New Life

Thursday 8th June. 9 AM – Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Filming on the extraordinary staircase that runs from the north transept to the chapter house. For us this is the main route into the palace and the place where Bess intercepts Raleigh to tell him some dangerous news..

We will probably never know if Bess’ pregnancy precipitated her marriage to Raleigh as the date of the their wedding is unknown but in an age before contraception, pregnancy was often the first sign to the outside world that a secret court liaison was happening.
The purpose of marriage in the Elizabethan mind was children – for the rich it meant the secure succession to family estates and commercial businesses and, for the poor, it provided someone to care for you in old age and succeed to your job.
Not all pregnancies were wanted however and there is circumstantial evidence that herbal medicines were available to bring about a miscarriage. As such medicines were the preserve of wise women who passed their information down through the generations verbally, there is little hard evidence as to how and if these really worked.
So how did a woman know she was pregnant before it became obvious) A favoured method was to place garlic by her bed – if she couldn’t smell it then she was pregnant! If that failed there was nothing to do but wait until the foetus ‘quickened’ and the movement gave the game away.

5 thoughts on “New Life

  1. SoOo intriguing! I can picture the winding of the staircase-hidden foyets and rooms, branching around the castle like limbs of a tree, between the silent, giant halls.
    If walls can only only talk!

  2. Hey Justin,
    How did a secret court liason with Raleigh and Bess’s pregnant belly keep hidden. Well I had a dream about this, I was in a room with Bess and she was getting dressed, I started feeling scared and upset because I could notice her pregnet belly, she was having trouble with her gurdle and I was getting very angree and forced her to tighten the gurdle as much as possible to hide that pregnant belly. I woke from this dream upset at myself that if I was this figure, how could I do such a thing. Anyways this post reminded me of that dream.

  3. It must have been very difficult to keep a pregnancy secret at court. Generally when a lady felt she was beginning to ‘show’ she would try to find an excuse to absent herself from court and retire to the country.

  4. Hey Justin,
    I remember that unlike other Ladies Bess stayed at court until the last minute, or so I remember from books. Bess took ill to give birth and when she was better from birth she passed the child over to a, wet nurse or something like that and then she went back to court. During all that Raleigh never saw Damerei. Bess was a very small woman and could of easily hidden her belly with large clothing. Anyways Justin if I am not remembering right please correct me.
    PS- Have you seen or read any of Raleighs, Bess’s or Queens real letters from the time in London being Senor Researcher.?

  5. The herbals used in this period to induce miscarriage are available if one knows where to look. For ethical reasons, however, they’re not widely published as the ingredients are relatively easy to obtain, but can result in death through hemorrhage. And, yes, for those that knew what they were doing, they worked. Some of these herbals were taken proactively, in fact, essentially as a morning-after pill. Abortion was also practiced in this period. As to how women determined if they were pregnant, your comments are a bit naďve, I think. In matters of human sexuality (or animal husbandry for that matter in this predominantly agricultural society), the Renaissance is not noteworthy for naivety or prudishness be it in terms of the upper or lower classes. That’s a later fiction of novels and movies.

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