Elizabeth’s Birth Announcement:
In the summer of 1533, as the birth of the child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn drew nearer, a courtier, John Russell, wrote in a letter to Lord Lisle, Captain of Calais, that he “never saw the King merrier” (Nichols 443). The royal couple were at Windsor until 21 August when they traveled to Whitehall. From there on 26 August, they moved to Greenwich where Anne was to take to her chamber. This required a formal ceremony to be performed. Anne went in procession to the Chapel Royal to hear mass, then to her Great Chamber. She and her guests dined and then ate ceremoniously from a “goodly spice plate…of spice and comfettes.” The Lord Mayor of London provided “a cuppe of assaie of gold, and after that she had dronke, she gave the Maior the cuppe.” Once the refreshments were partaken of, Anne “under her Canapie, departed to her Chamber” and at the entry of her chamber, she gave her Canopy of State to the barons “accordyng to their clayme” (Hall 805). Anne’s Lord Chamberlain called for all to pray for the safe delivery of her child and then Anne and her women entered her chamber” (Hall 805).
King Henry VIII Queen Anne Boleyn
Anne’s chambers would have been altered tremendously to create the lying-in chamber to provide enough storage for multiple weeks of supplies and baby items. Included would have been furniture: beds for the birth, recovery and ceremonies, and the baby cot; plus blankets, pillows and bedding. An altar for religious services would have been included along with candlesticks, crucifixes and religious images. Tapestries would have covered the walls, ceiling and all windows except for one. Alison Weir stated that the tapestries showed St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins (Weir Six Wives 257). David Starkey, on the other hand, informed that the tapestries would not have depicted animals or humans as that could trigger fantasies in the mother-to-be and lead to a deformed child (Starkey Elizabeth 2). Regardless of the decoration themes, one can envision the chamber as being a “cross between a chapel and a luxuriously padded cell” (Starkey Elizabeth 2).
William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, Chamberlain to Catherine of Aragon sent to his counterpart in Anne’s household, George Brooke, 9th Baron Cobham, advice on the correct method for the confinement and ensuing ceremonies. A general procedure had been followed for generations, and it was unlikely that Henry VIII would jeopardize the successful birth of his male heir by altering the steps in any way. That is why the speculation that Henry kept Anne from her confinement in order to dupe the general population about the date of conception does not make sense.
George Brooke, 9th Baron of Cobham and Queen Anne’s Lord Chamberlain
Once a woman entered her lying-in chamber, it was a signal that she did not expect to have her child for about a month. Anne gave birth within two weeks. How and why could there be such a miscalculation? Retha Warnicke speculates that Henry took advantage of Anne’s good health in the summer of 1533 and delayed her entry to her chamber. He wanted to confuse people over the delivery date to convince them that the child had been conceived during the time of their marriage (Warnicke 164). Would Henry do that? Would he risk the health of his male child in such a way? I do not think so. Would he encourage people to assume the date of their wedding was earlier than it was? Probably.
Chronicler Edward Hall insisted that Henry and Anne married on 14 November 1532 on “sainct Erkenwalds daie” and managed it to be “kept so secrete, that very fewe knewe it, til Builyne she was greate with child, at Easter after” (Hall 794). Other sources state the wedding was on 25 January 1533. Eric Ives speculates that the earlier date was used much afterwards to protect Elizabeth’s reputation against being born out of wedlock. If a compromise theory is believed, a commitment ceremony could have been held in November that would “stand up in canon law– espousals de praesenti before witnesses which, if sealed by intercourse, would have been canonically valid …” (Ives 170). Henry would have then held another ceremony, before a priest, in January once it was obvious Anne was pregnant: or could the mid-wives and physicians have underestimated the delivery date? We will never know. What we do know is that on “vii day of September being Sondaie, between thre and foure of the Clocke after noone, the Quene was delivred of a faire lady” (Hall 805).
The fact that the child was a girl was a shock to her parents so sure they were that they would have a son. Tradition tells us that Henry responded appropriately to Anne by saying that all was well since they were both young “by God’s grace, boys will follow” (Weir, pg. 258). Immediately following the birth, a Te Deum was sung and “great preparacion was made for the christening” with the Mayor of London, Stephen Peacock, and chief citizens “commaunded to bee at the Christenyng, the Wednesdaie folowyng” in all of their finery went by barge to Greenwich. “All the walles betwene the Kynges place and the Friers, were hanged with Arras, and all the waie strawcd with grene” the Observant Friars Church was also hung in tapestries. The font was “of siluer, and stoode in the midles of the Churche, three steppes high, whiche was couered with a line clothe … oner it hong a square Canape of crimosin Satten, fringed with golde” and in an area close by was a brazier with a fire in it to keep the child warm. When “al these thynges wer ordered, the child was brought to the hall,” followed by members of Court with “the Erie of Essex, bearyng the couered Basins gilte, after hym the Marques of Excester with taper of virgin waxe, next hym the Marques Dorset, bearyng the salt, behynd-hym the lady Mary of Norffolk, bearyng the cesom whiche was very riche of perle & stone, the old Duches of Norffolk bare the childe” (Hall 805). The child wore, in addition to a christening robe heavy and stiff with gold embroidery…a royal mantle of purple velvet and miniver, with a train so long that it was borne up by a lady and two gentlemen (Tytler 2).
An enthusiastic Hall continues to describe the scene as the Duke of Norfolk walked to the right of the baby, the Duke of Suffolk to the left and the Countess of Kent bore the train along with other noble ladies. The baby’s uncle, Lord Rochford and three others carried a canopy over her. When “the child was come to the churche dore, the bishop of London met it with diverse bishoppes and Abbottes mitred, and began the observances of the Sacrament” (Hall 806).
One godmother was the baby’s cousin, Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset; the other, who carried the child, was her great-grandmother, Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, the godfather was Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The Bishop of London John Stokesley, assisted by other clergy performed the ceremony (Tytler 2). The “childe was named Elizabeth: and after that al thyng was done, at the churche dore the child was brought to the Fount, and christened” (Hall 806).
We are told that the Garter Chief King of Arms then proclaimed “God of His infinite goodness, send a prosperous life and long, to the high and mighty princess of England Elizabeth” (Strickland 4). Next Elizabeth was confirmed as part of the extended ceremony. Afterwards servants brought in “wafers, comfits and hypocras in such plenty that every man had as much as he would desire” (Somerset 4). “Then they set forwardes, the trumpettes goyng before in thesame ordre, towarde the kynges place, as they did when they came thether warde, … and in this ordre thei brought the princes, to the Quenes chamber (Hall 806). With Henry VIII in attendance, Queen Anne received her child back while Londoners rejoiced with Court supplied wine and bonfires in the streets but no jousts or fireworks—this was a princess not a prince. Publically Henry continued to reassure that the princess was not a disappointment. Privately, as reported by a gleeful Eustace Chapuys, Spanish Ambassador, the birth was a “great regret both of him and the lady, and to the great reproach of the physicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and sorceresses, who affirmed that it would be a male child. But the people are doubly glad that it is a daughter rather than a son, and delight to mock those who put faith in such divinations, and to see them so full of shame” (Gairdner VI 1112).
How could the predictions go so wrong?
Besides soliciting physicians’ opinions on the sex of the child, astrologers and soothsayers were also consulted. Only one did not predict a son. William Glover wrote to Queen Anne of a vision he had in which she gave birth to a “woman child” and he instructed she “should be delivered of your burden at Greenwich” (Gardiner VI 1599).
Physicians “studied astronomy, astrology, geometry, mathematics, music and philosophy” in the 16th century. “The Tudors believed strongly in the divine plan …. Fate, fortune and goodwill might cure” (Hurren). Included in the studies of sciences, astrology was certainly compatible with religion at this time. Astrology was considered a way to understand God’s plan. Henry VIII received predictions that the child Anne was carrying was a boy—there was no reason to doubt that. God had punished Henry for co-habitating with his brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, against the teachings of Leviticus, by not granting living male children to that union. Surely, he could not have misinterpreted the signs of the divine will to divorce Catherine. Sons would come from his union with Anne.
References to prophecies and predictions were accepted at the time as were the “astrological superstitions of the generation” (Tytler 2). In one of his love letters to Anne, Henry showed a “personal interest in astrology: in attempting to dispel her fears about their forced separation” (Warnicke 165).
“I and my heart put ourselves in your hands. Let not absence lessen your affection; for it causes us more pain than I should ever have thought, reminding us of a point of astronomy that the longer the days are, the further off is the sun, and yet the heat is all the greater. So it is with our love, which keeps its fervour in absence, at least on our side. Prolonged absence would be intolerable, but for my firm hope in your indissoluble affection. As I cannot be with you in person, I send you my picture set in bracelets” (Brewer).
As Lutheran theologian Philipp Melancthon later said in his dedication to the text, Theological Commonplaces, “Henry is ‘the most learned of kings not only in theology, but also in other philosophy, and especially in the study of the movement of the heavens’. Since the king and his contemporaries held ‘a complex view of conception in which both the physical and spiritual’ were intertwined, he may have been persuaded of the validity of the prophecies about the child’s sex because he had personally done all that was necessary for him to earn and to merit a divine blessing in the form of a son” (Warnicke 165).
“Anne’s skeptical attitude toward the most superstitious of them must have been well-known” as John Foxe later discussed it (Warnicke 165). Foxe recounted a story that implied Anne’s “true faith …for when king Henry was with her at Woodstock, and there, being afraid of an old blind prophecy, for which neither he nor other kings before him durst hunt in the said park of Woodstock, nor enter into the town of Oxford, at last, through the Christian and faithful counsel of that queen, he was so armed against all infidelity, that both he hunted in the aforesaid park, and also entered into the town of Oxford, and had no harm” (Foxe 136). Popular belief maintained that Henry did abide by the use of prophecies.
Certain the child would be a boy, Henry and Anne had selected the names of Edward and Henry and had asked Francis I, King of France to be godfather. In a dispatch to Francis, his Ambassador, Jean de Dinteville, The Bailly of Troyes*, explains how he had been asked to “hold at the font the child of which the Queen is pregnant, if it is a boy” (Gairdner VI 1070).
As an aside, de Dinteville (also as known as d’Intevile Polizy) “chevalier Sieur de Polizy, near Bar-sur-Seyne, Bailly of Troyes who was Ambassador in England for King Francis I in the years 1532-1533” was identified in the late 19th century as one of the sitters in the Ambassadors painting by Hans Holbein (Hervey 12). Without going into extreme detail, the clues in the painting confirmed what Hervey discovered on a fragment of manuscript. An example would be the seigneurie, an area of manorial influence that de Dinteville held, was Polizy in Burgundy shown on the globe in the painting (Hervey 8).
Jean de Dinteville, French Ambassador
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein, 1533
Jean de Dinteiville and Georges de Selve
There is no record of whether or not Francis I felt any sympathy for Henry’s disappointment but it was clear he would not be asked as godfather for a princess’s baptism. While de Dinteville showed his “complete allegiance to the Crown of France” (Hervey 41), being ready to fill whatever office would be required even for a princess, his Spanish counterpart, Eustace Chapuys, was interpreting the birth of a daughter to Henry as the divine will that “Misfortune manages well; and God has forgotten him entirely, hardening him in his obstinacy to punish and ruin him” (Gairdner VI 1112).
After the ceremony de Dinteville exclaimed “the whole occasion was so perfect that nothing was lacking” (Hibbert 14). Chapuys concluded “the christening has been like her mother’s coronation, very cold and disagreeable both to the Court and to the city, and there has been no thought of having the bonfires and rejoicings usual in such cases. After the child was baptised, a herald in front of the church-door proclaimed her princess of England (Gairdner VI 1125).
Eustace Chapuys, Spanish Ambassador
Prior to the christening, Chapuys claimed that the child would “be called Mary, like the Princess; which title, I hear in many quarters, will be taken from the true princess and given to her” (Gairdner 1112). He had to retract saying “the daughter of the lady has been named Elizabeth, and not Mary” (Gairdner 1125). Obviously, the child was named for her two grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard.
So sure were the parents that the child would be a boy, official announcements, which were to be sent throughout the realm and to the Courts of Europe from the Queen listed the child as a prince. One such letter is preserved written to Lord Cobham, Anne’s Chancellor informing him of the birth at Greenwich on 7 September during the 25th year of the reign of Henry (Gairdner VI 1089). An ‘s’ was added to the word prince (see the facsimile below—the first is in the third line, center also shown in an enlargement—and secondly in the final sentence) which would have altered it enough in the 16th century to signify the word princess.
Letter of Lord Cobham– the area with the ‘s’ insertion is enlarged below. A transcription is also included.
By the Quene
Right trustie and welbiloved, we grete you well. And where as it hath pleased the goodnes of Almightie God, of his infynite marcie and grace, to sende unto us, at this tyme, good spede, in the delyveraunce and bringing furthe of a Princes, to the great joye, rejoyce, and inward comforte of my Lorde, us, and all his good and loving subjectes of this his realme; for the whiche his inestymable benevolence, soo shewed unto us, we have noo litle cause to give high thankes, laude, and praising unto oure said Maker, like as we doo mooste lowly, humbly, and with all the inwarde desire of our harte. And inasmuche as we undoubtidly truste, that this oure good spede is to your great pleasure, comforte, and consolation, We, therefore, by thies our letters, advertise you thereof, desiring and hartely praying you to give, with us, unto Almightie God, high thankes, glorie, laude, and praising; and to praye for the good helth, prosperitie, and contynuall preservation of the said Princes accordingly. Yeven under our Signet, at my Lordis Manour of Grenewiche, the 7 day of September, in the 25th yere of my said Lordis reigne.
To oure right trustie and welbiloved, the Lorde Cobham.
During a lecture at the Newberry Library in Chicago on November 22, 2003, David Starkey stated that the most important document in Elizabeth’s life was the letter announcing her birth. The Tudor Court needed a male heir. Society held the attitude that a woman would not be able to hold public office and have influence.
Anne Boleyn had disappointed Henry and the kingdom. Everyone was yet to see the significance of the life of this child that began with such an unpleasant shock yet would produce a ruler with “the body of a weak and feeble woman …but the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too” (Marcus 326).
*The bailly was a French “Crown officer in whose name justice was administered throughout a certain district” (Hervey 38),
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