A Sad Story of Royal Obstetrics: Part 4/4

Today, JoAnn Spears concludes her fascinating observations on Queen Anne’s obstetrical history. I know that I sure learned a lot. You can find the previous installments of this series by following the links: Part I, Part II, and Part III.
Thank you JoAnn for such a wonderful look into this woman’s life.

Part Four: Was Diabetes the Cause?

Diabetes may be the most likely culprit in Queen Anne’s story. Her first three pregnancies went to term, and resulted in two healthy children. Statistically and fertilely, Anne, at that point, was par for the 17th century reproductive course. From there, though, things went terribly wrong.

The beginning of this downhill descent, 1687-88, coincided with the death of two of Anne’s daughters from smallpox. It also coincided with her father’s ascent to the throne and his loss of it during the Glorious Revolution. The familial loyalties and betrayals involved in this were deep and complex, and Anne was not a deep or a complex person. The compound stress must have been enormous. She was eating, and probably drinking, heavily. Might Anne have developed diabetes around the time of, or during, her 4thor 5th pregnancy?  Anne’s lifestyle was characterized by overindulgence. She was not very active; her preferred recreation was playing cards. She would certainly be at greater risk than most for developing diabetes during a pregnancy, and unconsciously fueling the diabetic trajectory with her personal habits.

Uncontrolled diabetes is associated with a host of poor fetal and neonatal outcomes. Unusually low or high birth weight, premature birth, cardiac or skeletal anomalies, neurological problems, cerebral palsy, lung immaturity with RDS (respiratory distress syndrome), and even intrauterine death are some of the sad set of possibilities that Anne may have run the gamut of. Unfortunately, medical descriptions of the babies Anne lost or miscarried are sadly lacking.

Diabetes is a progressive condition. Anne became increasingly obese and debilitated as she aged, bringing to mind her distant relative Henry VIII. Both Henry and Anne had pains in their lower extremities that prevented them from moving about well. This may have been peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes in both of their cases. Anne and Henry also had chronic, non-healing leg ulcers, another diabetes symptom, in common.

As his desperate attempts to father sons were ended by his declining physical condition, the morbidly obese Henry VIII had lifts and other machinery devised to move his unwieldy body around. It’s said that Queen Anne had this machinery refitted for her own use as her own health began to fail. If it’s true, it’s an ironic footnote to the two saddest stories of infertility in English history.
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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