Even a queen was advised to get her affairs in order… just in case
Giving birth in centuries past was not just painful and uncomfortable, it was potentially deadly, too. What’s more, a royal woman would not be expected to run the risk of childbirth just once or twice. From the start of the Middle Ages onwards, European royals usually married between the ages of 15 and 19, with the optimal childbearing time for young women between 20 and 24. Since new babies were looked after by wet nurses, a lady, even a queen, could expect no real break between children. Indeed, according to the statistic, the average number of children born to a royal lady during the Renaissance was around six – that is, if they lived that long, of course.
Such were the risks associated with childbirth that royal ladies were advised to write a will and generally get their affairs in order once they learned they were pregnant. Plus, of course, a queen or princess was expected to ask for God’s protection, both during their pregnancy and during the birth. Catholic royals would take communion on almost a daily basis. But still, this was not enough to keep them safe. Indeed, even though they had the very best medical attention of their time, many female royals died in the birthing chamber.
Without the benefits of modern medicine, many royals died from bacterial infections or from puerperal fever. In many cases, the fatalities were entirely avoidable. For instance, ladies-in-waiting would not be required to wash their hands before helping with a birth, while the use of forceps in the birthing chamber would often be nothing short of barbaric.
The list of royals who died in childbirth is very long indeed. Just a few notable examples include the case of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the only child of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick. Since both her father and grandfather were regarded as insane and were hugely unpopular with the English people, hopes were high that she could restore faith in the monarchy. However, she died in 1817, at the age of just 21, less than two years into a happy marriage to the future King of the Belgians. Other notable tragic deaths included that of Maria Anna of Spain, who died in 1646 while giving birth to her sixth child at the age of 39, as well as that of Maria Leopoldine of Austria who was just 17 when she died in childbirth in August of 1649. More recently, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark died in September of 1891 after going into premature labor – though her son, Dmitri Pavlovich would not only survive but go on to make history by being one of the disaffected Russian nobles who killed Rasputin.