Category: Death and mourning

Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings

By , June 21, 2010 9:18 am

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Introduction

Queen Anne, the younger of James II’s surviving daughters from his marriage to Lady Anne Hyde, was born at St. James’ Palace in London on 6th February 1665.

Most unusually for Stuart and Hanoverian royal children, their parents were not related to each other.

The clandestine marriage between the then Duke of York and the Chancellor’s daughter produced 8 children, but 6 died in infancy.

Anne and her older sister Mary were the only two children to grow to adulthood.

Queen Anne in 1705

Queen Anne in 1705, aged 40

Medieval and early modern statistics on pregnancy and infant mortality tend to make any modern mother wince and be grateful for health care and antibiotics.

But Anne was particularly unfortunate, and her obstetric history was a real tragedy.
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Accession to the throne

Anne’s older sister took the throne as Mary II in 1689 after their father, James II, was deemed to have abdicated during the Glorious Revolution.

Queen Mary ruled as joint monarch with her husband, William, Prince of Orange.

Queen Mary II married William of Orange, her first cousin, when she was only 15 years old, in an arranged marriage.

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Mary was pregnant 3 times, and suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth.

King William III and Queen Mary II reigned jointly until Mary’s death from smallpox on 28nd December 1694. William of Orange then ruled alone until his own death on 8th March 1702.

As William and Mary had no children, Anne inherited the throne.
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Queen Anne’s Marriage

When she was 18 years old, in July 1683, Anne married her second cousin, Prince George of Denmark.

George was suitably protestant, which was essential given the dislike and fear of Catholics which still prevailed in the country. George was not a member of the Church of England, and never became one – he was a Lutheran.

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

The marriage was arranged by Anne’s uncle, Charles II (Anne’s father’s older brother).

George was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and considered fairly good-looking. He was also monumentally dull, and not over-blessed with brains.

Charles II said of him after the marriage, I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober; and there is nothing in him.

George also suffered from asthma, and a contemporary said that his heavy breathing was the only thing which confirmed he was alive.

Anne herself was not particularly attractive (see the portraits on this page and judge for yourself).

Both George and Anne ate and drank with enthusiasm, and became extremely large.

George and Anne’s marriage appears to have been a happy one, despite the frequent tragedies. When George died in 1708, Anne mourned him sincerely and deeply.
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Queen Anne’s Pregnancies, Miscarriages and Stillbirths

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Different sources quote different numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths, as the line between one and the other is not always clear.

What does appear to be the case is that Queen Anne was pregnant 17 or 18 times, with 18 or 19 children, between the ages of 18 and 34.

1. Stillborn daughter, 12th May 1684

2. Mary, 2nd June 1685

3. Anne Sophia, 12th May 1686

4. Miscarriage, January 1687

5. Stillborn son, 22nd October 1687

6. Miscarriage, 16th April 1688

7.  William, Duke of Gloucester 24th July 1689

8. Mary, 14th October 1690

9. George, 17th April 1692

10. Stillborn daughter, 23th April 1693

11. Stillborn child, 21st January 1694, about 7 months gestation, and a 3 month foetus (dead twin)

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

12. Stillborn daughter, 18th February 1696

13. Miscarriage, 20th September 1696

14. Stillborn daughter, 25th March 1697

15. Miscarriage, December 1697

16. Charles, 15th September 1698

17. Stillborn daughter, 25th January 1700

There was also another probable miscarriage in 1688.
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Queen Anne’s Children

As can be seen from the list above, Queen Anne gave birth to 6 living children.

Of those 6, the 3 born in the 1690s, Mary, George and Charles, all died within 24 hours of birth.

Mary and Anne Sophia, born in 1685 and 1686, were healthy girls. They both died of smallpox in February 1687, within a few hours of each other.

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

William, born on 24th July 1689, was the only one of Queen Anne’s children to survive infancy.

A British Medical Journal Article from 1982, For the want of an heir: the obstetrical history of Queen Anne states that he suffered from a mild form of hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.

The article is available online at the BMJ free, although you must register to read it.

This is based partly on portraits (see to the right, for example) and partly on medical descriptions of the boy when he was alive.

William had a large head, and had some trouble learning to walk. He was not a particularly healthy child. He was of normal intelligence and development otherwise, though.

At the age of 11, William caught a fever and possibly pneumonia as a result, and died on 30th July 1700.
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What was the Cause of Queen Anne’s Tragedy?

There is little doubt that, even by the standards of the worst maternal care and infant mortality, Queen Anne and Prince George were desperately unlucky.

The couple produced only 3 healthy children out of 18 or 19 in total. The fact that none of those three lived to adulthood is not attributable to any obvious cause – the girls were in perfect health until they died of smallpox, which was a common and deadly illness – Queen Mary II,  the girls’ maternal aunt, died of it too.

 Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William may have been sickly as a small child, and certainly had an odd head, but neither seemed to kill him; rather, it was the result of a fever and pneumonia, which could and did kill many children at the time.

The 14 or 15 children who were miscarried late, stillborn, or died very shortly after birth does seem to suggest a problem, however. It is a statistically significant number.

There are two explanations often given. The first is that Queen Anne was Rhesus factor negative, and Prince George was rhesus factor positive.  If that was the case, then after the first rhesus positive baby, Anne’s body would have been inclined to reject rhesus positive babies, leading to the large number of ante-natal and short-lived deaths.

The BMJ article referred to above suggests that Queen Anne may have suffered from the auto-immune disease disseminated lupus erythematosus. The article refers to the severe gout she is said to have suffered from the age of 33 (rare in pre-menopausal women), the face rashes she had at the same time as the gout attacks, the dropsy (oedema) she suffered from periodically, and the eye problems she had from the age of 5.

Lupus is also strongly associated with increased and increasing difficulty in carrying healthy children to term in pregnancy.

Queen Anne was also massively obese from the age of about 30, which is not helpful for healthy pregnancies either.
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Lack of Heirs and the Hanovers

Whatever the reasons, Queen Anne’s childbearing and pregnancies must have been almost unbearable for both her and her husband.

It caused problems for the country, too. After Queen Anne’s death at the age of 49, the House of Stuart was extinct, and the throne passed to the Hanover Kings – George I, George II, George III, George IV, and William IV.

Taken as a group, the Hanoverian royals were dull, boring, not intelligent,badly educated, often illiterate, and prone to wasting absolutely huge sums of money and running up enormous debts.

As the childhood rhyme has it:

Of all the Georges, George the First

Is said by most to be the worst

But then again, by some t’is reckoned,

Even worse was George the Second

But of the three, so I have heard,

The greatest fool was George the third

When George the Fourth to hell descended

Thank the Lord the Georges ended!

There are many different versions of this poem – this one is my Dad’s favourite take on it. The original was, I believe, by Thackeray:

George the First most vile was reckoned;

Viler still was George the Second ;

And what mortal ever heard

Any good of George the Third ?

When George the Fourth to hell descended,

God be praised! the Georges ended!
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Oldest English Royal Bones – Queen Ædgyth’s 1000 year old Skeleton

A Thousand Year Old Royal Skeleton

The oldest bones which are confirmed as being those of an English royal have been identified this week.

The skeleton uncovered in January 2008 in Magdeburg Cathedral was thought to be Queen Ædgyth’s, and the coffin was labelled as such, but it had been moved more than once, and confusion was entirely possible.

Scientific tests confirmed that the skeleton was indeedthe Saxon Princess, Ædgyth’s, bones.

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral


This article is about Ædgyth / Eadgyth / Edith, who she was, her life and times, and the tests which confirmed her remains were definitely the earliest-known royal bones from an English house.

Ædgyth’s Ancestry and Family

Ædgyth was the daughter of the Saxon King, Edward the Elder, and granddaughter of the best-known Saxon King, Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871AD to 899, and the only King in England or Britain to be accorded the suffix “the great”.

Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucil, who was from what is now Lincolnshire. Alfred and Ealhswith had at least 5 children, including Æthelflæd, who became Queen of Mercia, and Edward, Ædgyth’s father.

King Edward the Elder was the second child and oldest son of Alfred and Ealhswith. He was born between about 847 and 877. He became King of Wessex, and King of the Saxons, after Alfred died in 899.

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Edward married three times, and had at least 16 children. His first wife (who might have been more mistress than wife) was supplanted by 901 by Ædgyth’s mother, Ælfflæd (also written as Elfleda), daughter of Æthelhelm, ealdorman of Wiltshire.

Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda had 6 daughters, one of them Ædgyth, and two sons. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was born in about 910.

William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesiae, written in the early 12th century, suggests that the marriage of Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda ended in divorce, and that Ælfflæd / Elfleda was still alive after Edward the Elder’s death.  This may or may not be the case, and is not mentioned in sources before the Norman Conquest.

Whether because of death or divorce, Edward the Elder remarried in about 919. His third wife was Eadgifu, the daughter of Sigehelm, the ealdorman of Kent.

King Edward the Elder died in 924, when his daughter Ædgyth was about 14 years old, and was succeeded by Athelstan the Glorious (also known as Æthelstan), Edward’s son by his first marriage.

King Athelstan the Glorious is usually said to be the first King of England.

Ædgyth’s Marriage

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

In about 928, an ambassador arrived at the English Royal Court, seeking a bride for Otto, son of King Henry I of Germany.

King Athelstan sent two of his half sisters on approval Otto, Duke of Saxony was given the option of either, and chose to marry Ædgyth, and their marriage took place in 929.

Otto, who was born in 912, was the  son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda of Ringelheim. In 936, Otto’s father died, and Otto became King of the Saxons, also known as King of Germany.

An ambitious and successful man, Otto also later became the Holy Roman Emperor, and claimed the title of King of Italy, too. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was anointed as Queen in 936, upon the accession of her husband.

Otto and Ædgyth founded a Benedictine monastery, known as the Monastery of St Maurice Magdeburg in 937.

The couple had two children who lived past infanthood, a son, Liudolf, and a daughter, Liutgarde.


What was Ædgyth like?

Sources from the German royal courts give some details of Ædgyth. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a literate nun and poet, wrote that was calm and sincere, and “she was so very highly regarded in her own country that public opinion unanimously rated her the best woman who existed at that time in England”.

Of her death, Hrotsvit wrote:

the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief -a foreign race that she had come to cherish with kindness. Their dearly beloved mistress was thus entrusted to the earth, to lie in the tomb until she could rise again.

Ædgyth’s death and burial

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth died in January 946, aged 35 or 36.  Her death was apparently sudden, not preceded by lengthy illness.

Ædgyth was buried, and her bones (and those of her husband, Otto, who was later buried with her) were buried in the monastery of St. Maurice, that they had founded. The skeletons were  moved at least three times.

In 1510, a memorial was built King Otto and Queen Ædgyth  in Magdeburg Cathedral. It was long thought that this was a memorial only. In 2008, however, the tomb was opened.

A coffin within was labelled EDIT REGINE CINERES HIC SARCOPHAGVS HABET which, translated, says, The remains of Queen Edith are in this sarcophagus.

When opened, the coffin contained a skeleton, laid sideways in the coffin, bent at the knees, and covered in a silk shroud. Parts of the skeleton were missing, including bones from the hands and feet, and part of the skull.

Scientific Tests on the Bones and Teeth

Examination of the Bones

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Anthropological examination of the bones undertaken in Mainz confirmed that the skeleton was that of a woman aged between 30 and 40 at the time of her death.

The femurs showed that the woman was a frequent rider, which pointed to her being a member of the nobility.

The bones also suggested that the woman had suffered either from serious illness or an eating disorder as a 9 or  10 year old child, which was the age at which Queen Ædgyth’s mother either died or was divorced by Ædgyth’s father.

Further tests on the molecular make-up of the bones suggested that the woman had eaten a high protein diet, including a lot of fish, which also suggested a wealthy upbringing.

Tests on the teeth

Deposits in the enamel of teeth can tell a lot of detail about where a person lived from birth until the age of 14. Isotopes of strontium and oxygen are mineralised in teeth as a person grows, and the precise nature of these mineral deposits depends on the geology of the area where the person lives.

The isotopes in the skeleton’s upper teeth showed that the woman had not been brought up in Magdeburg, or Germany. Instead, the isotopes pointed definitively to the chalk uplands of southern England. They also showed that until the age of 9, the woman had moved regularly between different parts of south England, but that after the age of 9, she had lived in one place until she was about 14.

The results are entirely consistent with what is known of Queen Ædgyth’s childhood and upbringing.

You can read about the University of Bristol’s scientific tests here.

Dead photos – Victorian post-mortem photographs

By , October 16, 2009 1:26 am

Death, in Victorian England, was a grand and complicated business. There were many social rules in the classes who could afford it about mourning clothes, degrees of morning, and the length of time for which different mourning colours were to be worn.

A widow, for example, wore “deep mourning” (non-reflective black) for a year, including a full veil if she went outside. She then wore any colour black for another 9 months, then light mourning (including grey and purple) for another 3 to 6 months.

There was also a common custom, which seems distinctly odd today, of having photographs taken of the dead – sometimes on their own, sometimes in posed family groups, but all post-mortem photos.

In some cases, especially with children, there might well have been no other photographs for the family to keep. Photographs were expensive, and complicated to take and arrange, and therefore most people didn’t have them done frequently. The death of a baby or child therefore often meant that the family had no photograph of the person at all, or no photograph taken with children born later than the one who had died.

But in other cases, it was part of a morbid fascination with death – the kind of behaviour that saw Queen Victoria go into black widow’s clothes for 4 decades, from the time of her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1860 until she died herself in 1901. Thus the photographs showing a young mother’s children draped over her grave or tombstone, for example.

Some of these dead photos featured the person lying down, as if asleep. In others, the person was propped up, and even had his eyes painted in after the photo was taken. In these cases, the only way you can be sure which person is definitely dead is by noting that the face is very clear – the long exposures needed meant that living people tended to blur, slightly.

There were similar photographs taken in other countries, of course- but the examples below (all out of copyright owing to their age) are English ones.

Dead child with siblings in attendance. Note the slight blur on the standing children owing to the long exposure

Dead man photographed in Sheffield, Yorkshire

Mother, father, three living children, two dead children

Mother, father, three living children, two dead children

Parents and dead teenage girl

Parents and dead teenage girl

Laid out before burial

Laid out before burial

Young girl posed on a rock after death

Young girl posed on a rock after death

Victorian post-mortem photograph of a girl standing (propped up) with living relatives

Victorian post-mortem photograph of a girl standing (propped up) with living relatives

Victorian post-mortem photograph showing brothers

Victorian post-mortem photograph showing brothers

Victorian post-mortem photograph of a young girl

Victorian post-mortem photograph of a young girl

Post mortem photograph of a young girl, taken in Tonbridge, Kent

Post mortem photograph of a young girl, taken in Tonbridge, Kent

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