The Tale of King Henry and the Baby

[Chaos reigned supreme at the castle of our King; the Queen had just been delivered of a beautiful baby girl, and everyone wanted to see the new Princess. The King and Queen quickly put a stop to visitors, and still there was a never-ending line of Knights, Courtiers, Pages, Squires and Servants entering the Queen's bedchamber, Some to bring news, some to tend the fire, some to bring food, some to empty the night-soil jar, and some to change the candles. It got to the point that the King had one of his Knights stand outside the Queen's door, and threaten anyone who wanted in without a good reason. However, even that failed, the Knight ended up putting his head in the room every five minutes, theoretically to ask if this or that was a 'good reason,' but having a good long look at the Princess every time. Nevertheless, even with the Knight finally being firmly told that 'the only good reason is if the castle on fire, or we are being attacked,' it was a wonder the poor child could get any rest, for the noise and to-do in the halls.

Finally the King realized he had no choice; he called for the Royal Chamberlain, and told him to have the Great Hall prepared. That evening, the entire castle gathered, and when all were settled, the King stood and asked all to be silent as the Royal Nursemaid entered with the new Princess. "She is too young to be able to handle loud noises, and I will not allow anyone to frighten her!" warned their Monarch.

When all had given their agreement, the Nurse entered the Great Hall, and delivered the child to her father. "This is my Daughter; her name is Maria Teresa Silvia Plantagenet!" There was sudden sound from the end of the dais, and the King gave a sharp look in that direction to scold the noisemaker; but it was only Roger, the Court Chaplain. Maria Teresa did not seem to mind the noise, she looked at her father with the bright eyes of one for whom everything is new, and did not utter a sound.

As the people lined up and slowly walked by their King, the child seemed to keep focused on her father, but when Roger walked by, the last person in line, Maria Teresa moved her head, and seemed to look directly at the monk. The old monk knew that babies one week old do not focus their eyes on anyone, but still the child's action made him start. As he started to move away, the baby started to whimper, and so the King called to his friend; "Don't go, come hold her."

The baby fussed until the monk came back near her, and seemed to smile when he picked her up out of her father's outstretched hands. "Babies that young don't smile," he thought, but if it was not a smile, it was sure a good facsimile of one. The child settled down straightaway, and quickly fell asleep; it was to the Nurse the monk soon passed on the baby. Roger offered the child his blessing before the Nurse turned to take Maria Teresa to her nursery, and the King and his Chaplain stood there watching as the Heir to the throne was escorted out of the Great Hall.

"You might have warned me," the old monk chided his Monarch, "I almost started to cry. I know that Teresa's mother will be thrilled that you have honored her like this; I will write her this evening, and tell them."

"It was the Queen's idea; she did not tell me until the very morning Maria Teresa was born. I knew the Maria part, of course, and Silvia was the Queen's own mother; God rest her; but I did not know the full name until the day of the birth. The Queen asked me not to say anything until today, when the babe was to be presented to the kingdom. I expect that 'Maria Teresa' shall be what she is called officially, but she shall be known as 'Teresa' by her friends and family."

"The feast for her birth will be this Sunday; I shall have to plan a special story in her honor. And perhaps I shall get you back for shocking my poor heart; you might have stopped it with that announcement!" The old monk bowed politely to his King, and softly left the Great Hall, composing the letter to Teresa's mother in his mind.

Sunday the Great Hall was filled with family, friends and well-wishers, all were there to celebrate the birth of the King's heir. Mother and child were not there, of course; they were safe where it was quiet; but the crowd was loud enough that no doubt some of their merry-making was heard all the way up in the child's nursery. The dinner was a wondrous affair, the choicest meats, the finest wines, everything was perfect. The residents of the castle wanted to show how everyone from the Chief Cook to the lad who scrubbed the pots how much they loved the King's child. The Great Hall itself was a marvel, how they could have found such flowers in the middle of winter amazed everyone. When some found out that they were made of silk that fact only made the people happier; what lovely gifts they were to give to such a small child.

Gifts, did I say gifts? There were tables filled with gifts; from the lowly to the great, everyone had come bearing tokens of love and respect for the little Princess. Most she would never see, they would be given to children in orphanages and to babies of the poor; but every gift was noted, and the Queen herself wrote to thank everyone who had given something to her precious little girl.

As the eating part of the feast wound down, the crowd was growing expectant, how would their storytelling monk fete the new Princess? Plates were finally cleared away and goblets refilled as the old monk went to his 'storytelling seat' in the middle of the Great Hall. After the room was quieted down, he began the tale that would be his birthing gift to his future Queen.

"It was in the days of Good King Henry, and the King was growing anxious . . ."]

His wife Queen Eleanor was more than ready to deliver, even if it had only been eight months since the conception of the child; she looked like she was ready to burst! She spent her days with her Ladies and Maids, sewing baby garments, making diapers, and creating the cradle linens for the Royal Cradle. This suited the Queen just fine, she could put her feet up, and there were servants who were quite willing to literally wait on her hand and foot.

The King, unfortunately, had no such option. Normally he would have been busy doing the work of governing his Kingdom, but it was mid-winter, and everyone, good and bad, seemed to be staying at home close to his or her fire, and not daring to venture out into the cold and ice. It got so the King had canceled morning court three days in a row, and it was likely to be cancelled the next day, also. Simply put, the King was bored.

"Why doesn't your Majesty ride out hunting on the morrow?" the Royal Chamberlain inquired; "It will be a fine day, and you know your Lady loves fresh venison."

"The kitchen has venison enough for a fortnight," replied the King, "and yesterday my huntsman brought in a wild boar. More meat for our tables is not really needed. But thank you for the thought," added the King, turning to his friend and advisor; "I know you mean well and are trying to find me something to do that will make me feel useful. But hunting is not the answer."

"Perhaps your Majesty might explore the castle library," said the Chamberlain, "You might look up things that will affect your child."

"Well it is true I know little about babies," replied the King; "I have spent my life first learning war-craft, and recently learning state-craft; perhaps it is time I should be learning baby-craft."

"That would be wise, my Liege; and perhaps the care of children before the age where they normally enter Page or Maiden training; having no younger brothers or sisters, your education in that area is a bit limited."

"Excellent notion; I shall start tomorrow morning!" And with that, the King went on to his study, to prepare a list of things he would need to know.

The next morning after breakfast, the King kissed his wife on the cheek, and went off to the library, eager to start his education on the care of children. He sent for the Royal Librarian, and was soon placed in front of the library table, with a thick leather-bound tome entitled "Children and their Care" By Father William Francis in front of him. The King knew that he needed to take notes, so as to ask the physicians of the castle any questions if something was not clear. However, the book seemed pretty much straight forward, and the King had little difficulty understanding the concepts listed in the book. He went slowly, as he wanted to be sure to understand everything the good Father had written; it was clear that Father Francis was an expert on children.

"I would never have thought it," said the King to himself; "a sip of wine each day will quiet the child's tummy, and eliminate colic. Moreover, sausage and meat pies are best started when the infant has his first tooth, to aid in its breaking through the skin, and meat must served thinly sliced, so the baby can fit it into his small mouth! This Priest was a Genius!"

That night the King could hardly wait to share his new knowledge with his Queen. As she sat at their table, the King smiled broadly, and told her the good news; "I shall be buying six goats for the feeding of our child when it is born, the goat's udders are most like the mother's breasts, and the child will be able to nurse directly from the goat!"

"The Queen looked at her husband and laughed heartily, "That is quite humorous; thank you, my Love, for bringing a smile to my face. As if a baby could nurse off of a goat! That is funny!"

"I did not mean it in fun," replied her husband. "Goat's milk has been proven best for babies less than two years of age. It will go well with the meat pasties we will serve him for luncheon. It is the latest thing, you know."

"You plan to serve our baby meat pasties? Why plan the child's food so many years in advance? Our baby will not be ready for meat pasties until he or she is at least four years old!"

"You must learn the proper care and feeding of babies," lectured the King, "I have an excellent book for you to read; I have spent the day studying it, and it is the most educational book on children I have ever found!"

"We shall both look at it in the morning then," said the Queen; "I fear that you may not have been taught the proper care of infants as I was when a little girl."

"No doubt, but you will see, this book has all the latest theories," spoke the King; "we shall both review it in the morning."

The next day after the breaking of their fast the King and Queen went into the library, the childcare book was still on the table. "Surely this was not what you were reading, my Husband," said her Majesty; "This book was written by a man who had never touched a child in his life!"

"That is why it is so good," protested the King, "he had no bad habits to unlearn; he was able to approach child-raising with a clean slate!"

"I fear if you ever try to do anything that man suggests, our baby will suffer for it," spoke the Queen firmly. "I think I need to arrange for you to get some real training on how to care for a baby!"

The King saw that the Queen was adamant; she was just not going to listen to the voice of reason. "I must show her the errors of the old ways, and perhaps practicing on someone else's child might just be the trick!" thought the King. Turning to his wife, he told her, "That is a good idea, my Love; let me go this afternoon and help tend one of the infants of the castle; your Lady-in-waiting Gertrude was delivered not a month ago; that child would do splendidly for me to learn what you would have me know!"

With that, the two Royals each went off to prepare for the afternoon; the Queen to talk with Gertrude and her other Ladies, and the King to dress in his best; he must look good when teaching the Lady Gertrude how to care for her son.

Early in the afternoon, the King was presented to his wife's Lady Gertrude. Gertrude was a small woman, in her mid twenties, and Michael was her second boy child. The King had brought along a meat pasty from the kitchen he had asked the Chief Cook to prepare specially, the meat was ground up exceedingly fine, and the crust was light and flakey.

"This is just the thing!" said the King when Lady Gertrude said that her child was hungry, "he can snack on this."

"Your majesty, he could not get that in his mouth," replied the Lady, "and his tummy would instantly reject it. Babies have to eat milk for the first four months, and only gradually start to eat soft solid foods. That pasty is fine for me, though, and I shall nibble on it while my baby suckles."

Nursing was no surprise to Good King Henry; he had seen it in the Great Hall from the time he was a boy. Still, the Ladies' words disturbed him. "I have seen mothers feeding bread to their babies when they are not but three months, is that not so?"

"You have seen mothers soak stale bread crusts in milk, and offer it up to their teething child; that is to help them cut the skin off of their baby teeth. They actually eat very little of the bread,; instead they like the milk."

"Then you do not feed them sausage to cut their teeth on?" inquired the King.

"Heavens no, your Majesty; that would make them sick! Where has your majesty heard all these silly things?"

"In a book written by a Priest; I think now that he should have stayed with his prayers and his ceremonies; it seems his child knowledge is not worth the paper it was written on."

"No matter, my King; Your Queen and I will set you straight. It is time to burp Michael, would you like to try it?"

"Yes, this I know how to do!" and before the Lady could warn him, the King put Michael over his shoulder, and began to pat softly.

"Your Majesty, you should first put down a, oh dear!" Michael had spit up, and the beautiful velvet tunic the King wore was forever stained on his left shoulder.

"No matter, this was an old tunic anyway," the King lied gamely; "I wore it knowing this would happen. What do we do next?"

"Well, what I usually do next is to check to see if his diaper is soiled."

"No need to check, either it is, or I am sadly mistaken."

"Here is the way to change a diaper," said Lady Gertrude, as she showed the King how to unfasten and remove the soiled garment from her baby. "This is a particularly nasty one, and so we must clean Michael thoroughly, and be sure to wipe his tender bottom with this ointment I get from the Herb Master of the castle; it coats the soft skin, and reduces the rash that babies are prone to get."

With the woman's guidance, the King carefully cleaned all the feces from the child, and carefully placed the crème from the jar everywhere the ordure had touched; clearly it worked quite well, the child's bottom was as smooth as a, er, baby's behind.

"We were in luck, when a baby has diarrhea, no diaper can hold that, and we would have needed to change everything he has on, and bathed him also. But he was a good little boy today; weren't you?" as the young mother played with her babies' toes. "It is important to play with the baby as you change him, and play with his hands and feet, that helps him to grow properly."

"Well, we have cleaned him, how do we now put on the new diaper?"

"That is easy, they are in that linen bag over there, your Majesty; would you fetch one?"

Lady Gertrude gently lifted up her babies' bottom, and slid the clean cloth under it. "Fold the cloth like this, your Majesty, and tie it on using a bow on each side. These diapers are made for when a child is small, and overlap on the sides, to help prevent accidental leakage. But no diaper is foolproof, and leaks often occur, it is wise therefore to carry extra sets of garments for your child; he will surely need them, sooner or later."

With the diaper on, the King refastened all the ties of the baby's clothing, and picked him up to rock him in his arms.

"Why does the sour smell persist, when we have disposed of the soiled diaper into the pail in the other room?" the King asked the Lady.

"That, my King, is because babies are full of mischief, and this one has decided that you did so well changing him the first time, he wants you to do so again!"

And so it was. The King changed the offending garment, and with minimal help from the mother, who nonetheless watched carefully. When the child was finally clean again, the Lady Gertrude suggested that it was time for the baby's nap, and after showing the King how to put the child safely in his cradle, the King gently rocked Michael to sleep.

"I think your Majesty has done splendidly!" said the Lady; "You may watch my child any day!"

"I fear my Lady the Queen shall require me to concentrate on our child, but I shall tell her of your comments. Perhaps she will now forgive me for reading that silly book rather than coming to her for advice. But I so wanted to please her with a surprise!"

"If your majesty wants to surprise our Queen, perhaps I can help." The Lady told the King what almost every pregnant Lady desired more than gold and silver, and the King thanked her; promising to try it that very night.

That night, as the Queen was about to get under the covers of her bed, the King asked her to wait. "I have learned something, and I want to see if you agree with it," said the King, and gently he removed the slippers from the Queen's feet, and softly began to rub her feet all over. After a moment, he got some of the baby ointment that Lady Gertrude had given him, and he rubbed it gently between the toes, and on the bottoms of each foot.

"I do not know where you learned that, my love, but thank you, thank you, thank you!" the Queen lay there, looking quite rested, and after a few more minutes rubbing each foot, the King took a towel, and wiped her feet dry. Then with a slow motion, he gently put her feet under the covers, and kissed his wife on the forehead.

"I shall try to remember to do that each night, my dear," said her husband; "please remind me if I forget?"

"Be assured that I will!" said the Queen, and the King gently blew out the candles and went off to his bedchamber.

[". . . And so you see, your Majesty," finished the monk, "It is a tradition in your family from the days of Good King Henry for the King to help take care of his child. I'm sure the baby's Nurses will be glad to teach you all you need to know."

And with the crowd gently laughing at the predicament the old monk had placed their King in, Roger made his way out of the Great Hall, before he himself was called upon to change a baby, a task he did not enjoy.]

{Warning! I have been told that massaging a pregnant ladies' feet or any part of her anatomy below the knee is not a good idea, for it may lead to uterine contractions and other unwanted effects. Please check with your doctor before any massaging of a lady who is pregnant. The study of Reflexology is not accepted by every doctor as of yet, but it is better to be safe, in my opinion, and not take actions that might cause hurt.}

To Be Continued . . .

By
Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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