Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Question from Hazel - Advice on Tudor History PhD dissertation proposal

I am beginning to think about a PhD proposal for an area of Tudor history. However, I am having problems narrowing down a research area as the topic is so vast and there is so much research already carried out on the Tudor era that a new contribution or addition to the field may be difficult. I a lucky enough to have a UK passport so I am of course going apply to UK universities. I am leaning towards Warwick and checking programs in Scotland.

I am increasingly interested in the pregnancies of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn as well as midwifery at the Tudor court. I am wondering if there is a connection between their numerous miscarriages and stillborns and the lying in period and birthing chamber environment and if anything changed in midwifery practices by Jane Seymour's reign - although Jane did die of infection brought on by childbirth so there may be another connection between all three's pregnancies and deliveries. Although Henry is often said to have been impotent, he was able to impregnate all of these women as well as Bessie Blount and possibly Mary Boleyn. Even if Henry and Catherine Carey were not King Henry's children, Mary Boleyn was obvously very fertile having four children in total so I think it may be possible to rule out a genetic problem or the possibility of Anne being RH-. Mary Boleyn was also not in the court's birthing chamber and I wonder if this had an influence on the survival of her!
children and lack of stillborn delivery.

Another track would be a comparison of these two Queens, as both had their hands in politics and diplomacy, a definite influence on religious activity, were intelligent and educated and both were stripped of their titles in the end as the only means of getting them out of court. They were both women ahead of their time and I would be interested in showing a similarity between the two rather than the contrasts which are the norm when writing/researching these two Queens. In many ways, Henry essentially married a woman similar to Queen Catherine when he wed Anne (apart from her class)and he gained power and influence in Europe and England due to his marriage to both - a twist on the idea that it was only Catherine and Anne who gained from the marriages, although on the surface this is definitely the case.

If anyone has any suggestions on research areas that have not been really explored surrounding these topics or other areas involving the period between 1485 - 1540 I would be most grateful. Or if you think I am way off base, let me know as well. I just need some help narrowing it down.

Thanks in advance.


Lucretia said...

That would be a fascinating topic for a dissertation!

In regard to Rh factor, it would have been possible for Mary Boleyn to have been Rh+ and for Anne to have been Rh-. A parent with Rh+ can pass on RH- or Rh+. A parent with Rh- can pass on only Rh-. Two people with Rh- can have only children with Rh-. But two Rh+ people, or an Rh+ and an Rh- person, can have either Rh+ or Rh- children.

boohoo said...

My mother has an interesting take on it - that Henry had an infection (probably syphilis) and that was what caused so many of his children to be stillborn/miscarried.

kb said...

Warwick might be a good choice. You need to look at potential supervisors' research interests. Look for someone who has interests in the history of medicine as well as someone with expertise in the early modern period. They don't have to be the same person but you do want guidance on the existing literature on the subject.

Additionally, you want to look at what archives are in the vicinity of the university and what digital resources the library subscribes to. For example, I went to Nottingham for my doctorate and while the university has some good local archives, the focus was not in my research area and I spent a great deal of time and money taking the train to London to the British Library. (You might want to check with each potential university's postgraduate secretary on what travel funds might be available to PhD students)

If you decide to pursue comparing Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, you will want to search for slightly different potential supervisors.

On a separate note: what sources are you referencing for Mary Boleyn having 4 children? We know she was pregnant early in her marriage to Stafford as that is how the marriage became widely known. I just don't have any confirmed sources on the survival of this child or any other by Stafford. Although there is evidence that Stafford impregnated his subsequent wife, Dorothy Stafford (a great favorite of Elizabeth I) 6 times.

I did my doctoral research on Henry and Katherine Carey at Nottingham so....just curious.

I also agree that Henry VIII had no problem getting women pregnant, just in fathering healthy sons who lived to maturity.

History of medicine in the early modern period is a pretty hot topic. This might be a good choice. Check out Pauline Croft's work on this topic in the Elizabethan era. A former colleague is working on medieval midwifery - both medical and gender issues.

Joycem said...

The Rh - angle would be interesting as these women even today usually give birth to 1 healthy child and then problems occur with subsequent pregnancies.of cours trhese days Rhogam is easily given to correct the problem.
Was it possible Katherine of Aragon was also Rh - ?

Marilyn R said...

Hi Hazel,

You might like to take a look at the University of Leeds School of History, which has an excellent reputation, but is in Yorkshire & consequently quite a distance from original documents etc at the National Archives at Kew and from the British Library in London, although the BL’s outpost with millions of books & articles is only a few miles away at Wetherby.

Also, University College London(UCL) and the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine will be well worth an enquiry.

Laura said...

I don't see much of a supportable case for asserting that Anne brought Henry as much power and influence in Europe as Catherine did. In fact, I rather think the opposite is true. While Anne was certainly an intelligent, strong woman, that brought absolutely no prestige to Henry. Anne's marriage to Henry diminished Henry's standing in Europe because it set him at odds with Spain and Rome. Furthermore, since Anne was not legally his wife according to the Pope, any children from the union were of no use in providing alliance marriages because the other heads of state viewed those children as illegitimate.

Gareth Russell said...

At the opposite extreme, however, I would be wary of suggesting that Anne was socially inferior for the position of queen and that she was a "commoner." In true terms, the only early modern queen-consort who was a commoner was Karen Mansdottir, the consort of King Erik XIV of Sweden, and so to suggest that Anne, the daughter of a man in line to potentially inherit an earldom (Ormonde), and the granddaughter in the matrilineal line of the Duke of Norfolk, was a commoner would be absurd. She was not, for example, any lower-born than the wives of Edward IV or Richard III, or the first wife of King John. I would not make too much of the class situation, since none of Henry's queens were common-born and, comparatively speaking, Anne was probably the "highest" born of the four English wives - even the lowliest born of Henry VIII's wives (Jane Seymour) was the daughter of landed gentry.

On the subject of the midwifery practises at the royal court and whether or not they would have had anything to do with the tragedies of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn's pregnancies, I'm not sure how much mileage you would be able to get out of that for a PhD paper. In the first place, there might have to be an enormous amount of cross-comparison in the data between mortality rates in non-royal environments compared to royal ones and, secondly, it would be difficult to establish much of a link between the impact of midwifery practises in the Queen's lying-in chamber and any subsequent stillbirths in the case of Anne Boleyn, since her only successful pregnancy was one which was actually carried out under the care of the royal midwives and medical team. Her two (or, possibly, three) subsequent miscarriages all occurred before she had taken to her chamber and, in the case of the 1536 miscarriage in particular, it occurred so early on in the pregnancy (c. 14 weeks) that there is no way even with or without the palace medical establishment, the baby could have survived.

kb said...

Gareth makes some excellent points.

As part of the process of defining your doctoral research project you might want to take a look at the work of Retha Warnicke, Barbara Harris and for the even more 'feminist' take on Henry's wives take a look at Karen Lindsey's 'Divorced, Beheaded, Survived'.

Bladerunner said...

I sometimes wondered if there was an element of foul play. Who would benefit from the king having no heirs. Maybe the Queen dieing in childbirth. The Howard's went after the throne twice with Anne Bolyne and Cathrine Howard. Poison or herbs, can cause miscarriage. Thought I'd throw that out there.