Monday, April 13, 2009

The Tudor Year: April

Theme: birth

April 2, 1502: Death of Arthur, Prince of Wales
April 21, 1509: Death of King Henry VII
April 23, 1564: Birth of Shakespeare
April 24, 1509: Henry VIII proclaimed king

April, month of renewed life, includes the anniversaries of the births of Thomas Hobbes (April 5th, 1588), and Oliver Cromwell (April 25th, 1599), as well as Shakespeare. In 1555 Queen Mary, exulting in her crown, in her marriage to the Spanish king Philip II, and in her first pregnancy, spent April convinced she was about to give birth to an heir who would help guide her father's kingdom back to Catholicism. Nothing happened. Perhaps Mary was lucky. Childbirth was an unmedicated hazard, and women often died of it, in their teens -- which made women relatively scarce, sought after, and married off young. In rural areas perhaps one third of brides went to the altar pregnant. Where a girl was pregnant and not married, the midwife would ask the father's identity at the very crisis of delivery. If he could be discovered, he would be made to support the child; if the laboring mother kept the secret, the child's maintenance would fall on the parish. "The highest rate of conceptions were in the high summer," thus accounting for quite a few April births.


David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. New York: Harper Collins, 2001 (pp. 178-179).

A.L. Rowse, The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Life of the Society. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971 (pp. 170-180).

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