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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced the birth of a son today. Source: CC BY 2.0

The Horrific History Of Birthing Royal Babies, And Why Meghan Markle Should Be Grateful

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Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry Instagrammed the world on Monday confirming the royal birth of a 7lbs-3oz baby boy who is seventh in line to the throne.

When a royal baby is born, it is much more than just a public spectacle. No matter what Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ‘want’, what they will inevitably ‘get’ is belligerently hounded; for a royal baby is hot public property. As such, there was much speculation surrounding the birth, that, according to Vanity Fair , included “rumors that she was hiring a  doula,” with Time claiming that “she would give birth at  Frimley Park Hospital  in Surrey.”

Megan Has So, So Much To Be Thankful For

While modern royal babies are born in palaces and residences, the earliest royal babies in Europe were born in damp coastal castles and inland fortresses. The oldest royal Dynasty in Europe, founded in Scotland in AD 834, was followed by Norway in AD 872 and the Danish monarchy is also over 1000 years old having been founded in 935. According to historians at Glamis Castle in Scotland, Princess Margaret was the first royal baby born in Scotland since AD 1600, when she was born at the castle in 1930. Queen Elizabeth II, her sister, was born at her grandparents’, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, home in London in 1926, and Prince Charles was born in 1948 at Buckingham Palace in London. His eldest son, Prince William, was born in a hospital in 1982 and Prince Harry came into the world in 1984.

A waistless maternity dress fits a pregnant woman in late 16th century Elizabethan England. (Public Domain)

A waistless maternity dress fits a pregnant woman in late 16th century Elizabethan England. ( Public Domain )

Speculation and Superstition

Megan Markle’s birthing room may have had notes from family and gifts from friends around its walls, and she may or may not have had chemical assistance during the birth, but she should be happy that all this happened in 2019 and not 2019 BC.

In prehistory, birthing brought with it a host of rituals and deeply engrained superstitions , for example, Ancient Egyptians not only casting spells on the pregnant woman , but the Ebers Papyrus , suggests putting honey soaked with hemp, or a handful of ground corn inside the vagina itself to induce labor.

Ancient Greek mothers-to-be tied a poultices to their thighs to ease the difficulty of labor and it was believed that  having any knots in the delivery room  would magically block the baby's birth.

In England, during Tudor times, in the weeks preceding the arrival of the royal baby the mothers-to-be disappeared from public view as they couldn’t wear restrictive clothing like corsets, and while it is doubtful Markle wears corsets, she has followed in the historical vanishing tradition and according to People “she has made no public appearances as of mid-March.”

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin's fate against the arguments of astrology, by François Maitre, circa 1475-1480. (Public Domain)

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin's fate against the arguments of astrology, by François Maitre, circa 1475-1480. ( Public Domain )

The Horrors Of Royal Babies in Ancient Times

There have been some notable champions in prehistory who attempted to help woman during child birth, but there is probably nobody who did less for birthing than Pliny the Elder. Between AD 23–79 he was a Roman author, natural philosopher, naturalist and a navy/army commander of the early Roman Empire and being a friend of emperor Vespasian he offered advice on childbirth.

He suggested difficult deliveries could be relieved by drinking goose semen mixed with water, and if that wasn’t effective; “pregnant woman should drink the liquid from the uterus of a weasel.” Better still, said Pliny, if it was mixed with a concoction of powdered sow's dung. And, if a woman just wouldn’t let go he reckoned then the fat of a hyena could be burned underneath the mother and child and if all that failed; the placenta of a dog was placed on the woman’s thighs.

Ancient Roman relief carving of a midwife assisting a birth. (CC BY 4.0)

Ancient Roman relief carving of a midwife assisting a birth. ( CC BY 4.0 )

You would think that after centuries of what must have been at time ‘shocking’ and disgrace causing births, people would have learned that this is maybe the most sensitive, dangerous and personal moment in a woman life. But no. This is not the case.

The Time article tells that when rumors spread that King James II and Mary of Modena had a baby who died, and “that they’d snuck in a replacement baby in a warming pan,” this “Fake News” led to the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688. From then, every royal birth had to be witnessed by several government ministers who had to see the umbilical cord being cut. This brutally degrading tradition continued to the 20th century, and right to the birth of Prince Charles [in 1948],  the Home Secretary  had to be on hand for the births.

Queen Mary of Modena with her son, James Francis Edward, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger. (Public Domain)

Queen Mary of Modena with her son, James Francis Edward, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger. ( Public Domain )

No matter what Markle endured giving birth, it must have been a walk in the park compared to what woman endured in history. And above everything the fact that she is alive is a godsend, for in 15th-century Florence women were married as young teenagers often had ten children, if she kept surviving childbirth, and it was  so dangerous  that woman made out their wills as soon as they found out they were pregnant.

Top image: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced the birth of a son today. Source: CC BY 2.0

By Ashley Cowie

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