'A Miracle Will Come to Pass'

O n 4 April 1555, which fell in Easter week, the King and Queen went to Hampton Court to await the birth of their child. Mary would have liked it to be born at "Windsor, but it was felt that, given the uncertain state of the country and the temper of the people, Hampton Court afforded better security and was nearer to London and the Tower arsenal.

The Queen was well into her eighth month of pregnancy - Renard told the Emperor that the baby was due around 9 May, although some of Mary's ladies were of the opinion that she had miscalculated her dates and that it would arrive around 9 June, but as she had announced the pregnancy in late September, then a date early in May was most likely. Soon after her arrival at the palace she took to her chamber with appropriate ceremony, in the presence of her chief courtiers. Custom demanded that six weeks before the birth a queen go into 'confinement' in her apartments for forty days, with her ladies taking upon themselves the functions normally reserved for male officers of the household. It was considered improper for any men other than her husband to attend the Queen at this late stage of her pregnancy.

Preparations for the baby's arrival were completed by the middle of April. In the Queen's bedchamber stood a sumptuous cradle covered with an embroidered counterpane; Latin and English verses had been carved in the wood, and read:

The child which Thou to Mary,

O Lord of might, hast send,

To England's joy, in health preserve, keep and defend!

Swaddling bands and wrapping cloths were laid out in readiness for 'the young master'. Mary and her ladies had stitched a beautiful bedcover and matching headpiece for the bed in which she would be delivered, and in her clothes chest were folded away four smocks of the finest Holland cloth trimmed with silk and silver braid at the neck and wrists, as well as breast binders and extra blankets. Midwives, physicians, nurses and rockers had been engaged and were already in residence, whilst the great ladies of the realm, with husbands in tow, descended upon the palace in order to comfort the Queen and be her 'gossips' when her hour was upon her.

In the birth chamber, the physicians had already assembled the equipment they would need, and tables, benches and bowls had been set there for their use, as well as bottles of scented water to sweeten the air during the delivery.

The Queen was naturally anxious, and her fears were exacerbated by news of ugly incidents and protests against the burnings in London. Because of this, King Philip summoned 'true and faithful men of the realm' to Hampton Court to reinforce the guards already on duty, and ordered that the Watch take extra precautions in the city by recruiting more men and patrolling the streets continuously through the night.

Mary was not the only person to know fear at this time. Her doctors were terrified of the responsibility entrusted to them, and were privately pessimistic as to the outcome, considering the age and mental state of their patient. They were also concerned about her poor appetite, saying that she ate so little that she could not possibly provide both herself and her baby with adequate nourishment. Some people recalled that the Queen's mother, Katherine of Aragon, had lost five out of her six children at birth or soon afterwards, and predicted that history might repeat itself, while others claimed that the Queen might not be pregnant at all, but had 'a tumour, as often happens to women'. Yet Mary had all the symptoms of pregnancy: her periods had ceased, she had experienced 'swelling of the paps and their emission of milk', according to the Venetian ambassador, and her stomach was very swollen. She had also felt the child move.

On 17 April, Sir Henry Bedingfield was relieved to receive orders to bring his illustrious prisoner to court. Elizabeth was no less pleased that her long confinement was coming to an end, believing that her innocence would at last be established once and for all, though she was to remain under close guard for some weeks yet.

They left Woodstock on 20 April in gusting winds which billowed out the ladies' skirts and repeatedly blew Elizabeth's hood off. She begged to be able to take shelter in a nearby manor house, but Bedingfield, still obeying orders to the letter, refused to allow it, and the princess was obliged to pin up her windswept hair and replace her hood in the shelter of a hedge. On the last morning of the journey, about sixty of Elizabeth's gentlemen and yeomen tried to catch a glimpse of her as she left the George Inn at Colnbrook.

On 29 April, Michieli, the Venetian ambassador, reported that the princess was expected at Hampton Court the following day; he understood that she had been summoned as a hostage for King Philip's safety, which - in the event of Mary dying - would depend more upon Elizabeth than upon any other person. Already there were rumours that Philip had earmarked her as his third wife.

She arrived privately, being still under the Queen's displeasure, and was conducted by Bedingfield into the palace 'on the back side', accompanied by only a handful of her own attendants. It was no coincidence that she was assigned apartments near to those of King Philip and Cardinal Pole. Sir Henry was soon afterwards relieved of his duties as her gaoler, and, declaring that God Almighty knew that this was the joyfullest news he had ever heard, escaped with heartfelt relief into the country. Elizabeth held no grudge against him, although, years later, when he came to her court, she told him 'with a nipping word' that if she had any prisoner 'whom we would have sharply and straitly kept, we will send for you!' Whenever they met thereafter, she referred to him affectionately as her 'Gaoler', and stayed once as his guest at Oxburgh Hall.

The absence of any official welcome to the court should have warned Elizabeth that the next few weeks were not going to be easy. The Queen had, of course, retired from public life for the present, but that would not normally have prevented her from receiving her sister. What did do so was Mary's conviction that Elizabeth would be so desperate for an audience that she would confess her involvement in Wyatt's rebellion just to obtain one. The Queen therefore sent Gardiner, Arundel, Shrewsbury and Secretary Petre to inform the princess that, if she did so confess, 'Her Majesty would be good to her'. Gardiner even fell to his knees and begged Elizabeth to submit to the Queen.

She vehemently maintained her innocence. 'Better for me to lie in prison for the truth than to be abroad and suspected of my prince,' she declared. 'In yielding, I should confess myself an offender, which I never was, towards Her Majesty, by occasion whereof the King and Queen might ever hereafter conceive of me an evil opinion.' A second visit by the councillors failed to move her, and Gardiner informed the Queen that nothing further was likely to be obtained from the princess. Mary 'marvelled that she should so stoutly standby her innocence', and remained adamant that she would not set her sister at liberty until she had told the truth. Soon, Elizabeth discovered that she had exchanged one form of house arrest for another. She was permitted to receive visitors - although very few dared come - but was not allowed to leave her rooms.

However, Philip, according to de Noailles, could not resist seeing her, and insisted upon a meeting. Three days after her arrival, she received a curt message from Mary, ordering her to wear her finest robes and prepare to receive the King. The meeting took place in private, and consequently no record of what passed between them has been preserved, although later sources indicate that some degree of sexual chemistry sprang up between them —just what Mary had feared. Afterwards, Philip observed that the Queen was very different from her sister, and in later years Elizabeth herself would often claim light-heartedly that Philip had been in love with her, and that she had made a most favourable impression on him when first they met. She was fond of boasting that their long-drawn-out enmity had begun with love, and that if she so chose there was no reason why they could not be friends once again. Late in the sixteenth century, William Cecil's son, Thomas, reported that Philip had said that 'whatever he suffered from Queen Elizabeth was the just judgement of God because, being married to Queen Mary, whom he thought a most virtuous and good lady, yet in the fancy of love he could not affect her; but as for the Lady Elizabeth, he was enamoured of her, being a fair and beautiful woman'. Even as early as May 1557, Michieli was reporting that, 'At the time of the Queen's pregnancy the Lady Elizabeth contrived so to ingratiate herself with all the Spaniards, and especially with the King, that ever since no one has favoured her more than he does; for not only would he not permit, but opposed and prevented the Queen's wish to have her disinherited by Act of Parliament, which — besides affection — implies some particular design on the part of the King with regard to her.' Their first meeting may therefore have been significant in more ways than one.

As the date of Mary's expected delivery drew nearer, tension mounted at court. Renard wrote to Charles V,

Everything in this kingdom depends on the Queen's safe deliverance. If God is pleased to grant her a safe delivery, things will take a turn for the better. If not, I foresee disturbance and a change for the worse on so great a scale that the pen can hardly set it down.

Already, letters in French announcing the birth had been prepared by the royal clerks, who had diplomatically left a gap in case fits' had to be altered to fille'. The Queen had commanded that her ambassadors convey news of the birth to foreign courts as soon as the child was delivered, and had signed passports for them. To hearten her, and relieve the tedium of waiting, there were brought to the palace on 24 April 'three beautiful infants for Her Majesty to see, they having been born a few days previously at one birth, of a woman of low stature and great age like the Queen, who after delivery found herself strong and out of danger'. Mary professed herself much encouraged to see them.

Childbirth was indeed fraught with dangers at that time. Forceps would not be invented for another fifty years, and if the baby could not be delivered in the normal way then midwives had to resort to butchery on either mother or child in order to facilitate parturition. The need for hygiene was not understood, and many women succumbed to the dreaded puerperal fever, brought on by bacterial infection. Many babies died at birth or soon afterwards, and often their mothers died with them. There was no effective pain relief, and labour could last for days. For an older mother, the risks - then, as now - were greatly increased.

At dawn on the morning of Tuesday, 30 April, wrote the diarist Henry Machyn, 'tidings came to London that the Queen's Grace was delivered of a prince, and so there was great ringing [of church bells] through London, and [in] divers places Te Deum Laudamussung'. Royal officials in the capital confirmed the news and said that the Queen had come through her ordeal 'with little pain and no danger', and that the child, born just after midnight, was a fair boy, without a blemish. The citizens, glad of any opportunity for a celebration, declared the day a holiday, shut their shops, lit bonfires, and set tables laden with meats in the streets, whilst the city authorities laid on free wine for all, and the clergy went in procession around the city giving thanks 'for the birth of our prince'. The joyful tidings spread to the Continent by means of sailors leaving the port of London, and by 2 May Charles V and his court were 'rejoicing out of measure' at the news.

It occurred to no one in London that there had been no official announcement of the birth from Hampton Court, and the citizens were aghast and dismayed when, late in the afternoon of 30 April, their celebrations were interrupted by the arrival of messengers from the court, who had hastily come to inform the city fathers that the news was false, and that there was as yet no sign of the Queen being in labour. 'It is hardly to be told how much this dispirited everybody,' reported Michieli. 'But it shall be when it please God,' wrote Machyn, 'for I trust God will remember His true servants that put their trust in Him.'

On 4 May, the Emperor, puzzled as to why he had received no official announcement of his grandson's birth, sent for Sir John Mason and demanded an explanation. Mason said he had heard the news from a contact in London, but had received no confirmation from the court. Charles said he was 'loath to bring the thing into any doubt', but the lack of news was certainly strange. Then came a letter from the Duke of Alba at Hampton Court, to say that the reports in London were false and that the Queen was still waiting for her pains to begin. The Emperor was therefore obliged to remain in a state of hope and expectation like everyone else.

On 3 May, there was another false report of the birth of a prince, this time in Herefordshire, where one John Gillam stated, 'Now there is a prince born, his father will bring into this realm his own nation and put out the English nation.' This was a fear he shared with most of Mary's subjects, and that it was not mere scaremongering is proved by Michieli's view that, once his heir was born, Philip would look for a complete change in his relationship with Queen and Council. Already, it was being said that the troops assembling in the Netherlands had not been recruited to fight the French but to subvert the English and enforce Philip's authority in the event of Mary's death.

Throughout the first weeks of May, the Queen remained in strict seclusion; once or twice her courtiers saw her at a window. On the yth a curious item of news was reported by a French envoy called Boisdaulphin, who had gone to Padua in Italy to recover from an illness. He told Henry II that he had been informed that Queen Mary had been 'delivered of a mole, or lump of flesh, and was in great peril of death'. Boisdaulphin's source is not known, but any news from England would have taken at least three weeks to reach him, and therefore, if the Queen had suffered this freak delivery, it would have occurred around the middle of April, soon after she took to her chamber.

What Boisdaulphin was claiming was that Mary had been delivered of a hydatidiform mole, a condition of pregnancy caused by chromosomal irregularity, where the placenta develops into a benign tumour resembling a bunch of grapes, and deprives the growing embryo of nourishment. The embryo dies but the mole continues to grow. The woman's abdomen swells, as in pregnancy, and she may suffer nausea and high blood pressure. Eventually her body expels the mole, which resembles a 'lump of flesh'. This was not a common condition - nowadays the incidence in the United Kingdom is about one in five hundred pregnancies.

It is unlikely, however, that Mary suffered from this condition, for two very sound reasons. When a mole is expelled, the woman suffers bleeding, sometimes very heavy bleeding, and there is no record of Mary experiencing this. Secondly, expulsion only rarely occurs later than three to four months after conception, and almost never later than five.

The other possibility raised by Boisdaulphin's evidence is that the Queen suffered an intrauterine death - the death of a viable foetus, which is sometimes referred to as a late abortion. Again, the probability is against this because bleeding is bound to have occurred when the foetus was passed, an unmistakable sign that the pregnancy had terminated, which even Mary could not have ignored.

Realistically, therefore, for either of these conditions to have occurred, someone - and the Queen herself- must have lied about the bleeding, as well as the timing in the case of a mole. This seems hardly likely in view of the available evidence and Mary's own known integrity. Boisdaulphin's report, therefore, can only have been based on unsubstantiated gossip or speculation, and may be dismissed as unreliable evidence.

On 21 May, Michieli reported that 'Her Majesty's belly has greatly declined', although this had been said by the doctors and midwives 'to indicate the approaching term'. One of Mary's physicians, Dr Calagila, announced that he expected labour to commence any day now, asserting that his royal patient was definitely in the final month of pregnancy. But by this time, Mary was so despondent about the baby's failure to arrive that she began to think that God was punishing her for not rooting out heresy with sufficient rigour, and consequently issued a written directive to all her bishops, ordering them to step up their efforts to search out and punish offenders.

On 22 May, Ruy Gomez confided in a letter to a friend that there was no sign of the birth being imminent. He had seen the Queen out walking in her privy garden, 'and she steps so well that it seems to me that there is no hope at all for this month'. Her doctors maintained that they were still expecting labour to commence at any moment, but Mary had now convinced herself that she had muddled her dates. Very soon, the physicians were concurring in this view, predicting that the birth would take place on 23 May, at the next change of the moon, or after the full moon, on 4 or 5 June.

De Noailles, however, poured scorn on this, and professed himself amused at everyone's expectations. To his certain knowledge, he announced, the Queen was not pregnant. He had spoken to a male friend of Susan Clarencieux and the chief midwife — 'one of the best midwives in the town' — to whom both ladies had confided that, apart from being 'pale and peaked' and having a swollen abdomen, Mary had none of the other signs of pregnancy. In the midwife's opinion the royal doctors were either too stupid to realise the truth, or too scared to admit it. She herself, 'more to comfort the Queen with words than anything', had spoken soothingly of an error over dates. De Noailles had a reputation for mischief-making, and certainly this particular infant's appearance would discountenance his master's ambitions. Yet at the end of May the chief midwife publicly affirmed that the Queen was indeed with child, and the ambassador told Henry II that she was practising a blatant deception.

23 May came and went with no sign of labour commencing, and on the 29th de Noailles reported that Mary was spending long hours alone, sitting in silence on cushions on the floor of her chamber with her knees drawn up to her chin, staring at the wall. Such a position he pointed out, would not be possible for a heavily pregnant woman. Yet Renard, despite a certain anxiety over the delay, remained confident and optimistic, and subscribed to the opinion that a mistake had been made over dates. Nevertheless, some courtiers were already expressing scepticism about the Queen's condition, and in Brussels, the Venetian ambassador to the Imperial court had received from an unnamed source what he believed to be reliable information that 'the Queen has given manifest signs of not being pregnant'. He was obliged to suppress such sensitive intelligence, and only reported it in confidential dispatches, whilst behaving in public as if he too expected a happy announcement from England at any time. In France, meanwhile, Henry II was diplomatically attributing the delay to 'women's ways'. At the end of May tidings of the death of the King's grandmother, Queen Juana, reached England, and the courtiers were commanded to don mourning. The Emperor was hoping that Philip would be present at the funeral, but the King knew he could not leave England at such a crucial time and retired to his apartments, there to remain in seclusion until after Juana's obsequies were over. He would put off his mourning, he announced, 'for the joy of the delivery' of his son. His wife, however, was well aware that he was itching to be off fighting the French, and that he would depart for the Netherlands the moment the baby was safely born. Michieli reported, 'From what I hear one single hour's delay in this delivery seems to him a thousand years.'

Then, on 31 May, Mary felt what she believed were her first contractions, and the court held its breath in anticipation. It proved to be another false alarm, and despondency reigned when it was known that she had still not taken to her bed. Gomez grumbled, 'The Queen's deliverance keeps us all greatly exercised in our minds,' and reported that the doctors were now saying that 'the nine months are not up until 6 June'.

Towards the end of May Philip succeeded in persuading Mary to see her sister, and at ten one evening Susan Clarencieux came to escort Elizabeth to the Queen's apartments. The princess turned pale when she received the summons and begged her attendants to pray for her, as 'she could not tell whether ever she should see them again or no'. But Clarencieux reassured her, telling her to change into her finest dress for the occasion, and when she was ready led her by torchlight through the gardens to the side door to Mary's rooms. Once inside, they mounted the back stairs to the privy chamber and when Elizabeth saw the Queen sitting there she threw herself on her knees, burst into tears, and cried, 'God preserve Your Majesty! You will find me as true a subject of Your Majesty as any, whatever has been reported of me.'

Mary looked away and said sarcastically. 'You will not confess your offence but stand stoutly in your truth. I pray God it may so fall out.'

'If it does not, I desire neither favour nor pardon at your hands,' replied Elizabeth with passion. However, this was not the firm denial that her sister desired to hear from her lips.

'Well,' said Mary coldly, 'you stiffly still persevere in your truth; belike you will not confess, but that you have been wrongly punished?'

'I must not say so, if it please Your Majesty, to you,' answered Elizabeth carefully, knowing she trod on dangerous ground.

'Why then, belike you will to others?' returned Mary.

'No, if it please Your Majesty. I have borne the burden and I must bear it. I humbly beseech Your Majesty to have a good opinion of me, and to think me to be your true subject, not only from the beginning, but for ever, as long as life lasteth.'

Mary did not immediately reply, then she rose and murmured what sounded - according to John Foxe, who recorded this conversation -like 'Sabe Dies' — Spanish for 'God knoweth'. This Foxe presumed to be for the benefit of King Philip, whom he says was hiding behind a tapestry, listening to the interview, and watching through a small hole in the fabric. Finally, knowing that it was futile to question Elizabeth further, Mary spoke 'a few comfortable words' to her and dismissed her.

Soon afterwards there was another meeting between the sisters, after which it became clear that 'the Lady Elizabeth is at her full liberty', and thereafter it was tacitly accepted that, thanks to King Philip's influence with the reluctant Queen, Elizabeth had been received back into favour. Nevertheless, the princess rarely left her rooms, and although the courtiers were aware that they might now visit her without fear of incurring the Queen's displeasure, They all avail themselves of it with great reserve.' Mary had made no secret of the fact that she would never trust Elizabeth again.

Shortly afterwards, Dr John Dee, the notable astrologer, and three of Elizabeth's servants were arrested for having conspired to cast the horoscopes of the King, the Queen and the Lady Elizabeth, it being treason to forecast the sovereign's death. Yet before the accused could be interrogated the persons who had informed on them were afflicted 'the one with present death, the other with blindness', and the charges were dropped, probably through fear of witchcraft.

Had Elizabeth, in her altered circumstances, tried to discover what the future held for her?

It was an unseasonably cold, rainy summer. In the muddy fields the corn failed to ripen, presaging a bad harvest and the prospect of famine during the winter months. 'The like is not remembered in the memory of man for the last fifty years,' commented Michieli. The machinery of government had come to a standstill as a result of the Queen's prolonged confinement, and in London, the mood of the people was ugly, exacerbated by the spurious report of a prince being born and the sickening spectacles at Smithfield. Scurrilous placards against the Queen began appearing with alarming frequency in the streets, and rumours abounded that she had died in childbirth and that the hated Spaniards had concealed her death for nefarious reasons of their own, or that she was not pregnant at all but mortally sick. There were also more wild claims that Edward VI was about to emerge from seclusion and return to the throne. Already, many people spoke with deep affection of the Lady Elizabeth, and a printed prayer to be said at her accession was circulated. So angry was the mood of the people that Philip became concerned and wrote to ask the Emperor for advice on how to handle the situation. Before long, the Council were obliged to send Pembroke at the head of a small force to keep order in the capital. Nor was the atmosphere at court conducive to harmony. With so many people packed into a palace affording only primitive sanitation, the air was becoming foetid and tempers short. The tension between the English and Spanish courtiers was almost tangible, and fights and squabbles broke out at the slightest provocation. Blood was shed, and King Philip warned those concerned that they were to maintain silence about it so as not to provoke further incidents. Then a violent mob of hundreds of young Englishmen marched on Hampton Court and camped menacingly outside the main gates, swords at the ready to slay any Spaniard who dared venture forth. Philip ordered the palace guards to drive them away, and there was a nasty skirmish involving 500 men that left half a dozen dead. Given the political climate, the King dared not punish the offenders harshly, but contented himself with administering a stern reprimand to them about keeping the peace. This only served to convince them that he and his countrymen were afraid of them, and they withdrew to plot a more ambitious assault on the palace. Fortunately their plans were discovered and forestalled by the Council.

'Everything is in suspense and dependent upon the result of this delivery,' wrote Michieli. 6 June passed without any sign of labour, and the doctors again revised the expected date, saying that it would be around the 24th. They had almost certainly realised by now that there was to be no child, yet such was the Queen's state of mind that they, the midwives, and her ladies all kept up the pretence that the pregnancy, which had now lasted ten months, was normal. When Mary expressed fearful doubts about her condition, they reminded her that her grandmother, Isabella of Castile, had borne a child at the age of fifty-two. The delay was simply due to a muddle over dates, and given Mary's menstrual history, this seemed feasible.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, the Queen requested that the clergy go in procession through London daily, praying for her safe delivery. Similar intercessions were made each morning at court, with the privy councillors and courtiers processing around the courtyards of the palace, and passing below a small window of Mary's apartments, where she sat watching them and bowing slightly 'with extraordinary cheerfulness and graciousness', while they doffed their caps and bonnets in return. It was noticed that she looked much healthier and had rosier cheeks, and indeed she told her attendants that she had never felt better, but regretted that she had felt 'no movement indicating parturition'.

The delay was now causing intense embarrassment, especially to King Philip, who felt he was being exposed to ridicule by it. Abroad, English ambassadors hastened to assure foreign rulers that the non-appearance of the heir to England was due to 'the common error of women in reckoning their time'. Rumour was already rife at the Imperial court that Queen Mary was not pregnant at all, and Sir John Mason sent an urgent message to the Council begging that Her Majesty show herself just once at mass to give gossip the lie. In England, when a Polish envoy arrived to offer the King and Queen congratulations on the birth of a prince - the false report of the birth had reached Warsaw -he noticed that his Latin speech was occasioning 'laughter and amusement' amongst the throng of courtiers. By now, the Queen's pregnancy was regarded as something of a joke.

Any admission that there was, after all, to be no child would result in the monarchy being held up to ridicule and an extreme loss of face. Mary's enemies were certain that she was practising an elaborate deception, possibly to keep Philip at her side for as long as possible, and Foxe claims that on the morning of Whit Sunday, n June, a woman called Isabel Malt, who had just borne a son, received a visit from two lords, one of whom announced himself as Lord North and asked 'if she would part with her child, and would swear that she never knew nor had any such child'. This matter, claims Foxe, 'was rumoured among the people' to concern 'the childbed of Queen Mary', the implication being that young Master Malt was to be passed off as the heir to England. It is unlikely, however, that Mary was capable of such sustained deception, and there is plenty of evidence to show that she believed she was pregnant well after this date.

In the middle of June, there was another false alarm, but the courtiers were becoming daily more suspicious. Those who had seen Mary reported that she no longer looked pregnant, a fact that was commented upon by Ruy Gomez in private correspondence: 'All this makes me doubt whether she is with child at all, greatly as I desire to see the thing happily over.'

'The expressions on people's faces are strange,' noted Renard. 'They have a masked appearance.' Yet on 24 June he reported confidently that the royal physicians had been two months out in their calculations, and that the child was not due for another eight or ten days. Five days later he stated that Mary was as well as he had ever seen her and was undoubtedly with child.

July came in with still no sign of labour, yet still the Queen did not abandon hope. The palace was now stinking and filthy, and the fear of plague - common in summer in Tudor times - added itself to the courtiers' other frustrations. The doctors and midwives were still assuring Mary that she had muddled her dates, but with less and less conviction. When they announced that the birth might not take place until August or September, no one believed them, and it appears that even the Queen was beginning to accept that there would be no child.

Early in July, some of the items prepared for the confinement were quietly stored away, and before 10 July Mary was attending once more to official business and taking the air in the gardens, looking her usual slender self. Yet she still insisted that she was pregnant, and sent instructions to Mason in Brussels that he was to deny any report that she was not with child. Her councillors, however, took it upon themselves to inform him privately that she was almost certainly deluding herself. In London, it was being said by some Protestants that the Queen had declared that the baby would not be born until every heretic in the kingdom had been burned; others distributed seditious pamphlets claiming that King Philip was keeping company with whores whilst his wife was confined to her rooms.

As late as 25 July, when the 'pregnancy' had lasted eleven and a half months, it was still being said that 'a miracle would come to pass in this as in all Her Majesty's other circumstances, which, the more they were despaired of according to human reasoning, the better and more auspicious did the result then show itself'. The birth of her child would show the world that Mary's affairs 'were regulated exclusively by divine providence'. Yet in the taverns of London the Protestants made ribald jests at the Queen's expense and imputed her failure to produce an heir to the judgement of God. Many believed that the repeated deferment of the date of delivery was only 'for the sake of keeping the populace in hope, and consequently in check', yet most were now of the opinion that 'the pregnancy will end in wind rather than anything else'. Mary's desperation is revealed in the tear blots in her prayer book on the page entitled 'A Prayer for a Woman with Child'.

By the beginning of August the Queen had to face the bitter fact that this time there was to be no miracle for her. What finally convinced her was probably the resumption of her periods. There was no public announcement, but on 3 August, having dismissed all the nursery staff, Mary emerged from seclusion and left Hampton Court with Philip for the small royal hunting lodge at Oatlands. The reason given for her departure was that Hampton Court needed a thorough cleansing. At this signal, the great ladies who had attended her throughout her confinement departed for their estates, satisfied that their services would not be needed. The Lady Elizabeth was permitted to withdraw with her household to an unnamed residence three miles from Oatlands, and was not expected to return to court because, as Michieli reported, 'she is absolutely free'. Her eventual succession was now seen as a near certainty, and the King was making sure that she was treated with the respect due to the heir presumptive.

At Oatlands, Mary - looking surprisingly fit and well - resumed her normal daily routine, granting audiences and putting a brave face on her bitter disappointment and humiliation. Only to her lady-in-waiting and old friend, Frideswide Strelley, 'a good, honourable woman' and the only person who had not tried to raise false hopes, did she confide her anger at the flattery and lies with which those around her had sought to mislead her. Nevertheless, she had not given up hope of bearing a child, and trusted that God would at some stage grant her this favour. She never referred in public to her calamitous confinement, and when de Noailles made a slanted reference to it she cut him dead.

The strongest possibility is that Mary suffered from pseudocyesis, a rare psychological condition commonly known as a phantom pregnancy. This can occur when a woman longs desperately for a child; so desperate is the longing that the pituitary gland releases hormones that cause signs of pregnancy. Menstruation ceases, the breasts become tender, and they may even produce milk. The woman believes she is pregnant, and the resultant trauma, when she finds that this is not the case, can be very damaging to her mental health.

It is no easy task, at a distance of more than four centuries, to apply a medical diagnosis on such scanty evidence. Mary Tudor certainly longed for a child and had all the signs of pregnancy, and she clung to the pathetic belief that she was carrying a baby long after those signs had disappeared. Reliable evidence shows that her girth had declined greatly by the end of May, but despite this, the Queen continued to believe that she was pregnant, and her belief was supported by the doctors and midwives, even though the signs of pregnancy had disappeared.

De Noailles claimed that Mary's pregnancy had been a tumour in the womb, yet there is no other evidence to support this theory, and a tumour large enough to mimic a pregnancy at term would rapidly have proved fatal in those days. It would certainly not have mysteriously disappeared.

On the strength of the evidence, the symptoms presented by Mary -in as far as we can ever know them - strongly suggest that the traditional diagnosis of a phantom pregnancy is the correct one. There were a number of possible contributory factors. Firstly, given her medical history, both physical and psychological, and her almost emaciated appearance, she was quite likely to have believed that she had become pregnant when the first missed periods of an early menopause occurred. This probably resulted psychosomatically in the other symptoms of a phantom pregnancy, like abdominal distension and the emission of breast milk, which developed as a result of the enormous importance of this 'pregnancy' to the Queen.

Nowadays, the question of whether a pregnancy is genuine or not is easily determined by an ultrasound scan, but prior to the invention of such screening a phantom pregnancy was considerably more difficult to diagnose, and would have been even more so in Tudor times, when doctors would not - for reasons of etiquette - have been allowed to examine their sovereign thoroughly, and probably would not have known how to anyway.

A woman who has a history of menstrual irregularity would be more susceptible to believing herself pregnant when she was not. In fact, such women are more likely to produce unusual gynaecological symptoms under pressure than women with regular menstrual cycles.

Abdominal distension in a phantom pregnancy is caused by gas, which can dissipate at any time, and would account for the fact that Mary had regained her waistline by June 1555. Her subsequent depression and the indications that she ate very little during pregnancy may suggest that she suffered from a spell of anorexia, which also produces distension and might well have delayed the resumption of her periods until August, when she had to admit to herself that it had all been a terrible mistake.

That it was a genuine one there can be little doubt. As Michieli wrote, years later, Mary had 'all the other manifest signs of pregnancy... There was neither deceit nor malice in the matter, but mere error, not only on the part of the King and Queen, but on that of the councillors and the whole court.'

On 8 August, humiliated and disappointed, Philip escaped to Windsor for a few days' hunting. Many members of his household, even Ruy Gomez, had already left for the Low Countries, and the King was desperate to join them. Yet he was concerned about Mary's state of mind and how she would react when he told her of his plans, and wrote begging Gomez to advise him on 'what line I am to take with the Queen about leaving her. I must say something, but God help me!'

Soon afterwards he and Mary returned to Hampton Court, and there he plucked up the courage to tell her that his duty to the Emperor meant that he must leave England without further delay. Mary became hysterical, crying and pleading with him to stay. If she thought she had tasted the depths of despair at the abandonment of her hopes for a child, she had been mistaken: now she was in worse misery.

Philip tried to calm her by telling her that he would be gone for six weeks at the most, but she knew he was lying to her, and a bitter quarrel ensued, which resulted in the Queen giving orders that his portrait be removed from her bedchamber. She was only pacified when, to underline his good intentions, Philip promised to leave most of his household behind against his early return. Then she believed him, although many saw through this ploy. Protestant agitators accused the King of callously deserting his wife in her hour of need, yet the truth was that the Emperor had never intended Philip to remain permanently in England: Habsburg interests dictated that his presence would be required abroad from time to time, and the King was urgently needed now to help fight the French.

At length, Mary came to understand this, and having recovered her equilibrium wrote to her father-in-law, expressing her gratitude to him for having allowed her husband to remain with her for so long, yet stressing that, as there was 'nothing in the world that I set so much store by as the King's presence', it was her firm hope that his absence would be brief. Charles, however, was ailing and worn out, and his chief desire now was to abdicate in favour of his son. If that came to pass - and it was expected in diplomatic circles that it would not be long before it did — then Philip, as ruler of Spain, the Low Countries and Burgundy, would hardly have time to spare for visiting England, even if he wished to.

Before he left, Philip warned Mary that Elizabeth, as heiress presumptive, must be treated with respect, if not affection. It was obvious to Mary that he had decided to extend his protection to the princess, and despite her jealousy she promised to take his advice, realising that there were sound political reasons for it.

The King had reorganised the Council so that it had become less unwieldy and more efficient. Thanks to his moderating influence, the deep divisions that had caused such disruption in the first year of Mary's reign had been smoothed over, and the Council now functioned as a largely united body. Philip also saw Cardinal Pole, calling upon him 'very privately in person' late one night, to the Cardinal's immense astonishment, to ask him to assume responsibility for the government of the realm and the welfare of the Queen during his absence. The next day, the King told the councillors that they must defer to Pole and seek his opinion and advice on all major issues, whilst dealing with 'private and ordinary matters' themselves. Mary's role was not mentioned, and everyone assumed that from now on she was to be a mere figurehead.

On 23 August, the King and Queen left Hampton Court for Greenwich Palace, travelling through London. This was Mary's first public appearance since her confinement, and the sight of her in an open litter, with Cardinal Pole riding at her side, prompted touching demonstrations of loyalty from many citizens, who had heard rumours that she was dead. Michieli says that people were running 'from one place to another, as to an unexpected sight, as if they were crazy, to ascertain if it was her, and seeing her in better plight than ever, they, by shouts and salutations, then gave yet greater signs of their joy'. Others, however, refused to doff their caps, either for their sovereigns or for the ceremonial cross that was borne before them; Gardiner, riding in the procession, ordered his secretary to make a note of all the houses whose occupants showed such disrespect. Presently the King and Queen came to Tower Wharf, where they took their barge for Greenwich.

The Lady Elizabeth also came by water to Greenwich, but, at the Queen's command, she was conveyed (according to de Noailles) 'in a very badly-fitted boat, with only four ladies and two or three gentlemen, which has caused much discontent among the people'. Mary feared that, if her sister travelled by road, there would be demonstrations of loyalty and affection for her, and that the Queen could not have borne.

The whole court assembled to witness Philip's departure on 29 August. Mary had wanted to accompany him as far as Dartford, or even Dover, but - probably fearing more tearful scenes - he had dissuaded her, promising that he would be back in time to open Parliament on 21 October. Having said goodbye in private, the Queen formally bade her husband farewell at the top of the great staircase at Greenwich, then watched him descend and leave the palace for a ship that would take him as far as Gravesend. Although 'she expressed very well the sorrow becoming to a wife', she was quite obviously 'deeply grieved internally', though she concealed her terrible distress with commendable fortitude, 'constraining herself to avoid, in sight of such a crowd, any demonstration unbecoming her gravity'. Only when the last of Philip's gentlemen had kissed her hand did she hasten to a window in the gallery and, seating herself to watch Philip's departure, burst into tears, thinking herself unobserved. However, many people saw her there. The King had already boarded his ship and gone below decks, but when he at last emerged he too caught sight of his weeping wife at the window and waved his hat, 'demonstrating great affection'. The Queen sat there sobbing until he had sailed out of sight. She then wrote him a letter, which was waiting for him when he arrived at Canterbury, Mary having arranged to have a team of messengers, with horses ready saddled, waiting to deliver her letters post haste to the King, who, during his sojourn at Canterbury received letters almost daily from his bereft wife. Her devotion to him was the talk of the courts of Europe.

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