Altered Fates: The Birthing

Altered Fates: The Birthing
By Ellie Dauber (c) 2007

A short interlude that I’m posting in honor of the PBS series Wolf Hall about Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister to Henry VIII.

* * * * *

"Tansie," Alyson Palmer yelled. "Get Her Majesty some more spiced wine."

"Yes'm." Tansie Nutter ran over to pour the wine. She was outwardly obedient to the midwife, but her thoughts were far different. 'Her Majesty... the king's slut'd be more like it. It ain't fair that she's having such an easy time of it, when the queen wore herself out like she done. All them pregnancies and only one wee girl that lives.'

She brought over the cup and handed it to Alyson. "Here, Your Majesty." Alyson held the cup to the woman's mouth, and she leaned forward to drink. "Just a sip at a time," Alyson added.

The pregnant queen's eyes were clenched almost shut from the pain of childbirth. She was covered with sweat that matted her auburn hair to her head. "A sip," she repeated. She took barely a mouthful and let it trickle slowly down her throat. She had barely finished when another contraction hit. She screamed in pain and sank back onto the bed.

"He's coming," the midwife announced. "I can see the top of his head; red hair, just like his father."

Ten years of miscarriages, still births, and infant deaths had soured the king on his wife. When a woman some years his junior, vital, very sexual, and willing had come to the court, His Majesty had moved Heaven and Hell to divorce the queen and take a new wife. He'd managed, but there were many, like Tansie, who objected.

The new queen had gotten pregnant almost as soon as they exchanged vows, and all the doctors -- and the mystics -- consulted had foreseen that the baby would be a boy.

"Push," Myrtle FitzRoy, one of the ladies-in-waiting, ordered.

The queen moaned and pushed. "His head's out," Alyson announced. "Shoulders... arms... hips -- he's a chubby little fellow... he's out."

She caught the baby in a small, blue and gold blanket. Myrtle used a silver dagger to cut his cord. "Tansie," Alyson said, "clean the baby off." She held the child up so the servant girl could take him."

"Yes'm." Tansie carried the child over to a prepared table in a corner of the room. She set it down and looked back over her shoulder. The women -- there were no males in the room except for the newborn --were giving their full attention to his mother.

Myrtle was congratulating her on delivering a boy. "I knew the doctors were right. The King will be so pleased."

"Aye," another woman said. "On your first try, ye did the old queen one better. That's a fine son, you've given him."

Tansie smiled. "Not for long, m'lady," she whispered to herself. She reached into a pocket in her apron and pulled out a cloth packet. She opened the packet and a brass disk, and a pink baby's stocking fell silently onto the blanket next to the infant. Tansie used the cloth to pick up the disk. She laid it, and the stocking, on the newborn's stomach.

The baby blinked. Tansie used a second cloth and scented water to clean off the blood and the froth from his mother's womb. As she did, she was careful not to disturb the disk, which had a small cherub on it. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the baby's male parts, nothing very large to begin with, began to shrink. They grew smaller and smaller until they sank down into the child's groin. All that remained was a narrow, hairless, female slit.

Tansie quickly hid the cloth, disk, and stocking back in her apron. "My lady," she called. "Could you come take a look?"

"Is something wrong?" Alyson and the others hurried over.

Tansie nodded. "It ain't a boy." She tried very hard not to smile.

"What do you mean?" Alyson asked. "Of course it..." She put her hand to her mouth. "Oh, my Lord. It... it is a girl."

"How can that be?" Myrtle asked incredulously.

Tansie shrugged. "It... is."

"Is something the matter with my son?" The queen called over from her bed.

Alyson wrapped the baby in a blanket and walked back to the bed. "She... she's fine, Your Majesty, a healthy baby girl."

"But you said it was a boy." The queen was confused. And angry.

Myrtle offered an answer. "Sometimes, Your Majesty, we see what we want to see, not what is truly there."

"At least she's healthy," Alyson went on. "That and your easy labor are good signs. You can have another... a dozen more, and they, I am sure, will be boys."

"Not if I have anything to say 'bout it," Tansie whispered, well out of earshot.

* * * * *

The king made no secret of his disappointment. "She should have been a boy," was his response when he was told of the baby's gender. Even the queen agreed.

Still they made the best of it. Thirty days after her birth, the new princess was christened. Her father, King Henry, the eighth of that name to rule England, named her after his own mother, Elizabeth.

* * * * *

Author's Note: This story was inspired by an excellent biography, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey. The facts of the story are real. Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon for a decade. She became pregnant a number of times, but Mary was the only one who survived. Henry VIII was desperate for a male heir to shore up the Tudor dynasty. He split with the Roman Catholic Church to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Bolyn. Many people of all classes objected to these events. They had one healthy child, Elizabeth. Anne became pregnant again, but miscarried. The baby was a boy. Before she could become pregnant again, she flirted with many, many men as a way of proving her allure to the king. Henry had her executed for adultery.

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