Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Question from Rachael - Isabella of Castile's age at Catherine's birth

Hi all. While recently re-reading Alison Weir's "Children of England", I noticed that it is stated that during Mary I's first 'pregnancy', she was reminded that her grandmother, Isabella of Castile, bore a child at 52. To my knowledge, Katherine of Aragon was her last child, and Isabella certainly wasn't 52 when she was born! Frustratingly, Weir mentions no source and I was wondering if anybody knew if there was any truth behind this claim?


Lara said...

Carolly Erickson states pretty much the same thing in "Bloody Mary", so I'm guessing that it is something that was thought at the time? Erickson lists a State Papers reference so I'll see if I can dig it up.

Lara said...

No luck on the source listed by Erickson... it had information about the supposed "miscalculation" but nothing about Isabella giving birth at 52. I checked several other books that mention Mary's "pregnancies" and only Weir and Erickson have the thing about Isabella.

It seems pretty well-documented that Isabella was born in 1451, making her 34 when she had Catherine, so I'd also be curious to know where this idea came from!

Foose said...

Isabella died in 1504, when she was 53, and I don't believe there was any mention of pregnancy involved ... it seems like some sort of unthinking error by the authors or possibly by Mary's attendants, intending to comfort her. I seem to recall that dropsy, which causes swelling, was a factor in Isabella's death, so Mary should have seen the story as more ominous than comforting.

Foose said...

I think I may have tracked down the origin of this statement. In Letters & Papers, there is a report of Chapuys to the Emperor, dated May 23, 1535 (well before Mary I's reign). He had concluded a lengthy interview with Cromwell that featured yet another effort to persuade the king and his minister to put away Anne Boleyn.

Chapuys explained that he had tried to allay Cromwell's and Henry's concern that backtracking on his policies would mean also giving up the wealth of the Church, to which Chapuys' diplomatic response was that the Emperor could probably live with Henry retaining the spoils, by utilizing a face-saving excuse that it had been spent protecting the kingdom from foreign enemies. Then:

"Moreover, that if [Henry VIII] took back the Queen, this kingdom would give him as much as he could ask, and he should be the more induced to do so because it is probable he would sooner have male issue from the Queen than from this woman [Anne], as I am informed by physicians and others — this being one of the principal points alleged by the King in favour of his second marriage, that the Queen was not capable of bearing children, being already past 48. I mentioned to him some ladies even of this country who had had children at 51. [Cromwell] said that her mother [Isabella] was 52 when she conceived her; and thereupon said a thousand good things of the Queen, cursing, nevertheless, those who had ever made the marriage which had been the cause of innumerable troubles, and made the King spend three millions of gold."

I've never been able to find a reference on this topic that occurs during Mary I's reign, however.