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Medieval History: Hygiene in the Tudor Era (1485 - 1603)
#Medieval #SeeUinHistory #History
Author: Michelle L. Beer Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 21/05/2021
Catherine of Aragon (r.1509-33) and her sister-in-law Margaret Tudor (r.1503-13) presided as queens over the glittering sixteenth-century courts of England and Scotland, alongside their husbands Henry VIII of England and James IV of Scotland. Although we know a great deal about these two formidable sixteenth-century kings, we understand very little about how their two queens contributed to their reigns. How did these young, foreign women become effective and trusted consorts, and powerful political figures in their own right? This book argues that Catherine and Margaret's performance of queenship combined medieval queenly virtues with the new opportunities for influence and power offered by Renaissance court culture. Royal rituals such as childbirth and the Royal Maundy, courtly spectacles such as tournaments, banquets and diplomatic summits, or practices such as arranged marriages and gift-giving, were all moments when Catherine and Margaret could assert their honour, status and identity as queens. Their husbands' support for their activities at court helped bring them the influence and patronage necessary to pursue their own political goals and obtain favour and rewards for their servants and followers. Situating Catherine and Margaret's careers within the history of the royal courts of England and Scotland and amongst their queenly peers, this book reveals these two queens as intimately connected agents of political influence and dynastic power. MICHELLE BEER is an independent researcher working in Oakland, California.
Rowan Speakman Books
I had decided to draw my Unsung Women of History Theme to a close for a while, until a post on the history of pregnancy and childbirth brought me to the incredible story of Princess Charlotte, and I simply could not resist learning more about her. And as I did, I was continuously amazed by how little she is known of in popular culture. The only legitimate child of the famous Prince Regent of England, and his unfortunate bride Caroline of Brunswick, Charlotte was, for many years, the heir to the British throne. Her colourful character and her calculated disobedience offer up a completely alternate path of history, cut short from existence by a tragic death which was to not only devastate a nation, but have implications for the medical attitudes towards childbirth for decades to come. From her loving relationship with her grandfather George III and her painful position of being torn between her warring parents, to her passionate marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the princess left a lasting impression on everyone in her life, and her death would forever alter the future of the British Royal Family.
Born exactly nine months after her parents’ wedding, Charlotte was the swift product of an exceedingly unhappy union which was to plague her for much of her life. Wishing to secure means of paying off his excessive debts, George, Prince of Wales married Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 the couple were reportedly repulsed by one another, with George spending his wedding night in a drunken stupor on the floor, so aggrieved was he by the nature of his new wife. Ah, the joys of political marriages! Yet somehow, Charlotte was brought into the world, her gender greatly disappointing her father, but sweetly delighting the ailing king, George III. In less than a month, George and Caroline had split to separate quarters of Carlton House, and the prince forbade his wife any control in the bringing up of their daughter, and only permitted her access to her in the company of staff. Whether the horrific extremity of this stemmed from pure resentment, or from hidden reasons as to a desire for Caroline’s lack of influence, we shall never know. Yet many servants would take pity on mother and daughter, and allow them time alone together, even out in public. Despite Charlotte growing into a merry, warm hearted girl, her father showed so little interest that he never noticed such disobedience. Yet strangely, once Caroline had left Carlton House, the regent allowed her more access to Charlotte. But the young princess was to have another disruption in 1805, when she was essentially thrown out of her childhood home into a lodge on the grounds, so that her father could enjoy the place for himself. Charlotte was separated from her beloved governess, Lady Elgin, and was reduced to a life with merely paid company. But her rebellious nature was beginning to bloom, most likely out of a mixture of inherent mischieviousness, and understandable resentment Charlotte enjoyed a tomboyish friendship with George Keppel, the grandson of her new governess, and was most intent upon taking the nature of her education into her own hands. The prince and princess’ lack of intimacy obviously resulted in no male heir arriving, making Charlotte the heir presumptive therefore she was educated in Latin, French, History and in the virtues of religion by the Bishop of Exeter himself. Yet the princess strived to be accomplished and learned also in fine music and literature, and showed a great personal interest in the technicalities of law and politics, suggestive of a preparation for a burden of responsibility, despite her playful, hot tempered nature.An 1801 painting of Princess Charlotte, and her unfortunate mother, Caroline of Brunswick.
And this temperament was beginning to be noticed by the court, who commented on her informal manner and inappropriate dress as she progressed into her adolescence. In many ways, she was interestingly akin to Princess Margaret, late Countess of Snowdon, had her place with her sister been switched and she been the heir… In 1811, the Prince of Wales was officially appointed regent, due to his father’s ever worsening mental decline. The latter greatly saddened Charlotte, who despite her fieriness, had a big heart, and adored her grandfather. Naturally, the princess’ interest in politics deepened with her father’s regency, along with her fervent support of the Whigs she even requested a copy of his speech to parliament in 1811, so that she might better understand the political technicalities of a regency rule. However, George curtailed her movements even further, greatly restricting her finances to an extent which prohibited her from conducting herself publicly as a princess ought to. The bored and frustrated young Charlotte, hurt by her father’s continual dismissal of her, began to embark on a series of romances. Firstly, with her first cousin, the bastard George FitzClarence, and more ardently with Lieutenant Charles Hesse, the latter relationship even being encouraged by her mother, who permitted the pair time alone together. Indeed, most of the family were relaxed about Charlotte’s amorous escapades, so put out were they by her father’s treatment of her. However by 1813, George had his eyes set on Prince William of Orange as a suitable match for his passionate daughter unfortunately the prince made a less than favourable impression, getting exceedingly drunk with the regent during his first meeting with his intended. The princess herself deeply resented the whole idea, being averse to having to leave Britain, and surrender her powers as queen to a foreign prince. Her debate was one struggled with by many female monarchs on one hand, a marriage made allies and produced heirs, but for a woman, it also meant relinquishment of power, and the risks of childbed. When George first afforded her a meeting alone with William, she emerged from the room in tears at the idea of following him around Europe, and at her family desiring to send her away. Nevertheless, she grew more accustomed to the prince, and a marriage contract was drawn up in 1814, including firmly the terms stating that Charlotte would not be forced to leave her home country.
Charlotte may have allowed a ring on her finger, but the passionate princess was still not set on walking down the aisle, at least not to William of Orange. She was infatuated with a Prussian prince, whose concrete identity escapes historical records, and also considered a certain young man she had met in a stairwell, ironically after explaining to the Emperor of Russia why she had broken off her engagement. Yes, in a fashion rarely seen with young women of such status, Charlotte herself cut William off amicably after he refused to grant her mother access into their marital home. Charlotte had spent her childhood being unexpectedly and routinely parted from her mother, and she would not spend her adulthood in a similar state. Various trusted friendships such as those enjoyed with the likes of Priscilla Wellesley Pole and Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, suggest that female solidarity was extremely important to the princess, and she would not be denied it even after she was married. Her enraged father ordered her to retire to a lodge at Westminster, but Princess Charlotte, quite literally, ran away. She took off into the street, hopped into a cab and travelled to her mother’s home however on the advice of Whig politicians, who were sympathetic to her situation, she was advised to retire to Windsor and bide her time. There was much public discussion about her flight, with most of the public opposing the regent and favouring the future queen. Perhaps these attitudes were reflective of a time in society where women were demanding more control over whom they married. Hurt when her mother journeyed to the continent without consulting her, the princess was allowed a holiday to Weymouth, in which she arrived to cheering crowds. Although for a while she remained set on obtaining the hand of her Prussian prince, the latter’s engagement to another soon shifted her attention back to the pleasant, but lowly prince who had met her on a stairwell, and accompanied her to her carriage. Prince Leopold had promised to come visit the princess, and had written an impressive letter to her father apologising for any indecency associated with the occasion. But Leopold could not offer enough money for George to accept his courtship however, by 1815, Charlotte’s heart was set on ‘Leo’, as she had begun to call him. She contacted him again, but he was away with his regiment on the continent for some time by summer, she requested her father’s permission to marry Leopold, and was refused. Yet her persistence and patience were to finally pay off in early 1816, when the regent, tired of the dramas surrounding his daughter’s marriage prospects, gave in, and invited Leopold to Brighton.
A dinner was held for the three of them, during which George gave his intended son-in-law a thorough inspection, and determined that he was the sort to make his wife happy not that George himself seemed to be any expert on the matter. Charlotte was overjoyed, remarking that she had never slept so happily as the night after the dinner, and that she believed she would enjoy a marriage of happiness unusual for women of her background. And thus, Charlotte had won a battle most princess’ lost. The couple’s engagement was soon announced, and Claremont House purchased for their residence. A few months of limited contact were endured, before the wedding took place at the beginning of May. Vast crowds blocked the passage to the ceremony, so popular was their union. Charlotte’s wedding dress, as well as costing around ten thousand pounds, sounds absolutely stunning, and very in keeping with her unique and modern attitudes a white silk underlayer was covered in a transparent gown, decorated with seashells and bouquets. Rosebuds and diamonds completed the outfit, and overall the wedding was an equally successful and happy affair. Despite a location filled with odorous animals, the couple’s honeymoon cemented them as a pair besotted Charlotte described her new husband as ‘perfection of a lover’, and he stated that they ‘were together always, and we could be together, and we did not tire.’ Leopold’s collected, gentle personality had a calming effect on the fiery princess, with Charlotte dubbing him ‘doucement’, after his affectionate reassurances that she should do things more ‘gently’. The pair adored the quiet of the gardens at their estate, even preferring this over the extravaganza the regent threw for Charlotte’s twenty-first. Charlotte and her new husband arrived back on the London social scene to thunderous welcome after their honeymoon, giving the monarchy a much needed popularity boost. The only blight to their happiness were the miscarriages the princess suffered, but in April of 1817, the couple informed the George that Charlotte was once again pregnant, with a child that could be the future ruler of Britain.
No doubt due to the outcome of her previous pregnancies, Charlotte’s life was a quiet one from then onwards, and she used her time of rest to sit for several portraits, one of which was to commemorate the Order of St. Catherine she had received from the Empress of Russia. Several prominent doctors were hired to attend the princess, but the man upon whom the greatest trust was placed was the accoucheur, Sir Richard Croft. One of the first, and most fateful outlooks he developed, was that Charlotte’s appetite was too great, and he thus implemented a strict diet. The child was due in October, but she did not go into labour until the third of November the contractions lasted for two long days, and Leopold remained constantly by his wife’s side throughout. When the princess’ child still hadn’t arrived by the fifth, an obstetrician was called for, but Croft did not permit him entry, nor would he use forceps to remove what was by now perceived to be, a deceased infant. In the evening, Charlotte gave birth to a very large stillborn boy, who was remarked to be the most beautiful child. Saddened though they were, Charlotte and Leopold believed they were out of the woods, and the exhausted prince went to bed having taken heavy opiates, believing his wife to be safe. But in the middle of the night, the princess began to vomit heavily, her bleeding increasing as she struggled for breath. Her husband could not be roused in time, and when he reached her room, Charlotte was dead. The whole country fell into a deep mourning, the streets covered in black banners as they grieved the princess on an almost personal level. The regent was so hysterically distraught that he was unable to attend the funeral, held at Windsor Castle soon after. His reaction, although in keeping with his personality, reveals a lot about the true feelings he had for his daughter, which sadly, came too late in their exposure. Even on the continent, Charlotte’s death was felt keenly her mother Caroline fainted on the spot, and the Prince of Orange, a man she had once refused, broke down in tears at the news. The country’s anger turned upon Croft, and he was greatly criticised for his refusal to use forceps to attempt to save the princess. The royal family supported Croft against these allegations, but sadly the man killed himself three months later, meaning that the tragedy had overall claimed three lives. Charlotte’s cause of death remains to this day unknown, with some blaming infection, some haemorrhaging, and some porphyria. Yet it is hard to argue that had the princess not been starved for days prior to her childbirth, she may have had the strength to push the baby out sooner.The tomb of Princess Charlotte was befitting of a princess who was much loved by the people.
Prince Leopold was utterly devastated at the loss of his beloved, spirited wife. He would spend hours in her rooms, and left everything as it was for some time even clothes thrown messily to the side by her were not picked up. One observer commented that it was as if ‘he had lost his heart.’ As he clutched his dead wife’s hand, he was reported to have wept, ‘those beautiful hands, which at the last while she was talking to others, seemed always to be looking out for mine.’ He remarried only in 1832 upon becoming King of Belgium, but never found again the intense love he had experienced in his short marriage to Charlotte. A great monument was erected in her honour next to her tomb, in which also rested her baby boy. And with the succession in a crisis, the regent’s brother, Prince Edward, took Leopold’s sister as his wife the next year, Princess Victoria was born to them. In a rather lovely and fitting way, she often looked to Leopold for advice, and he was instrumental in negotiating the match between the young queen and her beloved Prince Albert sadly, she too would lose the person she loved at an untimely age.
While the story of Princess Charlotte is ultimately a tragic one, so many facets of her life were those she was victorious in. In a time which expected subservience and often silence from women, Charlotte remained colourful, outspoken and utterly unafraid to reveal her true character. Her fiery temper it would seem, hid a large heart, often thwarted by the continual struggle between her parents, and the crisis the monarchy faced. Yet Charlotte remained determined to strive to become queen one day, and to control her life in a similar queenly manner. To paraphrase a quote from the princess, she wanted a man devoted to her, not her family nor the government. She was well aware of the realities of the time, and yet she stood her ground for what she wanted, and the sort of queen she wished to become. How different British history would have been had she lived! And regardless of how successful her reign would have been, or would have not been, I am certain that she would have been remembered as one of the country’s most fascinating monarchs. Her death at such a young, exciting age, remains a tragedy, but her life was undoubtedly an epic of passion, ambition, struggle and promise, that was cut short far too soon.The mausoleum Leopold had built for Charlotte at Claremont House.