Saturday, 5 August 2017

Deadly Labours: Childbirth, Stillbirths & Miscarriages

"One is never closer to death than when giving life". Childbirth has been the death of thousands of women - if not millions - since the dawn of time. This was a risk which no woman could feel completely safe from - not even the most privileged ones.
Giving birth could prove to be fatal to the mother but so could the time immediately afterwards. Infections or issues connected with the delivery meant that even if both mother and child survived the labour it was far from completely over with. Those were the concerns which faced pregnant women everywhere. However, some never made it to full term. Miscarriages or stillbirths were equally possible and each left a mark on the woman's body; childbearing in itself is extremely taxing to a body and the rate of which some women conceived children fatally damaged their health.

Puerperal fever was one of the major risks to mothers in an era when bacteria was all but unknown. The fever was the result of improper hygiene - mostly on account of the doctor never washing his instruments or hands. This would take the life of the mother after the birth; in some cases it could be several days before the fever became fatal.

These royal ladies all had several pregnancies but, sadly, not all ended well. Only the more prominent members of the royal family are included in this post.

Marie Thérèse, Queen of France 
The consort of Louis XIV went through six pregnancies of which only one child survived past infancy. Those of her children who did not survive were: Anne-Élisabeth de France (1 1/2 months old), Marie-Anne de France (1 month old), Marie-Thérèse de France (five years old), Philippe Charles de France (three years old) and Louis Francois de France (five months old).

Pregnancies: 6
Stillbirths: 0
Miscarriages: 0

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Marie Thérèse

Henrietta of England, Duchesse d'Orléans
The marriage between Henrietta and Philippe, Duc d'Orléans was haunted by a string of miscarriages. Despite Monsieur's obvious homosexual preferences he managed to fulfill his duty and got his wife pregnant no less than eight times in nine years. This considerably undermined Henrietta's health which could ultimately have led to her early death. Of her eight pregnancies two children survived: Marie Louise (later Queen of Spain) and Anne Marie d'Orléans (later Duchess of Savoy and mother to the Duchesse de Bourgogne). One of her sons, Philippe Charles, died at the age of two.

Pregnancies: 8
Stillbirths: 3 (in 1667 she delivered two stillborn sons and a daughter the year before)
Miscarriages: 2

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Madame, Henrietta of England

Marie Anne Victoire de Bavière, Grand Dauphine
Although her marriage to the Grand Dauphin was not a happy one she managed to perform her duty by bringing three children into the world - all boys.

Pregnancies: 3
Stillbirths: 0
Miscarriages: 0

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The Grande Dauphine

Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Duchesse d'Orléans
As Monsieur had not had any living sons with Henrietta, his marriage to the Princess Palatine was arranged. In this manner she proved more effective. Not only did she never suffer a miscarriage or a stillbirth but she delivered that precious boy. Her first child, Alexandre Louis, died at the age of three.

Pregnancies: 3
Stillbirths: 0
Miscarriages: 0

Princess Palatine

Marie Adelaide of Savoy, Duchesse de Bourgogne
Since her marriage took place when she was just 12 years old it is no wonder that the young Duchesse waited a few years before having children. Once she began she was deemed successful in that she bore three boys to full term. However, it was not without difficulties. Marie Adelaide suffered several miscarriages - one which could be contributed to Louis XIV's rather selfish demand that she travelled with him to Marly although high pregnant. When this occurred the Duc de La Rochefoucauld remarked that she had had those before which gives us an indication that she may have struggled with pregnancies. It is difficult to know exactly how many times the Duchesse actually fell pregnant. 

Pregnancies: about 5
Miscarriages: at least 2
Stillbirths: 0

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The Duchesse de Bourgogne as Dauphine

Marie Leszczynska, Queen of France
Marie Leszczynska was chosen to become the wife of Louis XV particularly because she was of an age to bear children - and that she certainly did. Her marriage with Louis produced no less than 10 children: eight girls and two boys. Impressively, only one child died in infancy: Philippe de France who died at the age of three. 
The queen eventually became so tired of being "always giving birth" that she and her husband decided to have no more children.

Pregnancies: 10
Stillbirths: 0
Miscarriages: 0

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The long-serving Marie Leszczynska who grew
tired of always bearing children

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France
It took an astonishing seven years before the Austrian-born queen of France brought a child into the world. However, from then on Marie Antoinette continued to add another three children to the royal nursery. Her youngest daughter, Sophie, died as an infant while her eldest son, Louis Joseph, died at the age of eight. Her two remaining children, Marie Thérèse and Louis Charles, survived their infancy but the young boy was murdered during the revolution.
Her first lying-in nearly cost her her life but not because of complications with the birth itself. The bedchamber was so crowded that it became insufferably hot; consequently, the queen fainted during her labour.

Pregnancies: 6
Stillbirths: 0
Miscarriages: 2

Marie Antoinette with her three surviving children. The
dauphin points to the empty cradle which used to hold
Princesse Sophie

Several other women in the royal family succumbed to the dangers of childbirth. These included:

Maria Teresa Rafaela, Dauphine of France
The first wife of Louis Ferdinand fell pregnant not long after her marriage. When she gave birth on 19 July 1746 something went horribly wrong; she died on the 22 July. The child - a daughter - died at the age of two.

Augusta of Baden-Baden, Duchesse d'Orléans 
Died at the age of 21 whilst giving birth to a girl. The child was born in August 1726 and Augusta's death might very well have been caused by similar circumstances to the miscarriage of the Duchesse de Bourgogne. Francoise Marie de Bourbon (her mother-in-law) forced her to drive from Versailles to the Palais-Royal in her ninth month - the pains of labour had already begun and she was obliged to stop at Sèvres. The turbulent journey must certainly have weakened her body.

Marie Thérèse Félicité d'Este, Duchesse de Penthièvre
The Italian-born wife of the Duc de Penthièvre died at the age of 27 due to complications after the birth of their third child. The boy would die shortly afterwards.

Louise Diane d'Orléans, Princesse de Conti
The daughter of the Regent Philippe d'Orléans Louise had married the Prince de Conti and given birth to a son in 1734. Two years later she was pregnant again but this time something went wrong during her labour. She died while delivering the baby - a stillborn son - at the young age of 22. 

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