Anne Boleyn, As a Mother

The birth of Princess Elizabeth Tudor was a crushing disappointment to her mother and a deep, personal embarrassment for her father. Henry had been certain the child Anne Boleyn carried in 1533 would be his heir. A son would be proof of God's favor on Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn after rejecting his "sinful" union with Katharine of Aragon, which never produced a living boy.

The doctors, astrologers, and soothsayers had all predicted a boy. Only one had been brave enough to say it was a girl Anne carried, and that prediction was not well-received. The birth announcements for a prince had all been drawn up, and celebratory jousts were planned.

When Anne's baby proved to be a girl, it was a shock. Chapuys gleefully reported on Henry's embarrassment, and it was probably true that people may have laughed at the king and his "concubine" who had confidently strutted and flaunted God's favor on their union. The jousts were cancelled and a tiny "s" was scribbled in next to the word "prince" in the birth announcements. Jousts weren't held for the birth of a female; Henry had done the same when Princess Mary was born.

But Henry and Anne did not publicly display any feelings of disappointment. They named the child Elizabeth, the name of both Henry's mother and Anne's. Proclamations went out around England announcing the birth of Henry's first legitimate child, and churches around the nation sang Te Deum in celebration and thanks to God.

There was a grand christening ceremony for
the princess on September 10, with the highest nobles in the land present. The christening gown that Anne made and embroidered for Elizabeth supposedly still survives, having been given to Kateryn Parr and passed down through her family. (Its authenticity is in question.) But Anne is known to have sewn and embroidered many items for her baby.

Babies of that era were swaddled tightly. Elizabeth's cradle would have been gilded, carved and painted. There's an order in Anne Boleyn's expense records for red damask to make Elizabeth's bed covers, and crimson fringe for the head of her cradle.

Anne Boleyn, by all accounts, was a very loving mother. An old story claims that Anne wished to breastfeed Elizabeth personally, but Henry wouldn't allow it. The story demonstrates that Anne's love for her daughter might have been widely known, but it has no basis in fact. Highborn women did not breastfeed their own children - especially queens - and Anne followed royal protocol to the letter. Noble mothers showed their love and concern by choosing the best possible wetnurse for the task, someone who had a proven track-record of healthy babies. Secondly, Anne wanted to get pregnant again as quickly as possible, and breastfeeding was known to reduce fertility.

Other stories tell us of Anne's love for Elizabeth. It's said she kept the baby with her during the first few months of Elizabeth's life, lying on a cushion next to her instead of shut away in the nursery.

Elizabeth was sent away to her own household at Hatfield on December 10, 1533. We can only wonder how Anne felt about this, but she did her duty. Nobles of the era did not raise their own children. Anne had done what she could in choosing the best people to take care of her baby. Many of them were her relatives by blood or marriage.

Along with them went Henry's other daughter, Mary, forcing her to serve the infant sister who had supplanted her in rank. Anne must have been anxious about that, but Mary loved her baby sister and took wonderful care of her, despite her misery in her living conditions.

Princes and Princesses of the era had their own palaces and armies of servants. From birth, they had the same household as an adult prince or princess, even though some of the servant's services would not be utilized for decades. A place at the table was set for the princess, though she would not sit there for years, and meals suitable to her royal dignity were served, though they ended up being consumed by the upper servants in her stead.

Anne's expense records are full of purchases for her daughter. She wrote to Lady Bryan, Elizabeth's nurse, frequently. None of the letters survive, but we know Anne kept in close contact with those charged with her daughter's care. Henry ordered Elizabeth weaned when she was two years and one month old, and noted in his order that Anne was enclosing a letter, likely with further instructions and advice.

She also visited Elizabeth when she could steal some time away from her duties, and the princess was brought to court for holidays and special occasions. When Katharine of Aragon died in January, 1536, Elizabeth made her last appearance at her mother's court, as Henry paraded her around and showed her off to his courtiers.

Only a few days before her arrest, Anne went to her chaplain, Matthew Parker, and extracted from him a promise to look after her daughter if anything happened to her. Parker took that promise seriously and spent the rest of his life trying to fulfill it. The power of Anne's love survived her death, and she was able to protect her daughter beyond the grave.

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