On the 19th of July 1553, Mary Tudor was declared Queen of England. From that moment (and obviously prior to it) she understood the importance of having an heir. For if she did not produce an heir her sister Elizabeth would keep England Protestant. It was very important for Mary to return England to Rome and resume the Catholic faith to her country.
It wasn’t until the 25th of July 1554, that Mary and Philip were married. Her biological clock was already ticking – Mary was born in 1516, making her thirty-eight years old by the time she was married. Not impossible for a woman of that age to conceive a child but surely she understood it would be an uphill battle. I feel Mary was optimistic that God would grace her with a son, especially if she returned England to the Catholic faith…and Rome.
By September 1554, Mary believed herself pregnant for the first time. At this point in history, medical advances were minimal and doctors were unable to tell the difference between a false pregnancy and a real one. They also believed that Mary was with child. The only way to know if the pregnancy was real is if it produced a child, and if it was false, well time would tell. Mary had even claimed that by the end of the month that she felt the baby move in her womb. How was anyone to know that this was a false pregnancy?
Even Mary’s father-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V was reporting the Queen’s pregnancy in a letter he wrote to Francisco de Eraso (a prominent secretary of his) he is quoted as saying: “she is now considered certainly to be with child and that people in general are pleased with the King and all…”¹
A couple of days later, Charles V writes to his son Philip saying, ” I only wish to say how overjoyed I am to hear of the condition of the Queen, my good daughter, and that there is hope that God will give us successors by her. She had no need to excuse herself for not writing in her own hand, for my desire is that she should be careful of her health and take things easily, especially in her present condition.”¹
Hopes were high that an heir was near. This news was as important to England as it was to Spain. Philip was the heir to his father, Charles V and to have a son was indeed a top priority for Spain as well.
The pressures of producing an heir for Mary were so great that it may have assisted in the creation of the false pregnancy, or, as some have speculated, Mary may have been suffering from an ailment. Possibly ovarian cancer. Which at the time doctors/physicians would not be necessarily aware of.
In November (6th) 1554, the Spanish ambassador reported to the Emperor that, “There is no doubt that the Queen is with child, for her stomach clearly shows it and her dresses no longer fit her.”³
Written November 14, 1554 – Luis Vanegas to Charles V: “The Queen is in excellent health and three months with child. She is fatter and has a better colour than when she was married, a sign that she is happier, and indeed she is said to be very happy.”.³
By February 1555, Philip wished to travel to Spain to speak with his father (Charles V) – the Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard reported in a letter to the Emperor that the Queen was very melancholy “these last three days, because she had heard that the King wished to visit your Majesty before her confinement.”
As per custom of the time, Mary would be required to go into confinement six weeks before the birth – she had believed the child would arrive in May, so preparations began in April. At the time it was considered improper for any men, other than the husband, to attend the Queen this late into her pregnancy. By the middle of April preparations were complete.8 Mary’s doctors became nervous regarding their responsibility involved in the birth of the child. Privately they were pessimistic for a positive outcome. Mary was older and her mental state was unstable. It appears that her appetite had decreased so much so that the doctors worried the child was not receiving the nutrition it needed to survive.
On 30 April 1555, there was a similar rejoicing over the birth of a royal infant: bells rang, bonfires were lit and there were celebrations in the street, following news that Mary I had given birth to a healthy son.6
Another letter written by the Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard to Charles V on the 5th of May 1555 states, “A few days ago there was a rumour that the Queen had given birth to a child, whereupon the people of London and several other places held great rejoicings, with bonfires, true evidence of joy. It is said that the same thing happened when the late King Edward was born.”²
On 8 May 1555, Ruy Gómez de Silva (Portuguese noble) sent a message to Francisco de Eraso (a prominent secretary of Charles V) that stated, “Your letter of 6 May written from Antwerp reached me this morning and told me about the false news that had arrived there of the Queen’s deliverance. I am writing to Spain with a messenger who is going over-land, excusing you for sending the tidings and explaining how it happened. As I have already said, the same false news were circulating here in London.”²
By June there was still no news of a royal baby and before they knew it it was July and still no child had arrived. Mary had convinced everyone that her timing was off and that a child was near.6 The Queen issued a statement that God would not allow her child to be born until all the Protestant dissenters were punished, beginning another round of executions.6
Mary had clung to hope much longer than her doctors, and many around her amused her by holding out hope for a child, but behind her back pitied her for her delusions. It seems everyone understood there would be no child except for Mary. But was she really that delusional? I find it hard to believe that she, at this point, hadn’t figured it out. Yes, the symptoms she showed would indicate a pregnancy but it had not progressed to the point of labor.9
By the time July came around hopes were certainly dashed of a child ever being born. Simon Renard wrote Charles V -“the Queen’s deliverance is delayed and it is doubted whether she is really with child, although outward signs are good and she asserts that she is indeed pregnant.”4
During many false pregnancy rumors there included some that she was never pregnant at all and that the fetus had been a pet monkey or a lap dog. There were also rumors of a plot to pass along another’s baby as the queen’s own – they said that Lord North was the agent to try to procure a suitable child.6
On August 13, 1555 – Philip Nigri to Jehan Carette, President of the Emperor’s Court of Accounts – “We still have hopes that a child will be born to England by the end of this month. We shall see what God sends us. . . .”5
In August, the 11th month of her false pregnancy, Mary emerged from her confinement chamber at last. She was impossibly thin, utterly silent and completely humiliated. No word of her “pregnancy” was mentioned at court again, at least officially.6
In the end, it is believed that Mary suffered from pseudocyesis, which is sometimes called a “phantom pregnancy.” It is still something today that is not completely understood and appears that between one and six out of every 22,000 pregnancies turn out to be phantom, or false.10 It just so happens that Queen Mary I became one of those stats.
It has been said that from youth Mary suffered from a retention of her menstrual fluids along with a “strangulation of her womb”. This time, her body had swelled to give the appearance of pregnancy and her breast had enlarged and even sent out milk.11 All pointed towards pregnancy.
Mary’s midwife and an old maid who attended her since childhood were both pessimistic of the pregnancy being real – they had been there in the past when she suffered so greatly from menstrual pains and now, several times a day, the Queen spent long hours sitting on the floor, with her knees drawn up to her chin.11 If this account is true then they indeed had predicted correctly. They were women as well, they understood that a pregnant women (in most instances) would be unable to draw her knees up to her chin. It would be nearly impossible.
If we look at the symptoms that Mary had and compare them to those of ovarian cancer you’ll see the similarities.
Mary’s symptoms: Lack of menstrual bleeding, swollen and tender breasts which sent out milk, her body swelled.
Some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer that also coincide with Mary’s pregnancy include: Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, fatigue, back pain, changes in menstrual cycle, abdominal swelling.12
Again, towards the end of her life Mary thought she was with child. This time it seemed highly unlikely from the get-go because Philip had been away at the estimated time of conception. This was again a phantom pregnancy and Mary would die without an heir to her Catholic throne.
¹ http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp71-76 ‘Spain: October 1554, 16-31’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1954), pp. 71-76. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp71-76 [accessed 17 May 2016].
² http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp168-170 ‘Spain: May 1555, 1-10’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1954), pp. 168-170. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp168-170 [accessed 13 May 2016].
³ http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp76-95 ‘Spain: November 1554, 1-15’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1954), pp. 76-95. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp76-95 [accessed 17 May 2016].
4 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp226-239 ‘Spain: July 1555’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1954), pp. 226-239. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp226-239 [accessed 13 May 2016].
5 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp239-249 ‘Spain: August 1555’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1954), pp. 239-249. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol13/pp239-249 [accessed 13 May 2016].
8 Weir, Alison; The Children of Henry VIII (Children of England)
9 The History of Mary I, Queen of England as found in Public Records, page 350; https://archive.org/stream/historymaryique00stongoog#page/n420/mode/2up
11 Starkey, David; Elizabeth – The Struggle for the Throne