A Sad Story of Royal Obstetrics: Part 2/4

JoAnn Spears is doing a four part series on Queen Anne’s obstetrical history. It’s very fascinating. You can find Part I here. Part III here.

Part Two:  What happened to Queen Anne?

A health history marked by seventeen or eighteen pregnancies and no surviving children staggers the modern mind, but it is only one part of the medical history of Queen Anne the Good.
In terms of childhood health, Anne was probably like she was in so many other ways–middling. She survived smallpox. She suffered from some sort of eye ailment, described as a defluxation, or preponderance of tears. It sounds like a fairly minor problem, but apparently was concerning enough for the child to be sent to France for treatment at a time when travel could be dangerous.
The young adult Anne was healthy enough to marry at the usual age, and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed conjugal relations. Married in 1683, she was pregnant pretty much annually until 1700.
Anne’s obstetrical history is variously reported. It appears her first child, a girl, was stillborn. Her next two children, daughters, were born healthy. Unfortunately, smallpox claimed both daughters within days of each other when they were tots.

Three unsuccessful pregnancies followed. Then, in 1689, William, Duke of Gloucester, was born, and survived.

Baby William, according to medical report and portraiture, had a large head. Possibly, he had hydrocephalus, or fluid in the skull. Nowadays, hydrocephalus can be effectively treated with surgical shunting, but that was not the case in Queen Anne’s day. Brain damage of some kind would be expected.
Some sources describe young William as delicate and backward; others describe him as quite a clever child. He clearly had difficulty with balance, walking, falling down, and getting up. This was attributed by his caregivers to his disproportionate head size. It is worth noting, however, that Anne’s grandfather, Charles I, walked at a very late age, and only after his weak and rickety legs had been braced.
William’s birth was followed by at least ten pregnancies (one with twins), all resulting in miscarriages or stillbirths. Sadly, William of Gloucester eventually died in adolescence of pneumonia, leaving Anne childless.
Around the time Anne’s pregnancies ceased, other physical infirmities began. Gout was one of them. Nowadays gout refers to a specific metabolic problem that affects particular joints. In Anne’s day, it was a catch-all term for pain. Her ‘gout’ sounds more to modern medicine like migratory arthritis or arthralgia, pain making its way all around the body, caused by an autoimmune condition such Systemic Lupus Erythematous (SLE). Anne is reported to have had the facial redness or rash associated with such disorders.
Anne’s was also morbidly obese. She liked her food and drink, and was aided and abetted in overindulgence by her like-minded husband. Her being nicknamed ‘Brandy Nan’ at a time when a degree of abstemiousness was expected in women hints at the possibility of actual alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
Anne’s weight and debility necessitated her being toted to her coronation in a litter in 1702. She was unable to walk much on her own.
Anne died in 1714, a martyr to her ill health. She had become so overweight that her coffin was described as almost square; it required fourteen men to carry it. A contemporary commented that no sufferer would covet their rest as much as Anne would.
Surely, Anne’s phantom children–possibly as many as twenty of them–were on her mind at the very end. What was it that had made her reproductive history go so very tragic?

JoAnn Spears is a registered nurse with Master’s Degrees in Nursing and Public Administration. Her first novel, Six of One, JoAnn brings a nurse’s gallows sense of humor to an unlikely place: the story of the six wives of Henry VIII. Six of One was begun in JoAnn’s native New Jersey. It was wrapped up in the Smoky Mountains of Northeast Tennessee, where she is pursuing a second career as a writer. She has, however, obtained a Tennessee nursing license because a) you never stop being a nurse and b) her son Bill says “don’t quit your day job”.

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