Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Question from Leslie - Queens dying in childbirth

I read that the only queens of England to die in childbirth were Elizabeth of York, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr. Were the doctors doing something especially wrong at this time or were the Tudors just unlucky?


Gareth Russell said...

There were concerns over the medical care given to Jane Seymour in the twelve days between her son's birth and her own death. Several observers in the palace felt that both the medical staff and various members of the late Queen's household had contributed to her death by giving her anything she requested to eat or drink during her delirium. However, it seems more likely that while their actions didn't help, Jane's fate was sealed by an infection contracted during labour, which the 16th century physicians would have been powerless to notice, let alone prevent.

On the subject of Elizabeth of York and Katherine Parr, they were simply unlucky, on account - many thought - of their ages. Elizabeth was 38 at the time she died giving birth to her daughter, Katherine, in 1503 and Katherine Parr was about 36, both of them well past the point when it was felt advisable for a 16th century woman to go safely into the perils of childbed.

There were other "first ladies" who died as a result of childbirth, though. Although she died before her husband became king, Mary de Bohun, the wife of the future Henry IV and mother of Henry V, died in childbirth in the late 14th century.

kb said...

Gareth has provided the details of the cases you are interested in. It is my personal belief that death from childbirth for queens was proportional to the general populace. Medical knowledge was very different in the 16th century whether queen, gentry or peasant.

Kate said...

Childbirth was the greatest risk a woman could undertake. Jane Seymour didnot die in childbirth however but from perpetual fever, 12 days after her childs birth. Unsanitary conditions most likely contributed to an infection, contracted at some point during the birthing process which caused her to become septic. Jane did have a protracted labor, the longer the labor, the more people involved, the greater the risks

Scarlet said...

Eleanor de Montfort, Princess of Wales & daughter of Henry IIIs sister Princess Eleanor & Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, died in childbirth. She was married to the Llewellyn who plagued Edward I so & having been captured en route to Wales & held prisonor of few yrs before Edward would release her, was 30 when she gave birth. Llewellyn was killed 6 mos later & their daughter, Gwenllian (Eleanor in Welsh), was kept in captivity by the English until her death at age 54.

Princess Margaret of Scotland died giving birth to her daughter, also Margaret, better known as the Maid of Norway. The child's subsequent death led to Edward I hammering the Scots over their disputed succession.

Isabella of Mar, the 1st wife of Robert I of Scotland AKA Robert the Bruce, died producing her daughter Marjorie Bruce. Marjorie, the mother of all Stewarts/Stuarts, in turn would also die at the birth of her son, Robert Stewart, who would become Robert II after her half-brother David II died without heirs. Both Isabella & Marjorie were 20 when they died, Isabella at the end of the 13th century & Marjorie at the beginning of the 14th century. Neither of them were queens but they were respectively wife & mother of kings.

Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV AKA the Prince Regent & heir to the throne after him, was also 20 when she died giving birth to a stillborn son. I know in Charlotte's case the baby came almost 3 wks late & she was in labor for nearly 3 days, hemorrhaging to death less than 3 hrs after the birth.

Catherine of Aragon's eldest sister, Isabella, Queen of Portugal, died giving birth to her son Manuel, who was heir to 3 thrones (Portugal, Castile, Aragon) until he died at age 2. Catherine's only brother, Juan, had already demised, & another sister, Maria, married Isabella's husband, ironically similar to Catherine's situation of marrying 2 siblings.

Michael said...

Kate mentioned "perpetual" fever. The word is "puerperal" fever, which means fever after childbirth and is due to an infection of the womb. It was common before cleanliness and asepsis and usually fatal before antibiotics.