I am delighted to be taking part in Wendy J. Dunn’s book tour for her latest novel, Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, Book 1 in the Katherine of Aragon Story. Wendy has written a fascinating guest post about childbirth in Tudor times.
I’m also excited to announce that thanks to the generosity of MadeGlobal Publishing, I have a paperback copy of Wendy’s book to give away! (See conditions of entry below).
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters
Book 1 in the Katherine of Aragon Story
Dona Beatriz Galindo.
Tutor to royalty.
Friend and advisor to Queen Isabel of Castile.
Beatriz is an uneasy witness to the Holy War of Queen Isabel and her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon. A Holy War seeing the Moors pushed out of territories ruled by them for centuries.
The road for women is a hard one. Beatriz must tutor the queen’s youngest child, Catalina, and equip her for a very different future life. She must teach her how to survive exile, an existence outside the protection of her mother. She must prepare Catalina to be England’s queen.
A tale of mothers and daughters, power, intrigue, death, love, and redemption. In the end, Falling Pomegranate Seeds sings a song of friendship and life.
“Wendy J. Dunn is an exceptional voice for Tudor fiction, and has a deep understanding of the era. Her words ring true and touch the heart, plunging the reader into a fascinating, dangerous and emotionally touching new world.” ~ Barbara Gaskell Denvil
“Dunn deftly weaves a heartrending story about the bonds between mothers and daughters, sisters and friends. Each character is beautifully crafted with a compassionate touch to draw the reader into every raw emotion, from triumph to tragedy.” ~ Adrienne Dillard, Author of Cor Rotto
Conditions of Entry
For your chance to win a copy of Falling Pomegranate Seeds, you must be subscribed to On the Tudor Trail’s newsletter (if you are not already, sign up on our homepage where it says ‘Free Enewsletter Subscription’).
Then simply leave a comment after this post between now and 7 December 2016. Don’t forget to leave your name and a contact email. Please note that I have comment moderation activated and need to ‘approve’ comments before they appear. There is no need to submit your comment twice.
This giveaway is open internationally.
A winner will be selected randomly and contacted by email shortly after the competition closes. Please ensure you’ve added firstname.lastname@example.org to your address book to avoid missing my email.
Researching Tudor Births
By Wendy J. Dunn
A woman…being in travail and sorely afflicted with pain, they could not rule her, but sent for my Lady Puckering to try what she could do; when she came she exhorted her to patience, and told her that this misery was brought upon her sex by her grandmother Eve, by eating an apple. “Was it?” says she, “I wish the apple had choked her” (Cressy 1992, p. 20).
Writing about women in Tudor times means having a good understanding of how people lived in these times. Since my stories focus on the lives of women, that means researching what happened in the birthing chamber. I especially need to know this for my next novel. Katherine of Aragon gave birth six times, so her birthing chamber is a place my reader will need to see through the magic constructed by words.
I thought I would share with you a short story I wrote a long, long time ago and then set it against the research I had to do to write it.
I will be drawing from this same research when I construct the birthing chamber of Katherine of Aragon in the sequel of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters. This particular scene was inspired by the following passage in Antonia Fraser’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII:
“Where an heiress was concerned, her ‘spoiling’ by being obliged to have sex and bear children too young might have important consequences. The physique of the great heiress Margaret Beaufort was considered to have been ruined by early childbearing. She bore the future Henry VII when she was only thirteen, and never had any other children in the course of four marriages. Henry survived, but the existence of a single heir was in principle a great risk to any family in this age of high infant mortality, as the shortage of Tudor heirs would continuously demonstrate. Negotiations for the marriage of James IV King of Scotland and Arthur’s sister Princess Margaret had begun in 1498. The trouble was that the bride was only nine, while the King of Scots was twenty-five. Both Princess Margaret’s mother and her grandmother Margaret Beaufort – the latter with an obvious grim interest in the subject – worried about the age gap and pleaded for the marriage ceremony itself to be held off lest consummation follow: ‘they fear the King of Scots would not wait, but injure her and endanger her health” (Fraser 1992. pp29-30).
Within the huge stone hearth, the fire blazed furiously, eating its way through wood as if with the hunger of the famished. Even so, despite the fire’s heat, the young girl on the bed shivered, curling her body upon the bed in a tighter knot. But not as tight the knot of pain pulling across her swollen stomach, a pain soon an agony – an agony twisting around and around every fibre of her being. Margaret gasped, moaned, and one of the women sitting near the bed reached across, taking her hand. “The pains are coming close together, m’ lady – thank be God. You’ll be holding your babe very soon now, I promise you,” the woman comforted.
Margaret turned her face, pressing it deeper into the pillow, ashamed she’d cried out aloud, ashamed of her tears. Realising someone rested a hand on her shoulder, Margaret wiped her cheeks on the pillow, gazing through the veil of her unbound hair at the midwife.
“I’ll be having a quick look, m’ lady, if you’ll be rolling onto your back. I’m thinking it’s time we take you back to the birthing-stool.”
Margaret did as the woman bid, closing her eyes. She concentrated on the prayer she muttered and desperately tried to block out the reality, and the violation, of hands examining her under soft pelts of animal skins.
She’d been in labour two days. A labour seemingly going nowhere except taking her down-down-down an agonised path, where there appeared no arrival, no escape. Orphaned long ago of a father and taken as an infant from her mother into the wardship of others. She was thirteen years old, noble and considered every day of her short life a great heiress. So rich that Margaret’s guardian, the king, ensured an early marriage bed for her, marrying her to his own half-brother. Now, little more in body than a child herself, she laboured to bring forth her first child in the stronghold of her brother-in-law where, big-bellied, she’d been brought for her safety.
The women helped her out of the bed, one of them snatching a shawl to place around Margaret’s thin shoulders. Nauseous, Margaret shook uncontrollably, and walked barefoot to the birthing-stool, placed not far from the fire. Just before Margaret reached it, she grabbed the two women for support. An unmerciful giant slowly heeled his foot into her back, making her gasp for breath.
“Mother of God,” she cried, the giant threatening to break her into half.
When the pain began to release the worst of its grip, Margaret felt swallowed by her growing fear. Would she die, just as so many other women did in childbed? Oh please God, do not let my poor child be bereft of both mother and father. She thought of her husband, the Lord Edmund, dead only twelve weeks ago, after his capture in a foray against York traitors, and shook her head. No, she would survive. She had to. She couldn’t leave her baby unprotected, and treated only as a powerless pawn, just as she had been treated ever since her third year.
Margaret sat in the birthing-stool, and one of the women put a goblet to her lips. Too exhausted to question, obediently she drank, a bitter taste made her mouth burn. The eyes the midwife raised to her filled with compassion.
“That’ll help things along, don’t you fear, madam. I know m’job – it won’t be long now.”
Later in her memory, the time following the midwife’s words always remained as a series of disjointed, dream-like images, almost as if this time happened to someone else rather than herself. But one thing she would remember with clarity all her life – the moment one of the women placed into her arms a squirming, crying infant. A son. The midwife placed the child on Margaret’s breast and he began to nuzzle, his young mother studying him more closely. So perfect, all of him, from his toes to his hands – miniatures of her own, finely boned, fingers long, and tapering – to dark eyes now gazing at her as if he already knew her.
“I shall call him Henry, after the King. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond,” she said to the smiling women.
Then she looked down again upon her babe, whispering, “My son, I swear to you I’ll protect you. You and I – together – we shall be a force to be reckoned with.”
So, now on to my research. To make my little story believable, what did I need to know? Putting aside the fact I have given birth four times in my life, the first is obvious – what customs and rituals take place when a woman of Margaret’s station gives birth? In Tudor times, the birthing chamber was still very much a world where men would not be welcomed. It was rare for men to ever gain admittance. As very few women were literate enough to write about their experiences, this kept the happenings within a birthing chamber very much a woman’s mystery, but we do know enough to open the door and look inside.
Only women were present, as well as the midwife, these women were usually close friends – often called gossips (sister in God) in these times – and relatives of the labouring woman. The chamber was darkened because a woman giving birth ‘must be kept from the cold air because it is an enemy of the spermatical parts…and therefore the doors and windows of her chamber in any wise are to be kept shut’ (Cressy 1999, p. 53).
They were careful to ensure there were no knots anywhere in evidence, which included the hair of the woman in childbed, her hair was left unbound. This was thought to help ensure a smooth passage for the baby’s birth. General use of pillows in this time period were rare, even for those fairly well up in the Tudor hierarchy, but if there was one time a woman might find herself with a pillow it was during her childbed, otherwise they often made do with ‘ a good round log under their heads” (Smith 1992, p. 49). Great value was placed on birthing linen – the whiter the better. One of the things Katherine of Aragon kept with her until her death was the linen used during her many childbirths. She probably hoped to pass them on to her own daughter, Mary. At Mary Tudor’s birth, her mother, struggling through another difficult labour, held onto the girdle of her patron saint, Saint Catherine (Weir 2002, p. 2001). This was not unusual. Women in these times believed many of these kinds of things possessed power to help them during labour and to survive the experience. Prior to the dissolution of the religious orders, women regularly borrowed relics from religious orders, placing great faith in these for easing their childbirths. Women also wore eagle stones (aetites) to prevent miscarriage and aid their labours. I think it also possible that some of the chanting prayers said by the midwives and her attendants actually doubled as breathing exercises, to aid managing pain for a woman in childbed.
In my scene, I showed the midwife taking a gamble. Knowing Margaret needed help to give birth, I imagined her giving to Margaret wine mixed with birthwort (Aristolochia longa) – an oxytocic, very rare in England now but used in this time for births such as these. In this time, Margaret’s midwife would have been able to buy this plant from Religious orders, as many orders prided themselves on their great herbal gardens. I also thought she might have included Pennyroyal and Raspberry in Margaret’s drink, both of which assist stalled labours. In this period, midwives knew to use motherwort for retained placentas and to combat heavy bleeding. Other oxytocic herbs commonly used were Angelica, goldenseal, juniper, and rue. Castor oil was also used.
Jane Seymour laboured two days and three nights before bringing forth Edward, Henry’s longed for son. Myth claims Edward’s birth came about due to caesarean section, with a gypsy folk song from the period recounting:
He gave her rich caudle
But the death-sleep slept she
Then her right side was opened
And the babe was set free.
The babe it was christened
And put out and nursed
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the dust. (Author Unknown 2016)
But times were just too primitive for a woman to hope to survive a caesarean section. Caesareans, in the main, only happened after a mother’s death, in a last ditch attempt to save the child. But we know Jane Seymour died twelve days after her son’s birth, and her death came about due to a killer of so many new mothers in this period: childbed fever.
I conjecture the myth of Jane’s caesarean came about as a result of court rumours, spreading like a Chinese whisper, about what could have happened during her labour. When her birthing attendants fussed over her, worried her long labour would not result in a living birth, it is possible they meddled with what was best left alone. ‘Childbed fever’ resulted from poor hygiene, and Tudor doctors did not know the importance of washing their hands before examining their patients. As touching introduced germs, the best defence against childbed fever was for a labouring woman to be left ‘internally’ alone, and go with the flow of nature. The less handling a woman received during childbirth the better. But – of course – if a woman had trouble giving birth, there was more likelihood of this happening.
After a birth, a woman went through a short term of being regarded as ‘unclean’, rectified by the woman’s ‘Churching.’ The historical origins of this church ceremony had purely to do with the cleansing of a woman after childbirth. By Tudor times, it was regarded more as a thanksgiving for a woman’s survival from childbirth, and marking her safe return to her family and society. A woman’s churching followed a chain of events from the time she gave birth. After birthing her child, the woman was regarded as ‘a woman in the straw’, as she remained resting on straw until the lochia bleeding had subsided. This was then followed by her being allowed to sit up:
“And when three weeks of her time are expired, she having been neither troubled with ague, pains or gripings, nor any other accident extraordinary, and being likewise cleansed from all her afterpurgings, before she go abroad it will be very good for her to bathe, cleanse, and wash herself, being first purged with some easy medicine according to the physician” (Cressy 1999, p. 86)
All through the period of pregnancy, childbirth and up to the time of a woman’s churching, the woman was nurtured cared for by a community of women.
Fraser A. 1992, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, unabridged,
Cressy D. 1999, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England; Oxford University Press,
Smith L. B. 1962, A Tudor Tragedy; The Reprint Society LTD.
Weir, A 2002, Henry VIII: the King and his Court, Ballantine Books, New York.
No Author 2016, The Child Ballads: 170. The Death of Queen Jane,
Access date: 6/11/2016
For further reading:
How to Choose a Midwife
Choosing a Wet-nurse
History of Cesarean Section
Wendy J. Dunn has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three historical novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters.
While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channelling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.
Wendy gained her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014, and is the Co-Editor in Chief of Backstory and Other Terrain, Swinburne University two new peer-reviewed writing journals.
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, can be purchased via:
Be sure to follow the rest of Wendy’s book tour!