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.

29 thoughts on “The Birth of Elizabeth I”

  1. Eliza says:

    “even hoping for a miscarriage if it would save Anne’s life”

    Henry must have loved Anne a lot, to hope that!! We know how much he wanted a son, but Anne came first for him.. At least at that time.

    Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!! 🙂 And thank you Claire for reminding us the story of her birth!

  2. TinaII2None says:

    Happy Birthday to my favorite Tudor! It seems like only yesterday when this then second-grader read (in my American history book) about a red-haired Queen walking in her rose gardens and considering a proposal of marriage from the King of Spain. THAT was what started me on my lifelong passion for the Tudors.

    Thank you Claire for your beautiful words and for posting the link to xHistoryGirl23x’s beautiful tribute. Amazing looking at that you can see the resemblance between the real life women, and there are even tiny things about Natalie Dormer and Cate Blanchett which seem oddly familiar! (That video’s already gone on my Save list).

  3. miladyblue says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth I! Great choice of video for the celebration – it is the very last shot, showing the NPG portrait of Anne side by side with Elizabeth at roughly 13 that makes me believe that the NPG portrait of Anne is probably the closest we will ever see of a true image of her. They definitely look like mother and daughter, right down to Elizabeth with her mother’s famous black eyes.

  4. Ana says:

    Hmm…would be interested to see the original sourcce for that de Carles comment quoted by Ives; have you seen it Claire?

    Did Anne love Henry? It’s complex I know. I don’t think she was a shallow schemer, but I also doubt Henry was her love in any true spiritual sense. She probably felt bound to him by shared circumstance, attracted to him because of his charisma and prestigeShe probably felt close to him after everything they had shared. But would she have chosen him if all othet things had been equal? And did she ever even know this man? I imagine she would have been dumbfounded at the coldness with which he could put her aside. Did it come as a complete shock? or had she already begun to divine she might be married to a monster?

  5. Claire says:

    Hi Ana,
    I’ve just checked Ives’s notes and he cites “de Carles, in Ascoli, L’Opinion, lines 148-64” referring to “La Grande-Bretagne devant L’Opinion Française”, G. Ascoli 1927. I haven’t managed to check it as I haven’t managed to find a copy.

  6. Lynski46157 says:

    Happy 477th birthday to my favorite queen!

  7. julie b says:

    Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth l.
    I wonder if she ever regretted not having a baby herself.

  8. Loretta says:

    What a lovely tribute to two amazing women, who had great strength and courage.

  9. Nikki says:

    Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

  10. Lexy says:

    This article is wonderful, as ever, Claire, and the video almost made me cry…
    About Anne’s love for Henry, there’s a line in Imperium which probably express what she felt for him. Augustus’s daughter talks about the bad way he treated her mother after a political wedding; he nevertheless loved her, since she gave him the greatest love of his life, his daughter. Anne certainly loved the man who gave her her beloved daughter. Elizabeth certainly always had her mother in her mind and heart, the ring is a proof, and, Julie B, I think she regretted not having a baby. The end of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, especially her thought about having a daughter.
    So happy birthday Elizabeth, and congratulations to one of the most wonderful mothers of history

  11. Louise says:

    Elizabeth was my first great historical interest, followed by Anne and then George. She’s probably my second favourite great historical British person of all time. Of all the non-fiction I’ve read, my favourite for shear enjoyment is David Starkey’s ‘Elizabeth’. I think he captures her perfectly; not only the courage, strength and intelligence, but also the underlying vunerability. It’s the fact she overcame that vunerability to become the greatest monarch this country has ever known that I admire so much.

  12. Rian says:

    Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I!
    Claire, that video you posted was utterly fantastic! It brought a tear to my eye! I also noticed in the video some of the same things those two did in the Tudors and Elizabeth, like the same dance. I wonder if Hirst purposely did that? Hmm…

  13. Trish says:

    Thanks, as always Claire, for a wonderfully written and moving article! Happy Birthday Gloriana!!

  14. rochie says:

    Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I. Our greatest and coolest!

  15. Juanita Richards says:

    Happy birthday to Queen Elizabeth and her mother Anne Boleyn. They are a part of our lives now. I believe Anne did love Henry in the beginning, or she wouldn’t have thrown the jealous fits she did over his mistresses. They both deserved better than they got but they are an example to us all today of courage and dignity in extreme circumstances.

  16. Dawn says:

    ” Happy Birthday to Her Majesty, what can I say……Your Simply The Best!!!! Place no one else above her still, she was TRUE ROYALTY!!!

  17. Steph says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth! Your mother would be proud!! <3 <3 😀

  18. Noelle7 says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth!

  19. Erin says:

    That video was fantastic. Natalie Dormer plays a brilliant as Anne Boleyn. I think she is the best Anne ever played and probably ever will be. Cate Blanchet is also wonderful as Elizabeth. I can’t get enough reading of either of these fascinating women. Two of my favorite women in history by far. Happy Birthday Elizabeth, well done Anne!

  20. Rob says:

    That would be an interesting piece of historical investigation – to try to determine where Elizabeth might have been conceived. A manor house in Kent is my bet – back on safe ground away from potentially hostile eyes overseas – though Calais was an English territory at the time, so safe enough.
    Dover to Eltham suggests a journey by road, the Dover to London road, but I suppose they could have got a boat around the coast to Queenborough on Sheppey and from there by royal barge back along the Thames to Eltham. Or is the route itself known more precisely?

  21. Judilyn says:

    Happy Birthday Good Queen Bess! The video is awesome….sniff;)

  22. Lorna says:

    Two wonderful articles about the birth of Elizabeth on ABfiles and Elizabeth files – and an amazing series of articles about the Ambassadors painting – THANK YOU CLAIRE.

    I’ve always been truly and maybe slightly absurdly proud to share Elizabeth’s birthday though a few years intervened! As for Elizabeth’s conception – well I know (or at least my parents knew!!) that I was conceived on 30 November (everyone reckoned that I was born “on time”) so that information places Anne in Kent I think?

  23. Claire says:

    A belated happy birthday, Lorna! Some historians think that Elizabeth may have been born prematurely because Anne Boleyn had only been in confinement for 2 weeks, rather than the usual month, when Elizabeth was born, but who knows, it’s easy to get your dates wrong in this day and age!

    1. 37-42 weeks is considered term. “Babies born late more likely to have behavioural problems | Society … › Society › Health
      May 2, 2012 – Babies born after 42 weeks are at higher risk of behavioural and emotional … Births are classified as pre-term (before 37 weeks), term (37-42 …”

      1. Claire says:

        Yes, that’s right, but those historians that argue that say that the royal couple may have been trying to pass Elizabeth off as being conceived in wedlock, although that would make her very early as the official wedding wasn’t until 25th January.

        1. Claire says:

          A due date of 7th September, for example, gives a conception date of 14th December.

  24. Rosalie says:

    That summer at windsor must have been beautiful for henry and anne. waiting for their baby. it would be interesting to see into a day lin the life of anne, or one of her women; how they got ready for a quiet day – no feasts, ambassadors, tournaments. what a pregnant anne would or would not eat; health issues surrounding the birth

  25. Laura says:

    Happy Birthday Elizabeth. My favourite Tudor Queen. I drew a young Elizabeth with bows in her hair when I was seven years old to illustrate a timeline so that must have started my interest. Thank you Claire for the words. The fact that they had to add a ‘S to the word ‘prince’, shows that Henry had been expecting a boy. The fact that Anne would have been secure if she had delivered the long awaited prince. How unfortunate it had to rest on being a male heir. The fact that Elizabeth was healthy was a relief but how sad events had to unfold.

  26. Arlene Kagle Lerner says:

    Do we know anything about Anne’s labor? Since she was slim, I ould think she might have had a hard time. But, all I have read leaves out labor and says she had a normal delivery.

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