The Tudor Society

Catherine of Aragon’s Stillbirth on 31 January 1510 – The Primary Source

Catherine_of_Aragon_with_a_monkey_HorenboutOn this day in history, 31st January 1510, Queen Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a still-born daughter. Although she had lost her baby, Catherine's abdomen stayed rounded and actually began to increase in size, leading her physicians to conclude that she was still pregnant with the twin of the baby she'd lost. This was not true. You can read my article about this over at The Anne Boleyn Files - click here - but I thought it would be interesting to share the primary source here.

Catherine's confesssor, Fray Diego, wrote to Ferdinand II of Aragon, Catherine's father, on 25 May 1510 telling him the whole story:

To his Highness. From Diego Fernandez, Chancellor, 25th of May 1510.
Most high and most powerful Lord,
All the past time I did not dare to write to your Highness of the condition of the Queen my Lady, in order not to annoy her, and because all the physicians deceived themselves until time was the judge of the truth. The last day of January in the morning her Highness brought forth prematurely a daughter, without any other pain except that one knee pained her the night before. This affair was so secret that no one knew it until now, except the King my Lord, two Spanish women, a physician and I. The physician said that her Highness remained pregnant of another child, and it was believed and kept secret.

Her Highness, in order to conceal it, did not guard herself against the cold, and her uterus intumuit so much as never was seen in gravida muliere. Her Highness believed herself to be with child, although she had some doubts. It has pleased our Lord to be her physician in such a way that uterus decrevit, and by his infinite mercy he has again permitted her to be with child. This your Highness is to believe, for it is as true as I am a man. Her Highness denies it to all the world and to the King, but to me she has told it that she is since three months [pregnant], and her Highness told me that uterus suus iam intumescit multum; her Highness cannot deny it, because she is already, by the grace of our Lord, very large, so much so that all the physicians know and affirm it, and a Spanish woman who is in her private chamber told me the same thing from secret signs which they have. I pledge my word to your Highness that it is so, and I hope in God that it has been a beginning to give to your Majesty a hundred grandsons of their Graces my Sovereigns instead of one.

Her Highness is very healthy, and the most beautiful creature in the world, with the greatest gaiety and contentment that ever was. The King my Lord adores her, and her Highness him. Your Highness is bound to give many thanks to our Lord that he gave you two such Christian children in their Graces my Sovereigns, so very wise, learned, and with all the natural perfections above all others. I kiss the royal feet and hands of your Majesty for your confidence. In all that Don Luis Caroz, ambassador of your Highness, shall command me, you will find me a very true servant of your Highness as I am. The interest of my stay in this land after serving God [paper missing] your Highness and the Queen my Lady with very firm and entire faith. The day that your Highnesses shall command that I return to my convent I am quite prepared to go, to pray to God for your persons and royal states, which may our Lord preserve with many more additions of kingdoms and lordships.

From Greenwich, the 25th of May.
The perpetual and humble servant and chaplain of your Highness.
V. Didacus Fernandez.

'Queen Katharine: 1510', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain: Supplement To Volumes 1 and 2, Queen Katherine; Intended Marriage of King Henry VII To Queen Juana, ed. G A Bergenroth (London, 1868), pp. 34-44 [accessed 28 January 2015].

There are 15 comments Go To Comment

  1. V

    Catherine was such a pious woman and wanted so much to give her husband a child, but it amazes me that children even survived birth during this time, and mothers, too. I had no idea that she had six pregnancies. I knew of Mary, but I had no idea that she had so many stillbirths and infant deaths soon after birth (which I guess was fairly common back then). I am wondering if some of those still births and infant deaths were due to some sort of disease that Henry passed on to his wives, since Catherine isn’t the only one who had many children die in the womb or shortly after delivery. I am not sure that I would have liked to live back then always being on your toes to avoid being beheaded if the king (or court) lost favor in you.

  2. c

    The most common explanation for the miscarriages is the blood RH negative factor. If Catherine had blood type A neg or B neg or O neg and Henry had A positive or B positive or O positive than there are much greater chances for miscarriage. Henry did not necessarily have a disease. As to infant deaths – SIDS would be the easiest explanation.

  3. m

    When I gave birth to my first child. During the labour I suddenly became ill with fever. It was group b strep. A simple bacteria that causes it and easily treated with antibiotics. I remember thinking to myself the following day ‘so that was child bed fever back in the day’. The thing with group b strep is that it can be present one day but not the next so it’s pot luck on a day that you give birth. It is also responsible for many still births or to a child exposed to it during a birth gives a newborn higher risk of contracting meningitis. This would also explain the babies that die shortly after birth.

    1. C

      Childbed fever is an infection if the womb usually due to a infected tear from giving birth, not strep b. Jane Seymour most probably died from this shortly after giving birth.

  4. D

    I have read that Henry did not have a disease but a condition of blood or something like the RH factor that let him have one child with a woman but during that first pregnancy she would develop an ‘allergic’ reaction or antibodies that would fight any next pregnancy with Henry. So the first born, which all of his children were, would be the only child from each relationship because of the ‘immunity’ that would develop that would fight any pregnancies after the first. Not attributed to the RH factor but a different condition.

    1. B

      The children are only at risk of dying if mother has O negative blood and father has O positive .
      And children who also had O negative would be ok Mary probably was O negative .
      Katherine of Aragon was much more likely to have had O negative blood , because it was much more prevalent among the people from northern Spain

  5. T

    There is speculation that Henry VIII had “Kell positive” blood type. It will cause such things as all these miscarriages. I think Anne Boelyn may have had RH negative because he first child was OK but no subsequent child. But Catherine’s only surviving child was not her first so that kind of rules out RH negative for her. More indicative of it being Henry’s fault. Yes, children died at a much greater rate back then but I don’t think the times were responsible for all the miscarriages and early baby deaths that Katherine and Anne had. Check out “Kell positive blood type”.

    1. D

      I didn’t know that Mary wasn’t her first birth. And the Kell positive blood type is really interesting! I’m glad to know that.

    2. B

      If Mary had O negative blood like Katherine she would be ok.
      If the children who were miscarried or stillborn had O positive like Henry they would have died because of the Rh disease .

    3. R

      As you state, though only speculation. We don’t actually know if Katherine or Henry had anything rare with their blood. It fits the pattern, but it can’t be proven as we don’t have DNA, cells, blood or anything else we can test. As for blaming Henry, again speculation. There are also theories about a genetic disorder, plus it is not Henry’s fault…it is nature, not his or anyone else’s fault. Would you say to a childless couple today…oh MORE proof its your fault? No. For Henry and Katherine it was sad and distressing and if they had medical problems, even more so. The theories are interesting, but not fact…until we have something to test.

  6. A

    RH factor can effect any and all pregnancies. I am RH negative and required shots to carry my children to term. It is not “an allergy”. It is an autoimmune response to the zygote as a foreign body. The mother’s autoimmune response is triggered and it sends antibodies to destroy it. It does not matter if it is the first, the third or the 30th pregnancy if the father is an RH positive the mother’s body will respond the same way.
    What is likely is a combination of things …. Henry was treated many times for Gonareah(sp) ….. the wound that would not heal could have been Syphalus …. Clamidia is and was very wide spread …. Bacterial Vaginosis is common and untreated can cause miscarriage. There are so many ways in which a woman can miscarry. Even today. A bladder infection can stimulate uterine contractions.
    Infant death was typically due to under development of the lungs due to poor nutrition even among royals. Castles were cold drafty places even in the warmer months. Also, royal mothers did not nurse their own children so royal babies did not receive Colostrum in the first few days of life but full breast milk from a midwife. This is significant because the fats in the Colostrum as well its antibodies are developed by each mother’s body specific to each baby she bears.
    The reasons for the miscarriages and infant deaths are innumerable. We may never the causes.

    1. B

      But there were other royal women like Henry VIII’s grandmother , Elizabeth Woodville , and her mother Jacquetta who had at least a dozen children who survived

    2. R

      Here we go again…Henry had syphilis. No he didn’t. This theory was proven to be nonsense years ago. His wound was from a serious fall. I am sorry that you have RH factor, it must be difficult. I wish you well.

  7. D

    The body ‘launches a response’ or ‘produces antibodies’
    6 of 1/half dozen of the other…
    Allergy: The immune system normally protects the body against harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses. It also reacts to foreign substances called allergens. These are usually harmless and in most people do not cause a problem.In a person with allergies, the immune response is oversensitive. When it recognizes an allergen, the immune system launches a response.

    Autoimmune Response: The white blood cells in the body’s immune system help protect against harmful substances. Examples include bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood and tissue from outside the body. These substances contain antigens. The immune system produces antibodies against these antigens that enable it to destroy these harmful substances.

  8. A

    How about the most obvious. England was a very strange place back then (still is), all the rivalries , backbiting etc. , how about paid off spies present during deliveries, funny things can happen, like treason.
    The RH thing does not pan out at all.
    She should have had her mother and sister help with deliveries and kick out the wet nurses, butlers, butler girlfriends , ladies in waiting, and so on It was a cesspool, I’m shocked any babies and moms survived at all. Geez.

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Catherine of Aragon’s Stillbirth on 31 January 1510 – The Primary Source