Today is the anniversary of the birth of Prince Edward to Queen Jane Seymour at Hampton Court Palace.
Here is an excerpt from my first book, my re-telling of the scene of his birth. I hope you enjoy it.
‘A thick piece of wood was found for the Queen to bite down on. It was placed between her teeth, but her exhaustion meant that she hardly had the energy to even notice it was there.
The doctor tried to explain to her what was about to happen, but her delirium prevented her from understanding fully.
More ladies were called in to help, two to hold onto each limb and hold Jane in place as the cut was made. It was imperative that she was kept as still as possible.
Mary sat by her stepmother’s face, whispering prayers and support, while patting her face with a cooled cloth. She did not think that Jane knew much about where she was or what was happening.
Two barber surgeons were standing with Doctor Butts at the end of the bed, talking with midwives. The women were not happy about the Queen being cut.
“It is not right!”
“It must be done.”
“You cannot cut her open, it is not God’s way!”
“We have no choice.”
“She will die!”
“She will die if we do not get the baby out.”
Mary heard the voices as they argued.
“For God’s sake! The King has said this is to be done. Let us just get it done with, now!” shouted Mary at the group.
Shocked faces turned to her.
“I do not want to see her suffering like this for any longer than she needs to,” Mary explained. “Let us help her to deliver and help her to recover as quickly as we can.”
Butts nodded and moved to the bed.
“Does everyone have a secure hold on her, she must be kept as still as we can?” he said.
A murmur of assent came from the ladies around the bed.
The doctor whispered a prayer and crossed himself, then took position at her abdomen. Picking up the sharpest knife, he held it in the candle flame for a few minutes to heat it. Mary could see the shake in his hand and the quickening of his breathing.
The nervousness of everyone in the room was palpable. Mary started whispering her Hail Mary under her breath.
With a deep breath, the surgeon took the knife from Butts and placed it on the Queen’s belly. The heat seemed to rouse her a little and she started to squirm.
“Hold her still!” he ordered sharply.
Mary wanted to close her eyes but she could not tear her gaze away from that knife as it was pressed into the skin.
Blood started to squirt from the wound and the surgeon quickly drew the blade across the swollen belly.
The Queen had realised what was happening with the searing pain and had begun to scream anew. She seemed to have gained a second wind and shouted and pulled with all her might. The ladies had great trouble holding her steady and many of them were in tears. The room was full of various prayers being said aloud.
Mary felt sick as she watched the blood pouring from her stepmother’s belly. Cloths were being used to mop up as much as possible as the surgeon plunged his hands through the hole he had made there.
Within a few minutes, which seemed so much longer, the surgeon pulled the baby through the cut, head first.
There was a cheer as it was seen that it was a boy, which quickly silenced as it was realised that he looked quite blue.
There was a sinking feeling in Mary’s heart. Had this been in vain? Was the boy dead?
Quickly the surgeon cut the cord and handed the baby to a midwife, who began patting and rubbing the baby, cleaning the blood from him. She was doing everything that she knew to make him breathe, tipping him upside down, slapping his backside, rubbing his belly.
It felt as though the whole room was holding its breath in anticipation.
Then, when she held him upside down and patted his back, with a cough, a clot of blood came from his mouth onto the floor and he screamed.
Cries of happiness spread through the room.
As this was happening the surgeon had removed as much of the afterbirth that he could, as it had come to pieces inside the Queen. He could not leave the wound open too long to seek out all of it, so he scooped out as much as he could see and started to sew up her belly. He could only hope that she would pass any remaining afterbirth naturally.
She had lost a lot of blood during the operation and was starting to slip into unconsciousness. The surgeon used some hot metal to sear the wound edges and stem the blood flow. The pain from the searing brought her to her senses briefly so he was hopeful that she had not lost too much blood.
She would need to eat plenty of rich meat in the next day or so, to help her body make more blood, he thought to himself.
The sweat dripped from his brow as he quickly used a needle to join the edges of the cut together. He could not think about the fact that he was working on the Queen of England, he had to do his best work to simply save her life.
There was a clamour between the ladies in the room, arguing who would go to tell the King that he had a son.
Mary cleared her throat, bringing a modicum of silence.
“I am the highest ranking lady in this room, aside from the Queen, who is currently unable to speak. Therefore it is my decision who will go to the King. Lady Salisbury, you will go to tell the King, you may take Mary, my sister-in law and Lady Beauchamp with you. The rest of you ladies can help to clean up in here, ready for the King’s arrival.”
Her voice sounded calmer than she felt. She was sat by Jane’s head and could see the paleness and coolness of her skin, due to her losing so much blood. Mary had a sense that her stepmother would not survive this trial, though she did not say this to anyone.
She sat by the Queen’s side and ordered the ladies in their work, cleaning up as much of the spilt blood as they could. A pile of bloodied cloths stood by the door as the King arrived.
Everyone immediately turned and bowed to him, though his eyes were fixed on the cloths.
“My God! I have seen less blood on some battlefields,” he announced.
His gaze moved across to his wife who lay quietly on the bed, slipping in and out of consciousness.
“Is she alive?” he asked.
Mary lifted her head to look at her father. He was quite white in the face.
“She is Sire. Though it has been a great trial for her.”
He crossed the room to the bed. Standing by her, Mary saw a tear in his eye.
“My beautiful wife. You have given me the greatest gift of all. I do not know how I can ever thank you,” he said to Jane.
Her eyes flickered open and she looked up at him with a wan smile.
She opened her mouth as if to speak to him, but did not and slipped back into her tired sleep.’
As I go into the theatre tomorrow to have my own son delivered by caesarean, I will think on this scene and how lucky women of today are, for the healthcare improvements that we have.