Changelings, Bastards, and Fantasy Children: Fertility, Infertility, and English Queens from Margaret of Anjou to Mary of Modena

Dr. Carole Levin

For queens in premodern Europe their most important function was producing a son in the first years of their marriage. But many did not, and problems with fertility often led to commentary, gossip, and slander that was not only personally painful but often had great political impact. Some contended that a queen who could not have a child pretended to be pregnant and looked for a baby to claim to be hers. Others gossiped that a queen had a baby with a lover instead of her husband. In one tragic case, a queen who had no children became ill and, delirious, was convinced that she was actually a mother. This paper examines queens from Henry VI’s wife Margaret of Anjou in the fifteenth century to James II’s wife Mary of Modena at the end of the seventeenth century who had problems with fertility and what this meant not only to them but to court and country as well.