10 of the Strangest Rules and Rituals for Royal Births Over the Centuries
10 of the Strangest Rules and Rituals for Royal Births Over the Centuries

10 of the Strangest Rules and Rituals for Royal Births Over the Centuries

D.G. Hewitt - July 9, 2018

10 of the Strangest Rules and Rituals for Royal Births Over the Centuries
Alcoholic caudle was believed to help prevent women dying in childbirth like Jane Seymour sadly did. Wikimedia Commons.

A boozy drink called caudle may have prevented royal deaths

On October 24, 1537, Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour died just two weeks after the birth of her only child, a boy who would go on to rule as King Edward VI. She passed away as a result of postnatal problems, and more specifically from puerperal fever, a septic infection of the reproductive organs. Now, of course, King Henry quickly got over this, moving onto wife number four. However, Jane Seymour’s passing helped highlight the risk every woman took in having a child, forcing the physicians of the time to find ways of keeping new mothers safe.

One of the most popular solutions was a drink called ‘caudle’. This was a deeply unpleasant concoction, made by combining eggs, cream and porridge. As well as being thick and gloopy, it smelled as bad as it tasted. Nevertheless, it was seen as an effective way of keeping an expectant lady’s strength up when she went into labour. What’s more, since it also contained alcohol, usually from the addition of wine or ale, it could help a royal mother-to-be cope with the pain of childbirth.

Notably, caudle was to be taken after the birth as well. It was seen as an effective restorative, helping a new mother get her strength back up and guarding against puerperal fever, the condition that killed Jane Seymour. Well into the Regency period in England, physicians and midwives advised that caudle should be consumed immediately after the delivery of a child, with regular doses to follow. According to Dr Edmund Chapman, a renowned childbirth expert of 18th century England, “white wine caudle” was particularly effective if a woman had lost a lot of blood during childbirth. Then, if the problem persisted, he advised switching to red wine caudle.

Whether or not caudle helped reduce the risk of potentially-fatal bacterial infections is debatable, especially when it was drunk in such unsanitary conditions. However, the alcohol would have certainly helped, especially at a time when even queens and princesses were strongly discouraged from using any form of pain relief when giving birth.

10 of the Strangest Rules and Rituals for Royal Births Over the Centuries
Even Queen Victoria needed to be blessed and purified before returning to her royal duties after giving birth. Wikipedia.

A lady needed to be ‘cleansed’ before resuming her royal duties

Even when she had finally given birth, the ordeal wasn’t over for the new mother. In Tudor times in particular, great emphasis was placed on the idea of ‘cleansing’ – that is, on making sure the queen or princess was not only physically ready to leave her sealed-off chamber and return to court life, but emotionally and spiritually ready too. As with the ‘lying in’ state, this final stage could take several weeks, and it would undoubtedly have been a tedious and frustrating time for the new mother, especially since she would have been separated from her child.

According to most historians, the ‘cleansing’ stage lasted between four and six weeks. During this period, the new mother was expected to stay in bed and rest. Moreover, she was also expected to pray regularly – this was especially the case in 15th and 16th century England, where the royals were expected to be extremely devout and pious. This was because it was generally accepted that women were ‘unclean’ after giving birth and so a queen or princess needed to be ‘cleansed’ before she could return to her royal duties.

During the cleansing period, it was expected that the father – in many cases, the king – would take on the woman’s royal duties, even looking after domestic affairs of the court. Once the designated period had come to an end (at least two weeks for the birth of a girl, double this for a boy), the new mother would be brought to church or to the royal chapel and then blessed by the priest. She was now spiritually renewed and able to get back to her royal duties, which usually meant ready to give her husband another child! Often, of course, this meant that the mother missed the first few weeks of her child’s life, including their baptism and presentation to the court and to the public.

Notably, this idea of cleansing a royal lady after she had given birth was not confined to the Medieval and Tudor periods. Famously, Queen Victoria of England was required to wait through month-long confinements four times. What’s more, the legendary monarch was also required to be blessed and purified by a priest after the births of all four of her children. By this point, however, the process of ‘churching’ had become largely symbolic and was more a question of tradition than superstition – after all, it would have taken a brave priest to keep Victoria from returning to work.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Royal Baby Traditions You Didn’t Realize Existed”. CAROLINE PICARD. Good Housekeeping. May 6, 2019

“Childbirth in Medieval and Tudor Times.” Sarah Bryson, The Tudor Society.

“Why Giving Birth to a Monarch Was a Queen’s Darkest Hour.” The Raven Report, August 2017.

“Was Queen Victoria Really “Purified” After Giving Birth? This Religious Ritual Has A Long & Complicated History.” Leah Thomas, Bustle.com, January 2018.

“Warm Caudle: A Potion for Regency Women in Childbed.” Diane Morris, Moorgate Books, November 2014.

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