Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Queen is With-Child...er Not?

To think one is with-child seems a relatively easy situation to figure out--just take a pregnancy test right? See a physician? Well, yes, today, that is what people generally do... unless you are one of those women on that show about never knowing you're pregnant until the baby happened to pop out... sigh...

But in Tudor times, there were no pregnancy tests. For a queen, noble, or any other lady, she had to keep track of her menses. If she missed two or three in a row, she was most likely preggers.

For Mary Tudor, aka Mary I of England, aka "Bloody Mary," the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, defining one's self as pregnant would not be so easy.

Poor Mary suffered terribly with her menses from the time of her youth until the time of her death. Horrible cramps (dysmenorrhea), missed periods, megrims (migraines), mood swings, etc... If a GYN doctor were to take a look at her today, she may have suffered from endometriosis and maybe uterine fibroids. It is documented that stress can make a woman's menses more severe--and Mary was under A LOT of stress.

At long last, after suffering for decades at the hands of others, at aged 37, Mary was proclaimed Queen of England and it appeared that all of her dreams may be coming true. She was even going to get married to a handsome Spanish prince, Philip (whom the English had not taken a fancy too). Young Philip was eleven years her junior and a recent widow. His age did send Mary into a bit of worry, having her say, he was "likely to be disposed to be amorous, and such is not my desire, not at my time of life, and never having harbored thoughts of love."

And why would she be amorous? She'd been threatened with death and pain for nearly her entire life? Beginning when she was about 9-12 years old (exact year is questionable) and her father met the infamous Anne Boleyn.

But now, being betrothed to a handsome young prince, and being Queen of England, life was starting to finally look good to Mary. While she still suffered from her menses, she was also still having them which meant she was fertile and could potentially, with much prayer and sex with her new husband, conceive. Philip and Mary were married on July 25, 1554, and by September her physician's announced that she was with-child.

After finding out she was with-child, Mary went gangbusters on the English people, and set about returning the realm to Catholicism, and heresy laws were returned to parliament. No way did she want her unborn heir to grace the earth on the day of his birth if it were not in a Catholic realm. And so the burnings began with the swell of her abdomen.

In April of 1555, Mary went to Hampton Court for her lying-in, also called confinement (a period of 1-2 months where a woman is confined to her rooms to prepare for the birth of her child). Nurses for the unborn child were hired--some for feeding, some for rocking, some for cleaning--a whole slew of ladies who would take care of this long awaited prince of the realm.

Apparently there was some speculation within the court that Mary could not possibly bear a living child--she did not eat enough, her belly was not large enough, she was not healthy enough, she was too old... on and on they went, but no one actually made these specualtions to the queen or the people outright, just little rumors here and there. But her belly did swell, apparently she did have emissions of milk from her breasts, she no longer had her monthly women's curse, all signs of being with-child.

Late in April a rumor broke out that Mary had given birth to a son, some even going so far as to describe the child's robust figure--but these were quickly quelled as rumors only.

The child who should have been born no later than June, still did not arrive, and physicians and midwives told the queen they must have miscalculated, perhaps the child would arrive in July or August. By September there was still no babe, and Mary and her courtiers realized that she was in fact not with child at all, that it had simply been a phantom pregnancy, conjured up by the intense desire to have a child. It is believed that she may have been pregnant and either miscarried or the child died and was not properly expelled. Signs of her pregnancy soon disappeared. The subject was never to be brought up in the queen’s presence.

Philip left then for Spain that early fall of 1555 and did not return until spring of 1557 and only for a few months this time before he left once more and did not return. At the age now of 42, Mary was again declared to be pregnant. She went into confinement in February of 1558. After what happened with her first pregnancy many around her had doubts as to this one's validity. On March 30th she wrote her Will in which she made it clear she was pregnant. After a month past her due date, in April, and no baby, Mary realized she was again mistaken. Her pregnancy symptoms dissipated, but her health declined until she died later that year, some say from stomach cancer--a large tumor within her abdomen. Her phantom pregnancies and the symptoms she had along with them included lactation and temporary eyesight loss, were indicative of a hormonal disorder or a tumor in her pituitary gland.

It is a sad end for a woman so devoted to her religion, to her God. She was pious, devout, and suffered so very much--and because of this, I think she wanted others to suffer too. Perhaps she'd grown quite mad. I wouldn't blame her for it.

What do you think?


Emma Lai said...

Thanks for sharing Queen Mary's story. I've always found it so sad.

Michelle Brandon said...

Thanks Emma for stopping by :) I'm glad you found it interesting. She's always fascinated me as well.

Unknown said...

Wow! I'd heard of her phantom pregnancies but the details and the symptoms all pointed to the real thing. I feel sorry for her and all she'd gone through.

Let's all be glad for modern medicine and ob/gyn's.

Michelle Brandon said...

Seriously... I couldn't imagine going through months and months of being pregnant only to find out I wasn't really... just terrible!

Recycled Cottage & Garden said...

She is indeed a complicated person and had a very sad life.

Michelle Brandon said...

Completely agree Lady Hawthorne!

Undine said...

Mary is perhaps the saddest Queen Regnant ever. I don't believe she was mad, but she was unquestionably highly neurotic, and small wonder. It's even more of a pity because from all accounts, as a small child she was extremely intelligent, deeply affectionate, outgoing, and happy. With a halfway normal father, she probably would have become a popular, successful ruler, rather than a tragic failure.

What do you think of the theories that she was poisoned? It's impossible to prove, of course, but it would not have been terribly surprising if that had been the case. There were certainly enough people in high places who wanted her dead.

Michelle Brandon said...

Thanks for your comment Undine! That thought has crossed my mind as well. She was ensconced in a world with many who no longer wanted a Catholic ruler--the people LOVED Elizabeth. She very well could have been poisoned. She was ill so often... and the way her husband left her so often makes me wonder too if he didn't have something to do with that--esp since he was then into Elizabeth and Katherine Grey.

It is very sad, bc you are right, she was a bright and vibrant child, and most likley would have grown up to be as revered as her mother and grandmother before her, but the things she went through broke her and definitely made her neurotic, suspicious, constantly plagued with anxiety... just tragic.