Wives and mothers in Tudor age

A Tudor marriage was usually a carefully orchestrated affair, be it for monarch or commoner – a business arrangement to safeguard family fortunes, enhance wealth and property and advance social status. The bride was expected to provide an appropriately large dowry. Love matches and Romeo and Juliet scenarios were strictly for the stage.

The traditional Catholic Church considered marriage a necessary evil for those women too weak to remain virgins, whereas the Protestant church regarded marriage as perfectly acceptable – providing the wife remained obedient.

Premarital sex was illegal, which is possibly why Shakespeare was so quick to marry Anne Hathaway after she became pregnant. One Tudor method of birth control involved drinking honeysuckle juice for 37 consecutive days. Adultery was also unlawful, as was abortion – a woman faced execution if unable to prove her has died of natural causes. Conversely, barren women were advised to touch the hand of a hanged man in order to improve their chances of becoming pregnant.

Motherhood remained a hazardous affair. Many women, including Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr (two of Henry VIII’s wives), died in childbirth through inadequate medical procedures and poor hygiene at the time of delivery. The traditional regard for the midwife’s abilities declined in the Tudor era due to the growing importance of male physicians, and the midwfe’s skill even became confused with witchcraft. As there was still no satisfactory substitute for breast-feeding, however, the wet-nurse remained an essential part of a newborn baby’s welfare.

Infant mortality was high – one third of all 16th century children died in their first five years. It would seem that being either a mother or an infant in the Tudor age was fraught with difficulty.