This was the start of the do-or-die part of Jane Seymour’s life: today was the day she took to her chamber to await the birth of the child she was carrying. There were strict formalities involved in a Tudor queen’s lying in. Lady Margaret Beaufort, the formidable mother to Henry VII, had assembled the rules and made them part of the fifteenth-century Royal Book, a handbook of court etiquette. Born under these strictures himself, Henry VIII had never even considered contravening his grandmother’s orders.
Approximately four-six weeks before her due date, a Tudor queen would go into confinement. The ritual would begin with a special mass, then a procession to the Queen’s chamber where guests would savor wine and spices and pray for her safe delivery, and finally a procession to the Queen’s bedchamber, which had been carefully fitted out according to the rules (which are set out below). The King and all his men would then leave, and the area would become entirely female until the baby was born.
Her Highness’ pleasure being understood in what chamber she will be delivered in, the same must be hanged with rich Clothe of Arras [precious tapestry woven with gold or silver threads], sides, roof, windows and all, except one window, which must be hanged so as she may have light when it pleaseth her. Then must there be set a Royal Bed, and the floor laid all over and over with carpets, and a cupboard covered with the same suite that the chamber is hanged withal. Also there must be ordained a fair pallet, and all things appertaining therunto, and a rich sparner hanging over the same. And that day that the Queen (in good time) will take her chamber, the Chapel where her Highness will receive and hear Divine Service, must be well and worshipfully arrayed. Also the great chamber must be hanged with rich Arras, with a Cloth and Chair of Estate, and cushions thereto belonging, the place under and about the same being well encarped. Where the Queen (coming from the Chapel with her Lords and Ladies of Estate) may, either standing or sitting, at her pleasure, receive spices and wine. And the next chamber betwixt the Great Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber to be well and worshipfully hanged; which done, two of the greatest estates shall lead her to her chamber, where they shall take their leave of her. Then all the Ladies and Gentlewomen to go in with her, and none to come unto the great chamber but women; and women to be made all manner of officers, as butlers, panters, sewers, etc. and all manner of officers shall bring them all needful things unto the Great Chamber door, and the women officers shall receive it there of them.
I have to wonder how Jane felt right now. She must have seen this pregnancy as potentially divine vindication – or condemnation. And given that her husband had blamed his lack of heirs on the women he’d married, was she worried that he would accuse her of some sort of lack if she gave him a girl?
Ordinances and Regulations for the Royal Household, “As for deliverance of a Queene” page 125