How many children did Anna Magdalena Bach have to care for? (Part I)

Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife had died in July 1720. He brought four children into his new marriage on the 3rd December 1721. His new wife, Anna Magdalena Bach née Wilcke, had thirteen children in the following years.

Do we not get the impression from these numbers that Anna Magdalena Bach’s entire energy must have been spent on looking after these children and the daily chores of cooking for the family and cleaning the house? She had no time for anything else. Is there any need for further research?

But we need to look more closely.

Johann Sebastian Bach brought the following children into the family:

Catharina Dorothea (〰 29.12.1708, † 14.1.1774)

Wilhelm Friedemann (* 22.11.1710, † 1. 7.1784)

Carl Philipp Emanuel (* 8. 3.1714, † 14.12.1788)

Johann Gottfried Bernhard (* 11.5.1715, † 27.5.1739)

Anna Magdalena Bach gave birth to the following children:

Christiana Sophia Henrietta (* März/April 1723, † 29.6.1726)

Gottfried Heinrich (* 26.2.1724, ⚰ 12.2.1763)

Christian Gottlieb (〰 14.4.1725, † 21.9.1728)

Elisabeth Juliana Friderica (〰 5.4.1726, † 24.8.1781)

Ernestus Andreas (〰 30.10.1727, † 1.11.1727)

Regina Johanna (〰 10.10.1728, † 25.4.1733)

Christiana Benedicta (〰 1.1.1730, † 4.1.1730)

Christiana Dorothea (〰 18.3.1731, † 31.8.1732)

Johann Christoph Friedrich (〰 23.6.1732, † 26.1.1795)

Johann August Abraham (〰 5.11.1733, † 6.11.1733)

Johann Christian (〰 7.9.1735, † 1.1.1782)

Johanna Carolina (〰 30.10.1737, † 18.8.1781)

Regina Susanna (〰 22.2.1742, † 14.12.1809)

Legend: * - born, 〰 - baptised,

† - died, ⚰ - funeral

The baptisms and funerals are given as events in the sources, but the dates of birth and death are not always given. Children were sometimes baptised on the same day, otherwise during the following days. The dead were usually buried within a few days.

The baptism registry of Christiana Sophia Henrietta is probably lost – it has not been discovered so far. According to a note in the school exercise book of her half-brother Wilhelm Friedemann, she lived to the age of 3¼. (Dok II, page 158)

Baptismal Font from 1615 in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

We can only guess how Anna Magdalena Bach experienced the pregnancies and births. She was seriously ill seven months before the birth of her daughter Regina Susanna and it is not known whether this was related to the pregnancy.

The lengths of the lives above show that the family often had to overcome the deaths of children. More were born in the following years. Wilhelm Friedemann left home in 1733, Carl Philipp Emanuel followed in 1734 and Gottfried Bernhard in 1735.

The times during which the children were living in Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian Bach’s household are shown in the following diagram (the ages of Johann Sebastian’s children from his first marriage at the time of the marriage to Anna Magdalena are given in brackets):

It is clear that in the summer of 1732 nine daughters and sons were living in the household, at other times fewer. At this time the eldest were 17, 18, 21 and 23 years old and we can assume that they no longer needed care. Only the children under ten need to be considered. Of these, five lived in the household in the summer of 1732, and fewer at other times. The average number of children under ten living in the household between 1721 and 1750 was less than three.

But of course, the care and nourishment of three or four children still requires a lot of energy and time, which could restrict the time available for other activities. But did Anna Magdalena Bach have to perform all these duties herself? Heide Wunder, one of the greatest researchers on women in the early modern age, states about this period: “Alle Arbeiten – außer der Entbindung – konnten als Lohnarbeit delegiert werden“ – “All work except for the birth itself could be delegated as paid labour”. (Wunder 1992, page 100)

There are several indications that Anna Magdalena Bach also made use of this possibility. (See part II)

Translation: Alan Shepherd