With all the kerfuffle over the impending birth of the Royal baby I thought to find out what it would have been like for a Royal giving birth in around about 1500 or so.

The only men present would have been at least two of the King's advisors and right-hand men to ensure it was actually the Queens baby and not one smuggled in to take the place of a stillborn. The King wouldn't have been there to hold his wife's hand and rub her back mind you...it was only Royal births which allowed men into the bedchamber and that wasn't because they were kindly or helpful...the Queen would have taken confession when she first went into labour...and her Ladies-in-Waiting would have her burial shroud ready and waiting in case she died while giving birth...she'd have been attended by not only her Ladies-in-Waiting but by a veritable crowd of other high born women who were there to assist her in what ever way they could...

No epidurals or gas and air then...you simply got on with it and hoped for the best.

In common with other women of the time, the new baby, once safely delivered, would have had the cord cut by the elder of the women present and it would have been immediately thrown onto the open fire...part old age folk magic...and part simply tradition. It was only the poorer classes who would have saved a portion of the afterbirth to eat...something which went out of favour but is now becoming a 'new' tradition. Of course the placenta eaters of the present day consider themselves to be of the 'New Age' and rather daring...but back in the 1500's it was sensible to restore your iron levels in which ever way you could...the afterbirth is rich in essential nutrients and the women realised that.

The baby would have been rubbed with coarse salt and had a smear of honey put inside its mouth to encourage its appetite...then he or she would have been swaddled in linen cloths from shoulders down to feet. The poorer you were, the less likely you'd employ a wet nurse to feed your newborn but the simple act of breastfeeding probably helped to ensure you didn't get pregnant again too soon...it didn't always work...many of the family members I've unearthed had a baby almost literally every nine months...some were Irish Twins...two babies born within nine months of each other...

Babies remained swaddled until they were of an age to begin sitting up...then, regardless of their sex, they were dressed in feminine clothing. Unless they were from a high born or a Royal family when they'd have worn miniture versions of their parents clothing...

But back to the mother...it wasn't until Queen Victoria gave birth and demanded some form of pain relief and was given opium, that any mother, whether Royal or peasant, had recourse to drugs to ease her labour pains. Praying was popular...as was vinegar diluted with water and sweetened with honey to drink...sometimes the midwife would rub the mothers thighs with rosewater which must have been soothing and smelled nice...but other than that you simply had to grit your teeth and get on with it. Doctors would never have entered the room where a woman of the 1500's was giving birth...the midwife knew far more about the delivery of babies than the Doctor did and he would only have been called upon if the mother died and there was a chance of saving the child. In those cases he'd have performed a swift post mortem...

The poor had the village or town midwife attend them...they wouldn't have been able to afford the fees of a Doctor so if they died in the process of giving birth, the baby died with them. Midwives were allowed to baptise babies who were frail or sickly...and their baptism was considered legal. It was only much later on in time...around the late 1800's that midwives baptism was declared to be of no worth and a baby so baptised was thought to go straight to limbo...perhaps that wasn't so in England...it certainly was in Ireland.

After you'd had the child and a nice cup of tea...you stayed in bed...for at least a month. Waited on hand and foot by servants, you would have been lucky to escape suffering from thrombosis or what was termed at the time 'lying in sickness'...you would not have been allowed to handle food which was about to be cooked nor to bake bread...though it's doubtful the upper classes and the Royals would have baked bread anyway.

Of course if you were of the peasant class then the luxury of staying in bed for a month would have been totally alien to you...and the thought of not preparing the families food or baking bread would have meant all your other children and your husband simply went hungry. So those 'rules' didn't apply. What did apply was being churched. You were unclean after birthing a baby and so needed to attend a special Mass before once more being allowed to take Communion. This is a ruling which has only just died out in Ireland. I've met women much younger than myself who were obliged by their priest to be churched after giving birth to their babies. A young woman I know...she's in her early thirties...told her priest to 'go feck himself' when it was suggested she be churched. 'I've had a feckin' baby' she said to me..'.and the Church says I'm unclean'...'How the feck dare they!'

Except she wasn't saying feck.

Kate Middleton might well be surrounded by the trappings of the exculsive Lindo Wing with Sky television and a glass of champagne when the baby arrives...but she'll be like all of us who have given birth...astounded by that weird 'empty tummy' feeling...amazed by just how much blood you continue to ooze for days afterwards...probably vowing that if William dares to approach her with a gleam in his eye ever again she'll not be responsible for her actions...and she'll no doubt be like the majority of women and burst into floods of helpless tears after three days.

There is no way I'd want to be like poor Kate with the Press virtually counting every contraction and standing about panting for news. But that is what it must have been like for the Royal women in the 1500's. They didn't have the worlds press camped out behind their bedroom door...but they did have strange men they didn't much care for standing about at the foot of their bed to ensure the baby was the Royal baby...they were surrounded by women who may have been some help but there were bound to be others who were a hindrence...they could probably see their new linen shroud laid out on a table or a chest ready and waiting for when they expired from loss of blood or a baby who was stuck fast in the birth canal.

But then I'd not want to be like Mikeys Mother...it was Mikey who owned the cottage we now live in...she gave birth to one of her children under the hedge at the top of our garden while she was hoeing potatoes. By all accounts she wrapped the new baby in a potato sack and finished the row before going indoors to cook the supper...now that story might be the whole truth or it might be village legend...but it's as good a way as any to finish this blog!