:


Anonymous said...

My thought would be that the mother would be spared because executed her would mean the death of an innocent aka her child.

But being a pregnant "traitor" wasn't always the best thing. take a look at Katherine Grey (sister of Lady Jane)

Foose said...

It is rather curious that of the spate of queens executed by Tudor monarchs in the 16th century, a number of them were of child-bearing age (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey) but I have never seen any contemporary record that they were examined for signs of pregnancy or that any of them attempted to delay their execution by claims of pregnancy. Even Mary Queen of Scots, at the (then) advanced age of 45, might have asserted a pregnant state. But "pleading your belly" seems to have been confined to women of a lower estate.

I assume that in Anne Boleyn's, Catherine Howard's and Mary Queen of Scots' cases, they had already been accused of adultery, and fervently denied it, so stating they were pregnant would have undermined their assertions of innocence (moderns might assume it would be better to do so and delay execution, but 16th-century people lived by a very ingrained concept of familial and personal (female) honor -- and in Anne Boleyn's and Mary Queen of Scots' cases, they had a surviving child to think of). With Jane Grey, I'm not sure. She probably could have creditably claimed to be pregnant, but I think here it gets psychological. She really didn't put up much of a fight altogether. Perhaps she wanted to be a martyr. Mary Queen of Scots may have had the same motivation.

Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law, Jane Rochford, is another interesting exception. She received special scrutiny before her execution because she appeared to be mad -- but not, as far as I am aware, pregnant. The judgment came back that she could still be executed even if mad (it was suspected she was foxing). She didn't try the pregnancy gambit, which might suggest that (if she were sane) she considered confessing to an illegitimate pregnancy more disgraceful than insanity and treason, and worse than execution.

Anonymous said...

I think that if they were examined, and they were pregnant, then the execution would be delayed until the child was born, and then the mother might have been executed then.