Tudor times: How Meghan Markle followed birth tradition dating back to Henry VIII

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had their first son more than one year ago. And, as far as royal baby traditions go, Meghan decided to skip out on a few. While expectant royal mothers traditional give birth in the Lindo Wing in St Mary’s hospital, Paddington, Meghan opted for the Portland Hospital in central London. It was speculated that the Duchess of Sussex would give birth at home, but plans were ultimately changed.

But, there’s one centuries-old birthing tradition Meghan stuck to while pregnant with Archie.

As far back as the Tudor era, royal women disappeared from view during the last few weeks of their pregnancy.

The reason for this was so they would be spared the discomfort of wearing corsets and restrictive clothing expected for women to wear in public.

Giving birth was long seen as a euphemism of “confinement”. 

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And, fittingly, according to historian Carolyn Harris, royal mothers would go into confinement about a month before having the baby.

The tradition that can be traced back to ordinances attributed to Henry VIII’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret wanted the room in which she gave birth to be an exclusively female space, lit only by candle light, a single small window, and decorated with tapestries displaying happy scenes.

The first royal child born after the mother secluded herself in this way was Henry VIII’s older brother, Arthur Tudor, in 1486.

Meghan Markle somewhat followed in this tradition when she gave birth to Archie.

While she appeared in March 2019 to honour victims of the New Zealand shootings, her public engagements diary was wiped clean after mid-March.

Giving birth in the royal family used to be a much more public affair than it is these days.

Some royal women were forced to give birth in front of crowds of people in the delivery room.

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There were rumours that King James II and Mary of Modena had a baby who died, and they snuck in a replacement baby in a warming pan.

As a result, it became clear the birth of the baby, as well as cutting the umbilical cord, had to be witnessed by a number of government ministers.

In one notable exception, Queen Victoria only wanted a select group of people in the room when she gave birth.

Only her husband, Prince Albert, the doctor and attending ladies were allowed in the birthing room with the monarch. 

Instead, government ministers gathered in adjoining rooms, peering through a succession of open doors.

This tradition was carried through to the 20th century, especially for babies high in the line of succession.

Ms Harris said: “Until the birth of Prince Charles [in 1948] the Home Secretary had to be on hand for the births of direct heirs to the throne.

“But it had already been made clear that the Home Secretary didn’t have to be present for people further down the line of succession.”

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