On this day in Tudor history, 12th October 1537, on the eve of the Feast of St Edward the Confessor, King Edward VI was born at Hampton Court Palace.
Edward VI was the son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.
London celebrated the birth of England’s new prince, but, of course, happiness would soon turn to grief as Jane died on 24th October 1537.
Jane Seymour experienced a long and difficult labour but the idea that Edward VI was born by c-section is a myth. I talk about that, along with sharing contemporary sources of Edward’s birth and the subsequent celebrations, in the video below. Scroll down for a transcript.
On this day in Tudor history, 12th October 1537, the eve of the Feast of St Edward the Confessor, an exhausted Queen Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a little boy in her chamber at Hampton Court Palace.
For the queen, the arrival of a healthy son after a long labour must have been an immense relief.
Chronicler Edward Hall recorded:
“In October on saint Edward’s even was borne at Hampton Court the noble Impe prince Edward […]”
Charles Wriothesley wrote:
“And the morrow after, being Friday and the even of Saint Edward, sometime King of England, at two of the clock in the morning, the Queene [was] delivered of a man child at Hampton Court beside Kingston.”
Wriothesley goes on to say that a Te Deum was sung in every parish church in London, church bells rang throughout the city, bonfires were lit in every street, the city merchants gave out fruit and wine, German merchants gave wine and beer to the poor, and “a great peal of guns was shot at the Tower of London”. It was a day of celebrations for the King and his people.
Letters announcing the birth had been prepared in the queen’s name and under her signet, and were then sent to the Privy Council.
“Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. And forasmuch as, by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in child-bed of a Prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my Lord the King’s majesty, and us; – doubting not, but that for the love and affection you bear unto us, and to the commonwealth of this realm, this knowledge shall be joyous, and glad tidings unto you, we have thought good to certify you of this same: to the intent ye might not only render unto God condign thanks and praise for so great a benefit, but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life, to the honour of God, joy and pleasure of my Lord the King and us, and the universal weal, quiet, and tranquillity of this whole realm.
Given under our signet, at my Lord’s manor of Hampton Court, the twelfth day of October.”
The new prince was christened three days later in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. He was baptised “Edward”. Jane was well enough to receive visitors after the christening, but by 18th October she was seriously ill. Jane died on 24th October 1537.
Contrary to myth, Jane Seymour did not die as the result of a caesarean (C-section). The main source for this story is Catholic recusant Nicholas Sander, who, in his Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism wrote:
“On the l0th day of October , Jane Seymour gave birth to a son, who was named Edward. But the travail of the queen being very difficult, the king was asked which of the two lives was to be spared; he answered, the boy’s, because he could easily provide himself with other wives. Jane accordingly died soon after of the pains of childbirth, and was buried at Windsor.”
The original Latin (Sander wrote his book in Latin) is more precise and mentions the physicians asking the King to choose between mother and son, and after he’d chosen a son (because he could easily find more wives) they used their surgical skills to free the baby.
Now Sander was writing while in exile in Elizabeth I’s reign in 1585, so nearly fifty years later, and he was only about seven years old when Edward was born. He is not a contemporary source and he also had an agenda, wanting to paint a very black picture of a man who he held responsible for the Reformation in England. Sander seemed to be following Nicholas Harpsfield, the Catholic apologist, who also had an agenda regarding Henry VIII, and who wrote in his “Treatise on the Pretended Divorce Between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon” in Queen Mary I’s reign:
“Albeit, that mischance also might be accounted among the other great discomforts and misfortunes of his marriage that she should also die, though for the safeguard of the child, in such a manner as she did; yea, the child to be born, as some say the adders are, by gnawing out the mother’s womb […]”
The only contemporary source to mention it is The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England, which was “written in Spanish by an unknown hand” and is commonly known as The Spanish Chronicle. The chronicler wrote:
“In due time, when the Queen was about to be delivered, they sent to London for processions to be made to pray God for a happy result, and after three days illness the most beautiful boy that ever was seen was born. Very great rejoicings were held for his birth; but on the second day it was rumoured that the mother had died, which caused great sorrow. It was said that the mother had to be sacrificed for the child. I do not affirm this to be true, only that it was rumoured.”
This chronicle is known for its inaccuracies and was the tabloid newspaper of its day, so it has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the chronicler is clear that this story was only a rumour.
If a caesarean had been performed, Jane just would not have survived the birth, yet she was able to receive visitors following her baby son’s christening on 15th October. It really is just a myth that has grown from anti-Henry VIII, anti-Reformation propaganda.
Jane’s son, Edward, was Henry VIII’s third legitimate child, following on from Mary, who was born in 1516 to Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth who was born in 1533 to Anne Boleyn. A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, had been born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in 1511, but he had only survived 52 days. Edward’s illegitimate half-brother, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, whose mother was the king’s mistress, Elizabeth Blount, had died at the age of 17 in July 1536.
As a baby, Edward was cared for by Lady Margaret Bryan, who had also cared for his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and then Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy. When he reached the age of six, the young prince started his formal education and enjoyed the tutelage of scholars such as John Cheke, Richard Cox, Roger Ascham and Jean Belmain. It seems that he was an intelligent child, and by the age of twelve he was undertaking work on religious issues and controversies, and had written a treatise about the Pope being the Antichrist.
He became king at the age of nine on 28th January 1547, on the death of his father, but he never reached his majority, dying on 6th July 1553 at the age of 15.