A Princess is Born
On the 7th of September 1533 at approximately 3 o’clock in the afternoon Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a baby girl at Greenwich. Perhaps Anne and Henry had decided that Anne should give birth at Greenwich as it had been the very place that Henry had been born forty two years previously. This was Anne’s first pregnancy and she had retired to her chambers only thirteen days before her daughter was born. It was customary of the time that a Queen should retire to her chambers several weeks before the believed due date so perhaps the doctors or Anne miscalculated the baby’s due date or the child was born early.
According to Starkey the chambers in which Anne Boleyn retired to deliver her child had ‘a false roof in the Queen’s Bedchamber for to seal it and hang it with cloth of arrars. They also constructed a cupboard of state… for the Queen’s plate to stand on in the Bedchamber, together with an alter, a platform and a stool where the Queen could sit during her devotions. Finally, they erected a great bed of state in her Presence Chamber, or Throne Room.’ (Starkey 2004 p. 505).
Anne Boleyn’s labour was reported to be without great difficulty and he little girl she bore had the facial features of her mother but her father’s classic Tudor red hair. Elizabeth was reported to be a strong and healthy baby and was probably named after both Henry and Anne’s mothers. Both Henry and the astrologers and physicians of the day had predicted that the child would be a boy – a prince and heir to continue on the Tudor dynasty, unfortunately the child had been a girl.
Letters that were to be dispatched to foreign dignitaries and King’s which had already been written up were quickly altered, from Prince to Princess. Also the celebratory jousts that had been scheduled to rejoice the birth of a son were cancelled. Yet despite this Elizabeth’s birth and the declaration of Henry VIII’s first legitimate child were celebrated and Te Deum was sung at the Chapel Royal.
It has often been reported that Henry was greatly disappointed at the birth of a daughter and it was right from this early stage that his and Anne Boleyn’s marriage began to crumble. This however is not exactly the truth. Certainly both Henry and Anne were disappointed but not as much as many believed. Elizabeth was strong and healthy and Anne fallen pregnant shortly after she began to sleep with Henry. Her pregnancy and labour were reported to be fairly easy (for the time that is) and there was still time and hope that Anne’s next pregnancy would be quick and this time she would deliver the son Henry VIII so desperately desired. It is also reported that when Henry went to visit Anne after the birth he told her that ‘You and I are both young… and by God’s grace, boys will follow’ (Weir 1991 p. 258). If indeed Henry said this I can only imagine how Anne must have felt.
Henry’s disappointment also cannot have been that great as before Elizabeth was even a year old he had ‘caused an Act of Succession to be passed in her favour, which made her his heir in place of Mary’ (Weir 2008 p. 6). Mary being the daughter born to Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon.
Unfortunately despite the birth of a healthy daughter Anne Boleyn was still under pressure. She had achieved her desire to marry Henry and been crowned Queen of England but she still had to fulfil her role. It was believed of women at the time that it was not only their duty to serve their husbands but to give them healthy sons. Anne was under even more pressure as not only did she need to give her husband, the King a son, she needed to give England a healthy male heir. If only she and Henry knew the powerful ruler that Elizabeth would grow up to be, reigning over England for forty four years in a time known as the ‘Golden Age’.
Hu asdf Ives, E 2009, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Starkey, D 2004, Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage, London.
Weir, A 1991, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Press, New York.
Weir, A 2008, The Children of Henry VIII, Ballantine Books, New York.