The Birth of Elizabeth I

Posted By on September 7, 2010

On this day in history, 7th September 1533, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Conception and Pregnancy

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn finally consummated their relationship in around November 1532 after a successful visit to France, where Anne was treated as Henry’s consort. The couple had planned to sail back home from Calais on the 8th November but were held up by a storm and did not set sail until the 12 November, arriving at Dover early on the 14th. However, they did not arrive at Eltham until the 24th:-

“And the explanation we can guess. Somewhere, sometime, perhaps as the wind tore through the Calais streets or in a manor-house in Kent, Anne at last slept with Henry.”1

According to chronicler Edward Hall the couple secretly married on St Erkenwald’s Day, the 14 November, but other sources date the secret wedding as the 25th January. Whatever the date of the wedding, we know that the couple were discreetly co-habiting after their return from France and that if Elizabeth was born on time (i.e. 40 weeks after conception), she was conceived somewhere between the 11th and 19th December 1532. By February 1533, Anne’s pregnancy was common knowledge at court, with Anne herself joking about her craving for apples. On Easter Saturday 1533, Anne finally attended mass as queen, after Cranmer was made Archbishop and convocation had pronounced Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon invalid. Anne had everything she wanted – the man she loved, the title of Queen and a baby in her womb.

Anne Boleyn’s Confinement

Although it seems that Anne Boleyn’s early pregnancy was trouble-free, and she managed to cope with her exhausting coronation schedule when she was around 6 months pregnant, it appears that Anne had some trouble towards the end. Eric Ives cites de Carles when he writes of Henry VIII being “at his wits’ end, even hoping for a miscarriage if it would save Anne’s life” and we also know that there was no royal progress that summer and that Henry and Anne spent the summer at Windsor.

In August 1533, a chamber was prepared for Anne’s confinement at Greenwich Palace, the palace where Elizabeth of York had given birth to Henry. David Starkey writes of how the chamber was prepared:-

“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… 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.”2

On the 26th August 1533, after a special mass at the Chapel Royal, Anne and her ladies then went to the Queen’s great chamber, which Starkey explains was the outermost room of Anne’s suite. There, they enjoyed wine and spices before Anne’s lord chamberlain led a prayer, praying that God would give the Queen a safe delivery. Anne then processed to her bedchamber, with only her ladies in attendance. Her chamber was to be a male-free world.

Queen Anne Boleyn Gives Birth

Less than two weeks after taking to her chamber, at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of the 7th September, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a baby girl: Elizabeth, named after her paternal grandmother Elizabeth of York, and possibly also her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Howard. The little girl had her father’s red hair and long nose, and her mother’s coal black eyes.

The birth was straightforward, the baby was healthy and so was Anne, but something was very wrong – the baby was a girl and not the promised son and heir promised by Anne, astrologers and doctors. A celebratory tournament had been organised and a letter announcing the birth of a prince had been written. The joust was cancelled and the word “prince” had an “s” added in the birth announcement letter, but it is easy to read too much into the cancellation of the festivities. As Eric Ives3 points out, the celebratory jousts were cancelled in 1516 too, when Mary was born, and it was traditional for the celebrations of the birth of a princess to be low-key. Although the joust was cancelled, Ives writes that “a herald immediately proclaimed this first of Henry’s ‘legitimate’ children, while the choristers of the Chapel Royal sang the Te Deum4 and preparations were already underway for a lavish christening.

I am sure that Henry and Anne were disappointed that Elizabeth was not a boy, but I suspect that Henry was relieved that Elizabeth was healthy and that Anne had survived the ordeal. Anne had conceived quickly, within a few weeks, so there was every hope for the future, for a son. As her parents gazed down at little Elizabeth, little did they realise what and who she would become – one of the greatest English monarchs of all time, the Virgin Queen and Gloriana.

I’ll leave you with xHistoryGirl23x’s moving tribute to my two favourite historical characters:-

Notes and Sources

  1. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p161
  2. Elizabeth, David Starkey, p2
  3. Ives, p184
  4. Ibid.
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