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Wikimedia Commons  // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

8 Historic Pregnancies Everyone Was Watching

Wikimedia Commons  // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you consider that it only took about seven decades to go from public pregnancy talk being taboo to Beyonce’s epic “We’re expecting twins” photoshoot, it’s clear society’s collective obsession with baby bumps has come a long way in a pretty short time. Up until the 1950s, openly acknowledging that a woman was with child (and therefore openly acknowledging her sexuality) was thought to be inappropriate.

Of course, that hasn't stopped nosy citizens and subjects from paying attention to particularly noteworthy pregnancies throughout history. These eight royals, cultural trailblazers, and newsmakers had all eyes on them—and their growing bellies—long before today’s tabloids made celebrity baby watching an art.

1. JANE SEYMOUR // 1537

jane seymour
Public Domain

Henry VIII’s first two wives—Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn—had only successfully given birth to daughters before their husband divorced and executed them, respectively. So, when the King of England married Jane Seymour in 1536 (only days after wife #2’s death), the pressure was on her and her uterus to give her new husband the male heir he so desperately wanted. Seymour conceived seven months later. Despite a seriously poor record of treating his previous wives, Henry was devoted to Seymour during her pregnancy. According to some accounts, when Seymour craved out-of-season quail, Henry had them shipped from Calais, France. Astrologers at the time predicted the bun in the royal oven was a boy. They were right. In October 1537, Seymour delivered Edward VI after days of brutal labor. Henry was thrilled, but the birth had been too much for Seymour. She died of complications soon afterward.

2. LESLEY BROWN // 1978

Lesley Brown and her husband, John, had been trying to get pregnant for nine years before they became the first to ever successfully conceive and carry a baby to term via artificial insemination (and they did it on the first try). The English couple welcomed daughter Louise on July 25, 1978, but they were regulars in the headlines in the nine months leading up to the historic delivery, too. The attention was a bit much for the Browns, a quiet homemaker and railroad employee, to take. People were fascinated—and in some cases, outraged—by the medical breakthrough. "Test tube babies" were thought to be both a promising development for thousands of childless couples and a risky step toward playing God. The Browns’ fame only got bigger after Louise was born. They even had to move to a house with a backyard so Lesley could take her baby outside without reporters tailing them.

3. IFRA HORMIZD // 309 C.E.

Shapur II’s rise to rule the Sasanian Empire—which covered much of the Middle East and parts of central Asia—started before he was even born. First Shapur’s father, Hormizd II, died in 309 C.E., then three older brothers were killed, blinded, or captured by nobles, leaving Hormizd’s unborn child next in line for the throne. Some say Shapur was crowned in utero, with his mother, Ifra, even wearing the crown on her womb. Not all historians buy this legend, though, as they wouldn’t have known the baby was a boy.

4. MARIE ANTOINETTE // 1777

MARIE ANTOINETTE AND HER CHILDREN
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The French queen of “Let them eat cake” fame didn’t exactly have a peaceful road to motherhood. It reportedly took seven years for the young royal and her young husband, Louis XVI, to consummate their marriage, and the fact that they hadn’t produced an heir in that time was a problem for the monarchy. When Marie finally did get pregnant, not only was she expected to deliver a boy, she was also subject to the royal tradition of giving birth in front of a curious crowd of courtiers to ensure no baby swapping or other funny business was happening. In the words of Marie’s first chambermaid Madame Campan, when the time came for the birth, “it was impossible to move about the chamber, which was filled with so motley a crowd that any one might have fancied himself in some place of public amusement. Two Savoyards [people from Savoy] climbed upon the furniture for a better sight of the Queen.” Talk about awkward.

5. LUCILLE BALL // 1952

Due to the aforementioned scandalousness of addressing a pregnancy publicly, it was big news when Lucille Ball and her on-and-off-screen husband Desi Arnaz wanted to write her second real-life pregnancy into the storyline of their sitcom, I Love Lucy. CBS network execs weren’t wild about the idea of including a pregnancy in a show in which the married leads could only be shown in twin beds, but gave the couple the okay provided they didn’t actually use the word “pregnant”—it was considered vulgar at the time. Instead, the episode “Lucy is Enceinte” (“Lucy is Pregnant” in French) used quaint '50s euphemisms for Ball’s condition, like “blessed event.” Audiences loved it and the subsequent episodes following Ball and her character’s pregnancy, and Ball and Arnaz greeted Desi Arnaz Jr. in real life the same day the episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired with 44 million people watching.

6. QUEEN VICTORIA // 1853

Queen Victoria and her eldest child
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The British Empire’s Queen Victoria was no stranger to her pregnancies drawing the public eye. She was attacked in an assassination attempt while riding in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband Albert in 1840, four months into carrying her first child. Later, she became the first monarch to give birth under the influence of chloroform (she used the stuff with her eighth and ninth babies)—a distinction that helped popularize pain-reducing anesthesia for upper-class women during childbirth.

7. ANNE MORROW // 1930

Famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow’s little bundle of joy was so eagerly anticipated, reporters camped out at the Morrow estate ahead of his arrival and radio stations played songs celebrating the event. As The New York Times described in a 1932 article about Charles Jr., “Perhaps nowhere in the world, at any time in history, had a child been the object of such wide public interest as was the Lindbergh child.” Sadly, the buzz around the baby ultimately turned deadly. When Charles Jr. was 20 months old, he vanished from his second-story crib in a kidnapping that captivated the nation for years. The Lindberghs paid $70,000 in ransom to have their toddler returned to them, but the boy’s remains were found a few months later. The man eventually convicted of “the crime of the century” was arrested in 1934.

8. FRANCES FOLSOM CLEVELAND // 1893

frances folsom cleveland
Library of Congress

There was a bit of a scandal when bachelor president Grover Cleveland proposed to Frances Folsom in 1885—most people had assumed the president would be proposing to Folsom’s widow mother instead. So the 21-year-old First Lady understandably became an instant celebrity and fashion icon when she married. (She was so sought-after at public events, the president was concerned for her safety.) As the first and only First Lady to give birth in the White House, “Frankie”s pregnancies were just as attention-grabbing. Esther Cleveland, the only baby of a president ever born in the White House, arrived in 1893.

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Big Questions
Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?
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The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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