26 August 1533 – Queen Anne Boleyn prepares for childbirth

Posted By on August 26, 2017

On this day in history, Tuesday 26th August 1533, Anne Boleyn, second wife and queen consort of King Henry VIII, prepared for the birth of her child by “taking her chamber”, i.e. entering a female only environment, for the final weeks of her pregnancy.

It was usual for a woman in those times to take to her chamber four to six weeks before the due date of her baby but 26th August was actually less than two weeks before Anne’s baby, the future Queen Elizabeth I, was born. Chronicler Edward Hall records that in the summer of 1533 “the kyng kept his progresse about London, because of the Quene” and we know from contemporary records that carpenters carried out work on Greenwich Palace to prepare the Queen’s chambers for her confinement. Eric Ives notes in his book on Anne that “details of the arrangements were handed on from one royal confinement to the next” with William Mountjoy, Catherine of Aragon’s lord chamberlain, writing to Thomas Cromwell on 24th July:

“I send you certain remembrances of things to be provided against the Queen’s taking her chamber, of which I had experience when I occupied the room.”

On 19th August 1533, George Taylor, Anne Boleyn’s receiver general, wrote to Lady Lisle in Calais of the arrangements for the queen’s confinement:

“The King and Queen are in good health and merry. On Thursday next they will come by water from Windsor to Westminster, and on Tuesday following to Greenwich, where the Queen intends to take her chamber.”

On 26th August 1533, the queen attended a special mass at Greenwich Palace’s Chapel Royal and then processed with her ladies to the Queen’s great chamber. Before retiring to the special chamber, Anne and her ladies enjoyed a refreshment of wine and spices and then Anne’s lord chamberlain prayed that God would give the Queen a safe delivery. The queen and her ladies then entered her chamber to await the birth of Anne’s child.

Further Resources

You can read more about what the chamber would have been like in my article from 2013 – click here. Members of our sister site, the Tudor Society, can enjoy my video talks on Margaret Beaufort’s Ordinances (ordinances written by Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, in 1486 for the pregnant Elizabeth of York, which were followed for subsequent royal births) and Building work at Greenwich Palace 1532-1533 (about the work carried out on the palace after Anne had become queen and in preparation for the birth of her child).

Notes and Sources

  • Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, p. 805.
  • Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Wiley-Blackwell, p.184.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume VI, 890.
  • Ibid., 1004.

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31 thoughts on “26 August 1533 – Queen Anne Boleyn prepares for childbirth”

  1. Christine says:

    Wether Anne miscalculated her dates or she deliberately put the wrong ones forward so as to avert suspicion on Elizabeths conception she was very lucky that she only had to endure not quite two weeks of the laying in chamber, I could never understand why they considered fresh air as harmful this was a view that was common in Victorian times, hence the heavy drapes across the windows in the houses of the period, however did the Victorians think that fresh air was harmful to a newly born babe I’m not sure, in Tudor times the offspring were sent away from court to the country where the clean air was considered healthy so it could have been that they were wary of the dirty London air, very wise I suppose, but for a Tudor queen to have to endure four to six weeks of being in the same chamber with only one window opened must have been quite depressing, however soft blue drapes around the room sounds beautiful with lovely romantic images no doubt of the Authurian legends, and in fact the room would have been quite cool unless they had a heatwave with the awful humidity that accompanies it, when Margaret Beaufort who was responsible for this laying in went through a most horrendous experience in childbirth herself, she must have vowed that her granddaughters and other queens must never go through what she did and made sure that future laying ins was to be as peaceful and as calm as possible, I bet poor Margaret being only thirteen was in her bed in a dark gloomy lonely room with only a few maids to attend her and the midwife, the fact that she could have no more children shows how dangerous it was for a girl barely in her teens to have to go through and she must have been truly terrified, no wonder she was strict about the childbirth chamber and the procedures that followed it, back to Anne, all the soothsayers and doctors had informed her and Henry she would have a healthy boy which just goes to show they didn’t know what they were talking about, today only a scan can tell you the sex of your baby yet how Anne must have prayed, she had had quite an easy pregnancy and had endured the long ceremonies of the coronation, she had ousted Katherine from her position and was queen at last, so now all she had to do was give birth to a healthy prince and she would be secure in Henrys love for ever, however Mother Nature played an artful trick on her and she gave birth to a daughter instead, a healthy baby though and proof that she could bear children, but Elizabeths birth was a disappointment and as Ives says, her position did become weaker because of it, she was fated to never hold another living child in her arms but she didn’t know that at the time, and she had a deep and abiding love for Elizabeth, Anne was a very maternal woman which showed in the way she was quite besotted with her little baby and Henry humoured her from time to time, she would have her sat on cushions next to her chair and would visit her whenever she could, she delighted in dressing her in beautiful outfits and little bonnets and there is a record of the materials she bought to, Anne like all doting first mothers must have thought her daughter was the most beautiful clever little baby in the world and it would only be a matter of time before she had a little brother to follow her, sadly it wasn’t to be and whatever medical condition she suffered from or whether it was stress which caused her subsequent miscarriages in the future, she was fated never to give Henry the prince she had promised him.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    The laying in chamber was like a womb and meant to protect mother and child from the outside world and from illness and fright. She was given warm wine and food, kept comfortable and had only women for company. However, in August it must have been very hot and Anne kept her time short. It is obvious that Elizabeth was born to time and Anne knew she was near her time and hid the fact her child was conceived out of wedlock. Anne was pregnant with Elizabeth when she was married at the end of January 1533 which is why the wedding was secret and rushed through before Cranmer ended Henry’s first marriage. Henry probably saw himself as a single man, because he believed his first marriage to Katherine to be invalid, but he still had to have it ended formally. Anne had to be well pregnant at the time of her marriage by at least a month and Henry took the appropriate action of marrying her ahead of any planned ceremony they may have later. She was extremely lucky to have calculated her laying in so as it looked as if Elizabeth came quickly and she wasn’t stuffed up for too long.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes a few tongues must have wagged though, it’s estimated that Anne first slept with Henry in Calais, she would only have slept with him had she been certain enough that he would honour his commitment to marry her, and when she believed herself to be pregnant no time must be wasted, Henry had to be free to marry, but in the eyes of Catholics around the world he had committed bigamy as the pope had not sanctioned a divorce, this one act was to haunt Elizabeth throughout her life, no Catholic including her own subjects believed her parents were legally married, Anne after the birth suffered from a condition called white leg fever, does anyone know what it was?.

      1. Jackie says:

        White leg fever is an old term for a Venus ulcer or thrombosis that happens after laying in bed too long after child birth. Otherwise known as milk leg

      2. Globerose says:

        Having never heard of this condition, nor read that Anne developed it, I checked online. Milk Leg, (PhlegmasiaAlba Dolens) sounds alarming, a sort of deep vein thrombosis from clotting and inflammation of veins. Anyone medical who can elaborate?

        1. Dawn 1st says:

          I have never read that Anne had this very dangerous condition…its basically a blood clot usually between ankle and knee… and we all know what blood clots can do if they break away and start travelling. Where did you find this out Christine

      3. Banditqueen says:

        I don’t know if Anne had this but what a painful thing it sounds awful. It’s a clot as Dawn says, a painful and if not treated, it can be serious. A thrombosis and edema are very worrying conditions. It is historically connected to childbirth, but it makes sense as women were shut up for several weeks, unable to move around. This is when thrombosis or edema happen. Do you have the author please Christine as this is an interesting discovery?

        1. Claire says:

          I have never read that Anne suffered any problems after the birth of Elizabeth, there is nothing in the contemporary sources as far as I know to back up that idea. Christine, please do share the source as that’s one I’ve never come across and I’m intrigued!

      4. Esther says:

        It wasn’t just Catholics who thought that Anne and Henry were not validly married … Martin Luther and William Tindale also though that Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was valid (which would invalidate the marriage to Anne).

        1. Banditqueen says:

          That’s true, Esther, a number of reformers, including Luther and Tyndale wrote to condemn his divorce. He didn’t quite get the support he had hoped. I think Henry was partly enveloped in his own would and thought everyone should agree but numerous scholars found his marriage valid, much to his annoyance.

  3. CB says:

    I tend to think that Henry and Anne secretly married on 14 November 1532 and then consummated their marriage, before going through with a second ceremony two months later at Whitehall.

    I must also say that the miniature portrait of Anne is very striking.

    1. Christine says:

      Hi CB, it could be their wedding at Whitehall was just to show the world they were now legally married, I too love that portrait of Anne as it’s said to be the one that resembles her the most.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Yes, there are definitely two dates given for their wedding, one in Calais a day or two before coming home and the better known date of 25th January in Whitehall with a couple of witnesses. Now of course you didn’t need anything other than yourselves, a promise to live as husband and wife and consent. You did need to be free to marry, which Henry for all of his beliefs wasn’t, because he still had everything done formally by Cranmer, even if the world thought the Pope should rule on the marriage to Katherine. Having a couple of witnesses and a service by a priest for a royal wedding would be smart, especially if you wanted everyone to swear allegiance later. I am guessing Anne’s hankering over apples was a public announcement of what she suspected, that she was well and truly pregnant. There is indeed some opinion that the marriage in Calais was a solemn betrothal and the wedding in Whitehall was brought forward as Anne was pregnant. One source has a long, elaborate story that the priest, Rowland Lee, declared he could not marry them as he did not have proof of an annulment from the Pope. Henry, embarrassed and angry, but keeping calm declared that he had been assured of his annulment and the confirmation was on the way, so the marriage went ahead. It could have been either service was a full marriage, in which case Elizabeth was conceived in wedlock, but Anne’s timing and departure from traditional laying in for one month supports a just in time wedding and premarital conception. Elizabeth could also have been early, but there doesn’t appear to have been anything to suggest this. In any case a baby born in wedlock would be considered legitimate. The main problem with Anne’s marriage to Henry any time before 23rd April 1533 was bigamy even by Henry’s standards. In the eyes of the Catholic world Elizabeth would always remain illegitimate and his marriage to Anne Boleyn never lawful, especially while Katherine lived.

        Political complexities aside Anne was hoping to have the son and heir that Henry and England needed and as far as she was concerned this was to be her finest hour. The room was like a womb, she was attended by women and female family, looked after and pampered, even if the room was warm and dark, but she was hoping soon to be honoured as the mother to the heir and must have been anxious but excited. I don’t believe Elizabeth was a huge disappointment. Yes, some disappointment was expressed, but Henry was hopeful of a son and all the celebrations went ahead, save the tournament. She was doted on by her mother and father and Anne wanted to nurse her herself.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes I heard that story about the priest, no doubt Henry glared at him and made the poor man feel quite intimidated so he had no choice but to perform the ceremony, but many have said Henry had committed bigamy that day, however it was a joyous occasion for them both and this was Henrys way of telling the pope he was in charge not his holiness!

  4. Christine says:

    Hi everyone, I too looked up the term white leg and found it was associated with childbirth, interestingly my mum, (whose family had a history of bad legs, circulatory problems etc,) always said that her legs were fine till she had my elder sister and me in which case she developed varicose veins, never having a weight problem or smoking her doc told her they were caused by childbirth, however regarding Anne iv just been looking through her biographies to see where I found it and come across it in Norah Lofts The Concubine, now if anyone’s familiar with this much admired late authors work they will know it’s a piece of historical fiction about Henry and Anne, in this novel she described Anne as being in bed for about a month suffering from this condition, maybe she just added it herself but as she was a notable historian I assumed it was fact, Nancy Cress an American author of sci fi wrote a piece on Anne and also mentioned her having this condition, it is fascinating if it’s true but maybe Cress just got it from Lofts who sadly is dead so we cannot ask her if it is fact or if she just added it herself.

    1. Claire says:

      Norah Lofts’ work has to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. In her biography of Anne she has Anne being associated with witchcraft and appearing as a hare to the sexton of Salle Church. A great author, but not a reputable historian by any means I’m afraid. Her story of Anne being ill after the birth just is not backed up by contemporary sources. Anne would have remained in her chambers after the birth as it was traditional for a Tudor woman to do so until they had been churched, so perhaps she didn’t know that tradition and thought it was because Anne was ill, I don’t know. The trouble is that when one author comes up with an idea like this, it tends to get repeated by others. The queen being ill would have certainly been mentioned by the chroniclers and ambassadors, and it just wasn’t.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes Lofts in her biography of Anne didn’t mention it so it was just something she added to the story quite possibly, she had a love of legends associated with witchcraft and ghost stories I believe, I shouldn’t have taken it as fact never mind, apart from when she and her brother and father and brother in law all contracted the sweating sickness I don’t think there was another illness recorded that she had?

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Yes, Christine, I also read in on a site but the author didn’t have anything to back it up. Nora Lofts is a good historian but she may have not read it in an old source or as you say the lady may have just reported it from Lofts. I actually think it is a real possibility, though as she was locked up in a small apartment for one month before or two weeks in her case, then Anne had to wait 40 days afterwards until her churching and was confined to the bed. Even the baptism of Elizabeth was witnessed behind a screen on a posh huge bed. Anne and all those ladies were stuck in a room, with little exercise, possibly in or on the bed so it wouldn’t surprise me if she had it, as it is historically connected to childbirth and thrombosis is known in people who sit for a long time or who are bedridden for long periods of time, without movement. It’s why you wear those very flattering white socks in hospital. Mind you if they are too small they can cause problems. There are many possibilities but Anne could have had it, for a time and it just wasn’t recorded. I haven’t read it in the contemporary records, but not everything has survived and well you never know and it does make sense. Henry probably didn’t notice as they were unable to have sex for a time or as you say, maybe Lofts didn’t have a source. Interesting though.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Oh I forgot about Nora Lofts in the biography talked about witchcraft and ghosts in Salle Church, the story coming from the vicar but Lofts thought it was true. Maybe she misunderstood the sources and traditional laying in, but it’s still possible that she had the condition and hid it. We cannot be certain.

        1. Claire says:

          Lots of things can be possible, but we can’t pluck ideas from thin air. A theory can only hold any water if it has a contemporary source to back it up, otherwise we could say all kinds of things. Is it possible that Anne had a condition like that? Yes, just as it is possible that she had any other kind of health condition. Is it probable that she had a condition like that when none of the contemporary sources mention it? No.

        2. Claire says:

          Also, Lofts only mentions this in her novel, not in her biography, so it’s not even a theory just a fictional idea. In her biography, she states that Anne had a good pregnancy and a normal labour and makes no mention of Anne suffering from any condition following Elizabeth’s birth.

  5. i am a decdent of ann boleyn on my grang mothers side

    1. Claire says:

      You could be related to the Boleyns but you can’t be a descendant of Queen Anne Boleyn because her only child, Elizabeth I, died childless.

  6. Banditqueen says:

    Claire, do you know who the miniature is by? It’s lovely and with the red hair and oval dainty features this is how I imagine her to look.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks Claire, absolutely lovely.

  7. Laura says:

    I think Anne did calculate the due date very well. Anne and Henry could well have married before. The second wedding could just have been a formality. What was Churching? I don’t understand. I think both Anne and Henry had high hopes of a boy. We know what happened but it is fascinating about the birthing rituals. The fact Henry kept close to Anne and did not travel far. But the situation must have been precarious.

    1. Claire says:

      Churching is a tradition that still took place until just a few decades ago in some areas. In medieval and Tudor times, it was customary for a woman to take to her chamber, to be confined in a way, a few weeks before her due date. This would be an all female environment. A queen would be attended by her ladies and the room would be womb-like, in that it would be warm, dark, coverings over the windows and only a little fresh air when needed as it was seen as dangerous, lavishly furnished with lots of soft furnishings and also things to show off the queen’s wealth, such as gilt plate, and then religious items. For a common woman, things would be a bit different as she really couldn’t be confined in this way for weeks as she had a household to run but near the birth she would retreat to a room with female relatives and neighbours. A queen would remained in her chambers until she was churched at a special ceremony at church. Although this is often seen as a purification ceremony after childbirth, it was actually more of a thanksgiving and blessing ceremony for the lives of the woman and her child. The ceremony was supposed to take place around a month after the birth and was the time when the woman would rejoin normal society. However, with normal common women, it could take place much earlier. As well as being religious, it was also a time for celebrating and feasting.

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Hello Laura, Churching was a ritual to allow a woman to enter back into public life after the birth of her child. It was to bless the mother and cleanse her and to give her thanksgiving for her safe delivery as child birth was dangerous and it took place at the church door or porch. Then the family and friends and lady went into the church to hear mass and to receive more blessing and prayers for her return to public life and if the child had lived also for the child. These rituals were part of life and marked very important passages in a life of a mother or anyone who took part. The Queen would now take up her duties again and if well enough could resume relationship with her husband, although this may be more like three months afterwards. If a woman was breastfeeding it was also considered harmful to have sex during this time as it was during pregnancy. For a noble woman breastfeeding herself was rare and she had a wet nurse to do this for her, a woman who was still feeding her own child. A Queen was discouraged from breastfeeding as it was considered not seemly and the King normally wanted more children as soon as it was possible. Anne wanted to breastfeed Elizabeth but was not allowed to do so. Infants in royal households were also given a separate household elsewhere after a few months, so breastfeeding was not practical as mother and child were separated. This was not considered cruel but good for the child as they were moved from the unhealthy capital to the countryside were it was healthier for them. Parents visited regularly. Anne was an extraordinary mother and loved to have Elizabeth close all the time while she could and had her on a cushion next to her, even during an audience. The Churching normally took place after 40 days, which was a ritual number as in the Jews were 40 years in the desert in the Bible or Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, hence Lent and Passover, so 40 days was a special number to represent a time of preparation, healing or penance. Anne was still a baptised Catholic and would have observed the older rituals despite her interest in reform. It is noted by Eamon Duffy that when the ritual was abolished under the Protestant King, Edward vi, when Mary came back, even before her formal reconciliation with Rome that women queued up to be Churched, having been denied the ritual for so long. The ritual was back in the 17th century version of the English prayer book and only went out of fashion in the late Victorian period. The copies of the prayer book in the early twentieth century still had the church of England service, but it was no longer used. Every day life and important events were marked with ritual and prayers and most people simply didn’t want to change. Before modern methods of giving birth and antibiotics, child birth was very dangerous and both mother and baby could die and often did, so this blessing and thanksgiving was of particular importance.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churching_of_women

        Here is a good well referenced article on the history and Biblical significance of Churching. In the sixth century the Pope made it clear it is not about purification but thanksgiving and it draws on the imagery of Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple. It was done even if the child was still born to give thanks for the mother being safe. It is very ancient.

        1. Laura says:

          Thank you both.

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