26 August 1533 – Queen Anne Boleyn Took to her Chamber

Anne Boleyn HeverOn this day in 1533, Queen Anne Boleyn went through one of the rituals associated with childbirth: “taking her chamber”.

A Tudor woman usually took to her chamber, or went into confinement, four to six weeks before her due date but Anne took to her chamber on 26th August 1533, less than 2 weeks before Elizabeth was born. Elizabeth may have been premature, Anne may have miscalculated her dates or she may have purposely entered confinement late to suggest that Elizabeth had been conceived legitimately. Historian Eric Ives1 suggests that the rapid appointment of Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, the promotion of Thomas Audley, the burst of parliamentary drafting and the hurried secret ceremony on 25th January 1533 were because Anne suddenly realised that she was pregnant. However, conception was hard to recognise in the early stages of pregnancy so this burst of activity may simply have been because the couple were sleeping together and were therefore risking pregnancy.

Anne’s “taking her chamber” ceremony took place at Greenwich Palace. A heavily pregnant Queen Anne Boleyn attended a special mass at the palace’s Chapel Royal 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.

The fifteenth century “Royalle Book”2, and the ordinances added to it by Lady Margaret Beaufort, stipulated that the birthing chamber should:

  • Be carpeted
  • Have its walls, ceilings and windows covered with blue arras – These beautiful tapestries were to have calming and romantic images
  • Have one window slightly uncovered to let in light and air when needed
  • Be furnished with a bed for the Queen and a pallet at the foot of it – The Queen would give birth on the pallet and it was set at a height appropriate for the midwife. It was set up close to the fire and away from cold draughts.
  • Have soft furnishings of crimson satin embroidered with gold crowns and the Queen’s arms
  • Have an altar
  • Have a tapestry covered cupboard to house the birthing equipment and swaddling bands
  • Have a font in case of a sickly baby needing to be baptised straight after the birth
  • Have a display of gold and silver plate items from the Jewel House3 – It was important for the Queen and her baby to be surrounded by symbols of her wealth and status.

Birth rooms were fastened up against fresh air, which was thought to be harmful, candles were lit in the darkened room and special objects to speed delivery were brought in – objects such as amulets, relics of saints and herbs. It was thought that this womb-like chamber would protect the baby from evil spirits as it came into the world. The woman was advised to remove all types of knots, fastenings, laces, buckles and rings so that she wouldn’t be restricted in any way and so that they wouldn’t get in the way. This was also a symbolic gesture with their removal being seen as promoting an easier birth.

Although “taking her chamber” is often referred to as “confinement”, the woman was not actually alone. Men were banned from the chamber, but close female friends and relatives joined the woman there and a Queen would have a certain number of her ladies. It was a social occasion and when the labour began the ladies would spring into action helping the midwife and making the caudle, which was a spiced wine or ale that was given to the woman during labour to give her strength.

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.

(Unedited extract from Claire Ridgway’s upcoming book “The Anne Boleyn Collection II”)

Notes and Sources

  1. Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Wiley-Blackwell, p170
  2. Edwards, John (2011) Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen, Yale University Press, p5
  3. Starkey, David (2001) Elizabeth: Apprenticeship, Vintage Books, p2

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12 thoughts on “26 August 1533 – Queen Anne Boleyn Took to her Chamber”
  1. Anne was incredibly active during her first pregnancy. She must have been miserable during her coronation procession in June (aside from being worshiped as the new Queen, imagine how swollen her feet must have been, ha!).

    Did Queens typically drink wine/alcohol while pregnant, especially during the “taking to the chamber”? I am sure they did, since there wasn’t any other sanitary alternative (water). They had no way of knowing that it could potentially damage the baby.

    1. Small ale, the usual drink, reportedly had a VERY low alcoholic content. I don’t THINK — I could be wrong — that there was any effective way of measuring proof, percentage of alcohol.

      I am also sure they did drink ale daily, and at high-status tables, wine. Probably felt that a high-status drink was by definition good for the baby.

      Here’s an interesting site to look through:

      Recreating Medieval English Ales

      http:// www cs cmu edu/~pwp/tofi/medieval_english_ale.html

      replace spaces with periods.

      1. small ale was ITRO 2-3% ABV and was often made by adding water to a higher gravity producing malt in the mash-tun and extracting a second brew from the previously steeped grains..

        I’ve frequenly decanted a second brew from grain used in making high (8+% ABV) beers to get a lower gravity brew..

        1. I think that they did have a way to measure potency as they had inspectors and ale wives had to comply not only with strict ways to measure drinks, but the quality of the ale and its contents had to be accurate proportions. In 1525 beer was introduced to England, which was stronger. As with wine it was probably watered down, but the Tudors also introduced standardization, so this too could be regulated. I believe that the ration per day at court was two gallons of each, so if you drank your ration, watered down or not, it would not do the unborn child any good, but spiced wine may have benefited the mother, as it could be nourishing, help with pain and be calming. The problem was, nobody knew the affects of alcohol on the unborn child. Today we know that it can harm so the advice is no alcohol but even then it is very random, many people do drink in moderation during pregnancy and have a healthy child, while others may have one or two drinks only and the baby is affected. We don’t know why some mothers who drink while pregnant have a healthy child and why others suffer from FAS just the risk is higher when the mother drinks. The wine probably had just as many benefits as it caused risk but you would not know any of this at the time.

  2. Anne must have been excited that she was about to give birth to perhaps a son,but a very sad out come.If olny the son would have lived,this time in history would have had a different out come for Henry and Anne.I think he would have still been much in love with her.But a sad ending for the Queen. Kind Regards Baroness x

  3. It must have been stiffling in that room. It is no wonder so many women found the experience a complete nightmare. I would have pulled out all the nails and the screens down and opened all the windows and flattened any of my women who put them back again.

    The carpet and the hangings sound good, but they had strange ideas about fresh air! Bad smells and bad air were meant to harm, but they seem to have carried this beyond when it came to childbirth. The mother would also be given very strange but strict advice on what to eat and drink. She would also stay in the room, which was meant to resemble the condition of safety and warmth in the womb, for one month after the birth, when the churching ceremony took place. This was a religious ceremony that cleansed the lady and intergrated her back into society. Even at the baptism she was carried in a great bed and placed behind a screen; her child being returned to her afterwards. In the churching she was blessed and prayers said, greeted at the door of the church or chaple, blessed, prayers said and a service of blessing and cleansing; and then she was led to the alter, blessed with holy water and was then allowed to mix with other people.

    I bet that Anne and every other woman was glad to get out of that room. Normal poor women most likely did not do this lying in for more than a couple of days and most likely had to go back to work or life after a couple more; if not the next day.

    1. The strange part of it is that they had evidence it wasn’t strictly necessary.

      Isabella of Castile didn’t lie in after she delivered her youngest child (Katherine of Aragon, btw): she was up and out of bed three hours later to do battle with Muley Hacen!

  4. I’d really love to know the experiences of the other 99% of Tudor women as I expect they worked until they gave birth and were back working as soon as they were able.

  5. Luxury quarters with female friends and servants to wait on, comfort and entertain her. No men allowed in to annoy her in her pregnant state. Sounds good to me. I would have been confining myself as soon as possible, as I find pregnancy to be very uncomfortable and irritating.

    1. Our tutor at uni liked the sound of retiring from the world for a month. She was going to get a bell…ding ding, feed the cat, she had six cats and was always late as one or the other had,some problem. lol..I can just imagine Anne giving orders, putting her feet up, bet they were swollen. I would definitely need air, though.

  6. I think Anne was a tremendously clever woman and I think she knew exactly when to go into her chamber. I hope to meet her in heaven one day .

  7. She might have enjoyed a bit of a break from the Court at that point, possibly over 30 and her first pregnancy, I would think getting away from the hurly burly would have felt good, at least foor a few days. The fly in the ointment was that Henry was on his own, and well known for infidelity during his Katherine’s pregnancies, already getting into that kind of mischief with Anne pregnant. That, and the anxiety to produce a son, must have spoiled her rest. What should have been a happy time must have stretched her nerves to the breaking point by the time Elizabeth was born.

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