Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Royal Wet Nurses

In historical terms, a wet-nurse would have been engaged for a royal baby and taken on as part of an official appointment. The wet-nurse might expect a pension or some financial reward, and in some cases, her entire family could benefit. These appointments well illustrate the strict rituals in place at the very heart of a royal marriage’s most intimate aspects, the birth of children of dynastic marriages being a case in point. Children as heirs, spares and the means of forging later political marriages, shows us there should be no surprise that the process of breastfeeding and weaning was subject to proscribed ceremonial, like everything else.
A royal mother could oversee the education of her offspring but would not have expected to rear them personally or become involved in any aspect of practical care; there were nurses, maids and servants for this. The English royal palace at Eltham was regarded as something as an idyllic nursery palace because it was there that the future Henry VIII and his sisters spent many happy hours of their childhood. Queen Elizabeth of York, their mother, saw them there and while this was often, these visits remained what they were – visits – typical of the very separate set-up for royal children, underlining the absence of regular, daily contact with their parents. In this, the dictates of royal protocol were respected. 
The fact that these babies were given over to wet-nurses further underlines just how much royal ceremonial was at the heart of everything; royal childbirth – like sex – was, of course, an affair of state – and the royal nursery, a court in miniature. Lady Margaret Beaufort, who gave birth to the future Henry VII at the age of just thirteen, was later charged with perfecting the regulation of the Royal Household as earlier set out in the ordinances of Edward IV, and these also included the rules for the royal nurseries. 
Royal women were not expected to breastfeed their babies, as this was not following their high status. In this, the matriarchal Queen in her role of fertile mother – a powerful propagandist tool in royal portraiture, ensuring the longevity of the dynasty – did not extend to the performance of its attendant physical functions, nor was it expected to. A Queen’s body was used for reasons of state in the process of childbirth, while the natural process of motherhood – feeding – was given over to others beneath her exalted status. 
In practice, this made the Queen a figure of state, superior to her natural bodily processes. All this would have been understood as an established ritual and was viewed as entirely usual. Historically at least, the body of a queen was governed by ceremonial, both in life and later, in death. (Read more.)

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