26 August 1533 – Anne Boleyn Prepares for the Birth of Her First Child

Aug26,2011 #Elizabeth I

Henry VIII and Anne BoleynOn this day in history, 26th August 1533, the ceremony of the Queen’s “taking her chamber” took place at Greenwich Palace.

A heavily pregnant Queen Anne Boleyn attended a special mass at the Chapel Royal of Greenwich Palace and then processed, with her ladies, to the Queen’s great chamber.

There, the group enjoyed wine and spices before Anne’s lord chamberlain prayed that God would give the Queen a safe delivery. After the prayer, Anne and her ladies retired to her chamber, which, from that moment on, would be a male-free zone.

In his book “Elizabeth”, David Starkey describes how Anne Boleyn’s chamber would have been prepared for the impending birth:-

“The walls and ceilings were close hung and tented with arras – that is, precious tapestry woven with gold or silver threads – and the floor thickly laid with rich carpets. The arras was left loose at a single window, so that the Queen could order a little light and air to be admitted, though this was generally felt inadvisable. Precautions were taken, too, about the design of the hangings. Figurative tapestry, with human or animal images was ruled out. The fear was that it could trigger fantasies in the Queen’s mind which might lead to the child being deformed. Instead, simple, repetitive patterns were preferred. The Queen’s richly hung and canopied bed was to match or be en suite with the hangings, as was the pallet or day-bed which stood at its foot. And it was on the pallet, almost certainly that the birth took place.

Carpenters and joiners had first prepared the skeleton by framing up a false ceiling in the chamber. Then the officers of the wardrobe had moved in to nail up and arrange the tapestry, carpets and hangings. At the last minute, gold and silver plate had been brought from the Jewel House. There were cups and bowls to stand on the cupboard and crucifixes, candlesticks and images for the altar. The result was a cross between a chapel and a luxuriously padded cell.”1

David Starkey describes this ritual confinement as “a sort of purdah” and writes of how it “emphasized that childbirth was a purely female mystery.”

The birthing chamber, which sounds as if it would have been rather stifling in a hot August, was to be Anne Boleyn’s home until she was churched thirty days after the birth. Fortunately for Anne, her baby came sooner than expected and she gave birth to a girl, the future Elizabeth I, on the 7th September 1533.

This must have been a very special and exciting time for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as they anticipated the birth of their first child together, a child who was expected to be male and who would be the next king. Henry was convinced that God would bless this marriage and He did, for the resulting child, Elizabeth I, was one of the finest monarchs England has ever had.

Trivia: Greenwich Palace was where Elizabeth of York had given birth to Henry VIII.

Notes and Sources

  1. Elizabeth, David Starkey, p2-3

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13 thoughts on “26 August 1533 – Anne Boleyn Prepares for the Birth of Her First Child”
  1. I can’t even imagine having to spend a month in a dark, stifling hot room, just waiting to go into labor, (luckily she only had to wait 2 weeks.) I would get so claustrophobic! Women really had to be tough back in those days

  2. I’m with Heather – a stifling hot room with no lights. My claustrophobia would have been in overdrive.

    Also, pardon my ignorance, but what does “churched” mean?

    1. I know, it was bad enough when I gave birth in early September and my son had to have UV treatment for jaundice so I was taken to a private room where he could be put under a lamp wearing just a nappy. They then put the central heating on full blast so he’d be warm enough even though it was hot anyway. I had to keep leaving the room as I felt faint!!

      The churching ritual was a thanksgiving/blessing service. After this service the woman was then welcomed back into normal, everyday life. Alison Sim, in “The Tudor Housewife”, writes of how it would have been a short service of about 10 minutes consisting of the priest reading Psalm 121, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer of thanksgiving. The woman, who was veiled, would then make an offering and return to the church the “crysome” cloth, christening cloth. Although it was a thanksgiving ceremony, Sim writes of how it was also seen by people as a kind of purification ceremony. Sim notes that her research into the Baptismal Register of Preston, Lancashire 1611-1619 showed that the gap between christening and churching varied from 8-48 days with most churching ceremonies taking place around 13 days after the christening. Starkey writes of how it took place 30 days after birth and Wikipedia says “the fortieth day after confinement (or giving birth).”

      1. I don’t know if women do it now-a-days, but I can remember my Gran asking me 26 years ago (1985) after the birth of my son, if I had been churched, I did know what she meant through reading history books, but I was quite suprized when she asked me. Even though my Gran was not strongly religious, she was churched, and considered it something that must be done. I didn’t do it though, not my ‘cup of tea’, and just said it was silly old fashioned thing and nobody did it anymore, as you do when you are young and think you know better, haha. I wonder if any of the ladies on this site were ‘churched’ be interesting to know.

        1. After my first child was born my Gran told me I should be churched, I had no idea what she was talking about. I can imagine her marching my Mum to church after I was born, her generation were rather supersticsious and a lot of mystery still surrounded childbirth medical science not being what it is today. My mother-in-law told me that her mum told her to go and get churched she was also ignorant of the custom, she did go to church and just sat there for a while and then came home. I should think the royals still practice the custom they usually keep up these old traditions.

  3. I agree with you all. That probally was a very apprehensive and odd moment !
    I really can’t imagine how strange it is to stay in “the dark” for so long time…
    Whatever, I can imagened how important and blessed Anne felt that moment

  4. Yes it must have been an exiciting time for them both, a son would have really underlined the fact, especially for Henry, that he was right to have taken a new wife, as his last marriage was a sin, and God had sanctified this act by giving him his heir. It would have also have quietened some of the grumblings of those who disagreed, at home and abroad.

    Though I do think Anne would have had her worries, a part from the obvious perils of childbirth, but whether Henry was keeeping ‘it’ in his cod piece, and staying faithful, and being cooped up in those lying chambers would give her plenty of time to brood on the matter, and powerless to do anything about it, poor love. Is it true that they had an almighty row before she went into her ‘confinement’ ? or is that one of the untruths that follow Anne about.
    Those chambers would have given me ‘cabin fever’, I would have been climbing the walls, but then again, no housework, food shopping, and all the other mind numbing jobs…. maybe I could have adapted, 🙂 But it was the way it was done, and the ladies were resigned to it.
    Every time I read about this time in Anne’s life, even though I know the out come, I share with her the hopes of a son, how silly is that…

  5. Given that English queens had to give birth in front of the leading ladies of the court to make sure the child was hers…

    I’m so pleased my confirnmaents was just de hubby, the nurses/midwives, the docs..the janitor, the woman who was trying to get me to buy a cable channel package, the canteen staff,the neo-natal doc, the neo-natal nurses, the medical stiudents….

    I’m surprised I had space to be present…

  6. Here in Greece almost all women are churched 40 days after birth. In the past they could only come out of the house if they were churched, but now they don’t have to remain inside, they just go to the church 40 days after the birth with their babies and the priest reads a prayer/blessing and that’s it.

  7. The birthing chamber must have been pretty scary. It must have felt like a prison in many ways. Anne must have been apprehensive during this time. After all she knew in her heart she had to produce that long awaited male heir. Henry VIII would be waiting impatiently for his ‘good news’. I wonder what went through her mind in that room? Just the anxiety of childbirth and what to expect must have crossed her mind a thousand times, especially as many women didn’t always survive childbirth. I remember patiently awaiting the birth of my own son and as it was my first time pregnant I wasn’t sure whether I would manage the whole experience. However at least I had a supportive husband. Some how I don’t think Henry VIII would have been quite as supportive, his Main concern being that Anne delivered the longed for heir.

  8. i know anne was delighted and loved elizabeth very much but i can imagine what she felt when discovering the longed for male heir was a girl ,and then waiting to hear what henry thought of it she must have been a nervous wreck by that time

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