Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Weird Science: Sex and Reproductive Knowledge in the Early Seventeenth Century

…parts of her ‘secret members’…just fell out of her body…
For those in Britain in the seventeenth century (and indeed the rest of Europe), much of the miracle of birth was still a mystery, certain signs were perceived to be indicative of pregnancy, but there was no way of knowing for sure, no definite pregnancy test. This uncertainty surrounding the reproductive process gave rise to many strange beliefs. For Jacob Rueff the author of the birth manual The expert midwife (1637), one certainty was that the devil could through deception or possession impregnate a woman, he felt that the matter ‘needeth no question’. Reuff’s manual recounts several disturbing tales of sexual encounters between men, women and the devil. One alleged encounter involves a women and the devil in the shape of a man. This encounter ends with the woman getting an incurable rotting in her stomach before finally loosing her entrails and parts of her ‘secret members’, which apparently just fell out of her body. A gory tale but Reuff must have felt it a necessary to warn readers of the potential danger.

….the male and female seed ‘congeal and curd together’….

There was an idea that some seed from a man and seed from a woman somehow mixed together and grew into a child, again however the exact details of this miracle were unknown.
The following are images taken from a the sane birth manual concerning how babies were conceived and grew in the womb. Alongside the illustrations Reuff describes how the male and female seed ‘congeal and curd together’ like a ‘tender egg’ before proceeding to form some kind of a skin, then generating a liver, and the heart before finally forming a child. I find these images fascinating as they show so much detail, and although they are of course wrong, you can see how they could have been recieved as scientific fact.

Source: Reuff, Jacob, The Expert Midwife or and excellent and most necessary treatise of the generation and birth of man, (1637), from Early English Books Online.

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Friday, 27 August 2010

Some of my fellow history bloggers

*Other* blogs you may enjoy,
happy reading!


The Medieval World http://themedievalworld.blogspot.com/  This is my friends fabulous blog which she started fairly recently, she’s a great writer! As the title suggests its theme is everything medieval.

Got Medieval http://gotmedieval.blogspot.com/ A popular blog, (you can even buy merchandise!), it has a humorous take on the period for example it has medieval ‘personals’ and lately there has been some guest posts making fun of bad medieval films.

Medieval Wall http://www.medievalwall.com/  This is another fairly new blog, I love the design and the posts so far are very detailed and informative.

The East and the West in the Middle Ages: Crusades and Crusaders
 http://crusades-medieval.blogspot.com/  I just discovered this blog but it has obviously been around for a while, there is a lot of information about the crusades, maps and individual crusades.

Early Modern

Early Modern History http://earlymodernhistory1.blogspot.com/  This is frequently updated and is a gateway for early modern blogs and information.

Fragments http://daintyballerina.blogspot.com/  This is a well established and regularly updated blog which has loads of fabulous, often amusing and always interesting posts surrounding the period.

LOL Manuscripts! http://lolmanuscripts.blogspot.com/  This is a blog which takes woodcuts from the period and edits them in a humorous manner.

The Gentleman Administrator http://thegentlemanadministrator.wordpress.com/  I have placed this blog under early modern as it has much related content but it also has other general musings I enjoyed a post recently called ‘Nostalgia Vs History’.

Anna's History Blog http://annainthesixteenthcentury.blogspot.com/  describes itself as ‘Covering everything between 1500 and 1800 in Britain and beyond’ which pretty much sums it up. I like that she keeps abreast of current historical fiction as well.

Women's History

About Women's History http://womenshistory.about.com/  This is from about.com it is not defined by any time period but is a useful and interesting read for women’s history and includes medieval and early modern content.

History and Women http://historyandwomen.blogspot.com/  Describes itself as a ‘celebration of women - glorious, sinful, shocking’ it contains many bios of females from history and is not defined by any century so it contains a wealth of interesting characters.

Art History

BibliOdyssey http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.com/  I love this blog it post lots of amazing historical images from books; a feast for the eyes (hee hee)

Alberti's Window http://albertis-window.blogspot.com/  Posts about individual pieces from all periods, also current news and issues on the subject ect.

Obviously this post contains only a handful of the history blogs out there- other quality blogs are available!

Illustration: Jean-Honoré Fragonard,  A young girl reading, c.1776.

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chat up Lines: Early Modern Style

 'The New Academy of Complements' was written by Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset and printed in 1669. It amused me as its first section is almost like a seventeenth century dating manual (I really think some of these lines should be reintroduced!). It contains a collection of suggested compliments to use on the opposite sex. Sackville himself was married three times so I suppose he must have known a thing or two about the process of courting....

Complemental Expressions towards Men, Leading to The Art of Courtship:
  • Sir, My appetite is sick, for want of a capacity to digest your Favours.
  • Sir, 'Tis no wonder there is so little goodness in the world, since by the rich stock of Vertue that rests in you, others are become bankrupts!

  • Sir, I shall desire no greater glory from you, than new proofs of my obedience.
  • Sir, When I have finisht your desires, I should in reat you to reserve some new Commands, so great a pleasure I take in being yours.
  • Sir, You have deserved more services from me, than my life is able to perform.
  • Sir, Your bounties have been showr'd upon me with such excess, that I am uncapable of a Complement.
  • Sir, I congratulate your happy presence.
  • Sir, May this meeting create a lasting League of Amity betwixt us.
  • Sir, I should be entirely happy, should I finde an occasion to imprint the Characters of your Vertues in my brest, by a more firm acquaintance.


Complements towards Ladies, Gentlewomen, Maids:
  • Madam, It is impossible any one should see your beauty and not become a captive. 
  • Madam, In those smiling dimples, Cupid hath pitched his Tents. 

  • Madam, You are all Vertue, from your sweet lip the morning gathers blushes.
  • Fair one, your feature and your vertues excel all mortal sence.
  • Madam, You have vanquished me, I am an eternal prisoner to your beauty.

  • Madam, When I see you I am in paradice, it is then that my eyes carve me out a feast of Love.

  • Madam, Mortal eyes are never to be satisfied with the wonders of your beauty.

  • Madam, Your complexion clear as is the skie, was never fram'd but to be ador'd.

  • Madam, Though my person is removed from you, my purpose is not, for I still retain and will till death, the resolutions of being, Madam, Yours.

  • Madam, give me but the favour to suffer me to discover my affections, and then if you shall think fit, silence me to perpetuity.

  • Madam, The perfume of your sweet breath informs me your Mother fed on Roses when she bred you. 
Other handy features of this book are examples of letters for every occassion the following is suggested correspondence between a rich gent and a young virgin who does not return his favours, I like the poem it makes her wishes very clear:
A rich old Gentleman, to a fair young Virgin.

Young Lady,

LEt not my years be an obstacle to your love, since I have those gifts of fortune, that will not onely maintain our affections, and keep the fire of love in a continual flame, but will also afford you all those Ornaments which Art hath designed for the adorning such tender and beautiful Buds of Nature: Besides, though I come not to you with a powdred Lock, or in the mode of a young Gallant, yet know my Girl, my zeal for you can be as hot, and as sincere, as the sprucest Pretenders in the world: and if age doth make me seem in your apprehension, as a withering tree, yet I have Gold will keep its colour, and it is that which in this world is ones best friend. Pray have me in your thoughts, and I shall watch for an opportune season, wherein I may make my self farther known to be, Fairest Lady,

Your most affectionate Servant.

The Answer. A beautiful young Virgin, to a decrepit, rich, old Gentleman.

Grave Sir,

You are too far distant from me in years, to be admitted into my affections, since you are arrived to the pitch of Dotage, and I yet ignorant of what is Love; However, I must do you so much justice as to commend your discretion, for fishing with a Golden Bait; for believe me, next to Beauty, I cannot imagine any thing to be more taking among mortals, than the glorious name of Wealth: I could be content to keep my Coaches, my Pages, Lackeys, and Maids, but I confess I could never endure the society of a bald pate; How can you think, Reverend Sir, that I should love you, when by the temptations which you offer, you clearly manifest your opinion, that if I should marry, it must be to your Gold, rather than to you: I confess a Silver Myne is a pretty toy for a thing of my years to dote on, but I have a childish humour peculiar to my self that is, never to humble my affections so, as that they suffer Treasure, as a Load-stone, to draw them to its beck. 'Tis true, wealth will be wellcome to me, to maintain my Train, but the Person of that more lovely creature, Man, will ever be more welcome to a Maids Embraces. Can you think me so weak, as to exchange the Flower of my Youth, for a bundle of Snow, or rotten Dirt? No Sir, Gold with a man is good, admirably good, but it is Man that in the School of Love, passes for the principal Verb; for my own part, rather than joyn my self to a meer wedge of Gold, I shall choose to accept of a bundle of Rags, so they have any affinity to a Man.

Old men are grey, Old men are grey,
I'm a lusty bonny young Lass,
And I prithee Old man away.

By this time, good old man, you know my minde; be wise, and wed your self to heaven, and I shall thank you, if in your death, you remember to bequeathe your Gold to

Your young Adviser.

This book was reprinted in 1671, 1681, 1694 and 1698 so it must have been popular throughout the latter part of the seventeenth century, with such great chat up lines you can see why!

The original document can be found at the Folger Shakespeare Library or Early English Books Online:
Charles Sackville, The New academy of complements erected for ladies, gentlewomen, courtiers, gentlemen, scholars, souldiers, citizens, country-men, and all persons, of what degree soever, of both sexes, (Samuel Speed: London, 1669) Illustrations:
  • Cover illustration from The New Academy of Complements
  • Frans Hals, Married couple in a garden, 1622,  Web Gallery of Art (hereafter WGA).
  • Thomas de Kyser, A portrait of a lady, 1632, WGA.
  • Thomas de Kyser, A protrait of a gentleman, 1632, WGA.
  • Rose and petals photgraph from ibiblio
  • Frans Fracken II, A young lady and a and a cavlier holding a letter, 17th century, WGA.
Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Friday, 14 May 2010

Take four or five swallows....16thC Medicine

I recently discovered a book called A rich store-house or treasury for the diseased printed in 1596 (and again throughout the 17th Century) It was written for those who were unable to visit a physician and who would be presumably self medicating. I thought I would share some of the recipes, not all are as brutal as this first one. I don't think I'll be trying it anytime soon due to its use of many crushed up swallows. 

Approved medicine for an ache or swelling
One handful knotty strawberries
One handful of thyme
One handful of lavender cotton
4 or 5 Swallows
Half a pound fresh unsalted butter

Take the thyme, lavender cotton, Knotty Strawberries, cut them and beat them in a morter, and when you have so done, then take 4 or 5 swallows out of a nest, and beat them in the morter with the herbs, untill you cannot perceive the feathers, and then take the butter and mingle them altogether. Then let them stand for the space of 24. hours, then seeth and strain them into a gally pot, or into some earthen vessell. And so use it twice a day, in anointing of the place where the grief is, and in five or six days it will be whole.

The book contains many remedies for various ailments most of which contain a lot less swallow. Here is one for women who have sore breasts:

Take red sage, chamomile and whitewine vinger, and apply it often to the womans breast that is sore and it helpeth her. Probatum est.

Sure of the remedy's capabilities it ends probatum est or 'it is proved'. Chamomile is still often used today in a lotion  to sooth the skin and also as a relaxing herbal drink.
I particularly like this next medicine which uses pig foot marrow for a clear and glowing complexion :

A Medicine for to make ones face cleare, and to shine.
Take a good quantity of the Marrow of Swines feete, Cow-milke, and Rosewater, and mingle them well together, and anoint your face therewith lukewarme, and it will make it very faire.

Apparently pigs feet contain a lot of collagen believed to be good for keeping the skin looking young (although this is debatable) so there could be something in this one!

'A.T: A rich store-house or treasury for the diseased', 1596, at Early English Books Online

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Monday, 10 May 2010

Women Crusaders?

Did women take part in the Crusades?
Did women fight on Crusade?

  • It is accepted that women did take part in crusading activities although there is some debate surrounding whether or not they took part in actual combat. It is fairly certain that women supported the crusaders in a manual capacity perhaps by dispensing drinks, washing, taking care of the wounded or even killing prisoners. It is also thought that there were also women who where prostitutes whether or not they were a separate group or some fulfilled both roles is unclear. There are Muslim reports of women fighting on crusade, although they report that the women were only recognisable as women once their armour was removed. Nicolson suggests that it is likely that some non noble women did fight alongside their sons and husbands particularly in the chaos of battle.

  • The lack of sources on women is a general problem for the medieval period as women writers were few, however it is likely that the lack of sources concerning women on crusade is due to a sense of embarrassment. It is likely that the participation of women was played down by chroniclers as women were heavily associated with sin and it was thought that their sinful presence could discredit the crusaders and in turn the crusades in which they took part. This was clearly an unattractive prospect when trying to initiate further crusades and also for the reputation of Christians and the perception of them to future generations.

  • In instances where women are written about as taking the cross their behaviour is compared to that of men such as the case of Margaret of Beverley who was described as a woman who ‘feigned’  to be like a man. They are often described in an auxiliary role, one where they had been drafted when there were not enough men to fight rather than being presented as viable crusaders in their own right.

  • The reduction of female participation in the crusades has been attributed to the change in the organisation of warfare from a private and domestic activity to a public and professional one. The suggestion is that women being more associated with the home or ‘private sphere’ and men the worldly or ‘public sphere’ led to a natural division whereby women were gradually excluded from crusading activities as they became more professionalised.

Like all history this is a developing area of research.....

Nicholson, Helen, ‘Women on the Third Crusade’, Journal of Medieval History 23 (1997), 335-349

Maier, Christoph T., ‘The roles of women in the crusade movement: a survey’, in Journal of Medieval History 30 (2004), 61-82

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Origins of Female gossip

Whether true or not 'gossip' is still an activity which is generally more closely associated with women than men. For instance most gossip magazines are primarily aimed at a female market (think NOW, Glamour, OK, Hello!)  Of course I do not deny that men read them too but they are probably more typically associated with women. Think too of the archetypical caricature of the office/work/local gossip who fuels the rumour mill and who more often than not tends to be represented as a woman. Generally women are seen as more talkative or 'gossipy' than men it is unsurprising then, that this association is long held and can be traced back to the early modern period and beyond (for further discussion seen Philips, Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England) Currently the word gossip is defined as conversation about the personal details of other people's lives, particularly rumours, with a propensity to be malicious. However the origins gossip and its association with femininity began with childbirth and female friendship in the early modern period.
               Early modern childbirth was very much an all female affair which involved midwives and female friends referred to as 'gossips' that supported the woman who was giving birth. In the time before giving birth the expectant mother would have a period of ‘lying in’ where she would be confined to a warm room with the windows and doors kept tightly shut, as it was believed that she was particularly susceptible to bad spirits or illness. Locked away husbands could only imagine what went on inside the birth chamber. Early modern childbirth remains somewhat mysterious because of the fact that men were unable access the birth space and therefore could not accurately document its happenings. It is perhaps because of this exclusive female world that ‘gossip’ became synonymous with idle or malicious talk; men could only imagine what women talked about together and they imagined the worst. A ballad from 1674 entitled ‘The Gossips Meeting’ is an example of this. It is a tale told from the position of a man overhearing an illicit conversation between a ‘parcel of women’, drinking in an ale house. In the tale the women discuss their husbands; plotting how they will explain away the money they have spent drinking ale:

If he gives me money to buy meat to roast,
Be sure I will reckon him more then it cost;
And so you may live with your husbands most brave
And they ne'r the wiser what money you have.

SAith Sarah my husband is of such a mind,
He calls me to reckon what money's behind;
When I bring it home, he will tak't in his hand,
And then he will ask me in what it doth stand:
Then I make a lye, and tell him something more,
Or else this cross Knave would beat me out of door
For he I not allow me a penny to spend,
But I care not for two pence if I meet a friend.

Why should we be curb'd so, hang care, let us drink,
We'l have t'other pot what e're our husbands think
If when we come home they upon us do frown,
we'l give them good words & bring their anger down
Pretending our Burthens hath tired us sore,
As if we were ready to fall on the Flore:
And so by that means they will patient remain,
And pitty us too, when they hear us complain. [1]

The women plan to use their burtherns (or ‘burdens’- referring to pregnancy) to soften up their husbands and gain sympathy to avert their anger when they arrive home penniless. As well as this the women frankly discuss their husband’s sexual prowess:

Methinks  Gossip Jone you have a lusty man,
I hope he doth give you content now and than,
I'le warrant you'r merry enough when I'm sad,
I'm sure that I want what I formerly had:
My husband doth sit like a Mome all the day,
And at night in the bed he is cold as the clay;
I had rather he would go and drink a Pot or two,
And come home at night and do what he should do [2]

It seems that increasingly throughout the seventeenth century there was a propensity towards associating women’s conversations with idle or negative talk. This is shown in other ballads one states ‘When  gossips meet, ther's too much prate’[3] prate meaning idle, profitless, or irrelevant chatter, and similarly another states ‘she and Gossips meet and Babble’[4]. Most damningly is William Gouge’s Of Domesticall Duties from 1622 which informs the reader that ‘when tatling  Gossips meet, their usuall prate is about their husbands, complaining of some vice or other in them’[5]. It is the exclusivity and mystery of women’s friendships and birthing communities in the early modern period which led to an association of women with ‘gossip’.

[1] Anon, ‘The Gossips meeting, or, The Merry market-women of Taunton tune of The Parliament of women, or, Digby's farewel’,1674, EEBO, www.eebo.chadwyck.com/home [accessed 7 May 2010]
[2] Anon, ‘The Gossips meeting’

[3] Anon ‘An excellent new medly. To the tune of the Spanish Pauin’, 1628, EEBO, www.eebo.chadwyck.com/home [accessed 7 May 2010]

[4] Thomas D’Urfey, ‘Collin's walk through London and Westminster a poem in burlesque’, 1690, EEBO, www.eebo.chadwyck.com/home [accessed 7 May 2010]

[5] William Gouge, ‘Of domesticall duties eight treatises’, 1622, EEBO, www.eebo.chadwyck.com/home [accessed 7 May 2010]

Figure 1 my own
Figure 2 Painting by Samuel Van Hoogstraten,17th C, from Web Gallery of Art

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Damnable Practices of 3 Lincolnshire witches PART 2

Damnable Practises
Of three Lincolne-shire Witches, Joane Flower, and her two Daughters,

Margret and Phillip Flower, against Henry Lord Rosse, with others the Children of the Right Honourable the Earle of Rutland, at Beaver Castle, who for the same were executed at Lincolne the 11. of March last. CONTINUED..

3 witches in one family it was never going to end well. In this second and final part will the Earls son survive?

'Beaver' Castle today

YEt did this noble minded Earle,
     so patiently it beare:
As if his childrens punishments,
     right natures troubles were:
Suspecting little, that such meanes,
     against them should be wrought,
Untill it pleas'd the Lord to have
     to light these mischiefes brought.
For greatly here the hand of God,
     did work in justice cause:
When he for these their practises
     them all in question drawes.
And so before the Magistrates,
     when as the yongest came,
Who being guilty of the fact
     confest and told the same.
How that her mother and her self,
     and sister gave consent:
To give the Countesse and her Lord,
     occasions to repent
That here they turnd her out of doors,
     in such vile disgrace:
For which, or them or theirs should be,
     brought into heavy case.
And how her sister found a time,
     Lord Rosses glove to take:
Who gave it to her mothers hand
     consuming spells to make.
The which she pricked all full of holes,
     and laid it deep in ground:
Whereas it rotted, so should he,
     be quite away consum'd.
All which her elder sister did,
     acknowledge to be true:
And how that she in boiling blood,
     did oft the same imbrew,
And hereupon the yong Lord Rosse,
     such torments did abide:
That strangely he consum'd away,
     untill the hour he died.
And likewise she confest how they,
     together all agreed:
Against the children of this Earle,
     to practise and proceed.
Not leaving them a child alive,
     and never to have more:
If witchcraft so could doe, because,
     they turnd them out of dore.
The mother as the daughters told,
     could hardly this deny:
For which they were attached all,
     by Justice speedily.
And unto Lincoln City borne,
     therein to lye in Jail:
Untill the Judging Sizes came,
     that death might be their bail.
But there this hatefull mother witch,
     these speeches did recall:
And said that in Lord Rosses death,
     she had no hand at all.
Whereon she bread and butter tooke,
     God let this same (quoth she)
If I be guilty of his death,
     passe never thorough me.
So mumbling it within her mouth,
     she never spoke more words:
But fell downe dead, a judgment just
     and wonder of the Lords.
Her Daughters two their trials had,
     of which being guilty found,
They died in shame, by strangling twist,
     and laid by shame in the ground.
Have mercy Heaven, on sinners all,
     and grant that never like
Be in this Nation knowne or done,
     but Lord in vengeance strike:
Or else convert their wicked lives
     which in bad wayes are spent:
The fears of God and love of heaven,
     such courses will prevent.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Damnable Practices of 3 Lincolnshire witches PART 1

This is a broadside ballad from 1619 it tells the tale of a noble family whose charity led them to become the victims of 3 witches. 'Beaver' Castle is in fact Belvoir Castle in England, but is written here how it has always been pronounced (apparantly Anglo Saxons couldn't get their tongues round the French pronuciation).
more about broadside ballads

Damnable Practises
Of three Lincolne-shire Witches, Joane Flower, and her two Daughters,
Margret and Phillip Flower, against Henry Lord Rosse, with others the Children of the Right
Honourable the Earle of Rutland, at Beaver Castle, who for the same were executed at Lincolne the 11. of March last. To the tune of the Ladies fall.

OF damned deeds, and deadly dole,
     I make my mournfull song,
By Witches done in Lincolne-shire,
     where they have lived long:
And practisd many a wicked deed,
     within that Country there,
Which fills my brest and bosome full,
     of sobs, and trembling feare.
One Beaver Castle is a place,
     that welcome gives to all,
By which the Earle of Rutland gaines
     the loves of great and small:
His Countesse of like friendlinesse,
     Doth beare as free a mind:
Also from them both rich and poore,
     helps and succour find.
Amongst the rest were Witches three,
     that to this Castle came,
Margaret and Phillip Flower,
     And Joane their Mothers name:
Which Women dayly found reliefe,
     and were contented well:
That the last this Margret was,
    received there to dwell.
[?]oke unto such houshold charge,
     [?] unto her belongd,
[?] she possest with fraud and guile,
    her place and office wrongd,
[?] Secretly purloyned things
     to her mother home:
[?] unlawfull howers from thence,
     did nightly go and come.
When the Earle and; Countesse heard,
     [?]r dealings knew,
[?]ved much that she should prove,
     [?] so untrue.
And so discharg'd her of the house,
     therein to come no more:
For of heer lewd and filching prankes,
     of proofes there were some store.
And likewise that her Mother was,
     a woman full of wrath,
A swearing and blaspheming wretch,
     forespeaking sodaine death:
And how that neighbours in her lookes,
     malitious signes did see:
And some affirm'd she dealt with Sprits,
     and so a Witch might be.
And that her Sister Phillip was
     well knowne a Strumpet lewd,
And how she had a young mans love,
     bewitched and subdued,
Which made the young man often say,
     he had no power to leave
Her curst inticing company,
     that did him so deceave.
When to the Earle and Countesse thus,
     these just complaints were made,
Their hearts began to breed dislike,
     and greatly grew affraid:
Commanding that she never should,
     returne unto their sight,
Nor back into the Castle come,
     but be excluded quite.
Whereat the old malitious feend,
     with these her darlings thought:
The Earle and Countesse them disgrac't,
     and their discredits wrought:
In turning thus despightfully,
     her daughter out of dores,
For which revengement, in her mind
     she many a mischiefe stores.
Heereat the Divell made entrance in,
     his Kingdome to inlarge.
And puts his executing wrath,
     unto these womens charge:
Not caring whom it lighted on,
     the Innocent or no,
And offered them his diligence,
     to flye, to run, and go.
And to attend in pretty formes,
     of Dog, of Cat, or Rat,
To which they freely gave consent,
     and much rejoyc't thereat:
And as it seemd they sould their soules,
     for service of such Spirits,
And sealing it with drops of blood,
     damnation so inherits.
These Women thus being Devils grown
     most cunning in their Arts:
With charmes and with enchanting spells,
     they played most damned parts:
They did forespeake, and Cattle kild,
     that neighbours could not thrive,
And oftentimes their Children young,
     of life they would deprive.
At length the Countess and her Lord,
     to fits of sickness grew:
The which they deemd the hand of God,
     and their corrections due:
Which crosses patiently they bore,
     misdoubting no such deed,
As from these wicked Witches heere,
     malitiously proceeds.
Yet so their mallice more increast,
     that mischief set in foot,
To blast the branches of that house,
     and undermine the root:
Their eldest son Henry Lord Rosse,
     possest with sicknesse strange,
Did lingring, lye tormented long,
     till death his life did change.
Their second sonne Lord Francis next,
     felt like continuing woe:
Both day and night in grievous sort,
     yet none the cause did know:
And then the Lady Katherin,
     into such torments fell:
By these their devilish practises,
     as grieves my heart to tell.

to be continued...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Pearls: Early Fashion Fad

 stars in pearls
Pearls have been popular for centuries earning them the title of (one of) the oldest gems known to man. They became particularly fashionable throughout Europe in the 13th and 14th century then even more so in the 15th century and 16th centuries. At times various times there have been varying restrictions on the wearing of this jewel for instance in 16th century South America native Americans,  free or slaves,  were prohibited from wearing them as well as gold and silk (excepting those married to Spaniards). In 14th century Germany restrictions meant that no married woman or maiden could wear pearls on her dress. Later in the 15th century only one pearl was allowed which was limited to the weight of half an ounce. In 14th century Venice there were numerous restrictions on the wearing of pearls for married women and their use in dress at weddings. How much these laws could have or were actually enforced is unclear though the possibility of excommunication in Germany may have been a  deterrent.  In the latter part of the seventeenth century however the popularity of pearls waned and instead diamonds and other crystal gems came in to favour. However as shown above pearls have never really disappeared from fashion and continue to be popular today.

15th Century
BALDOVINETTI. Alessio.c. 1465. portrait of a lady in yellow15thC broach necklace

16th Century
16thc medallion  
woman. 1570-90. byALLORI. Alessandro.

17th Century

Paintings taken from the Web Gallery of Art
Celebrity picture from http://www.outfitlandia.com/how-to-wear-pearls-without-looking-old-fashion/

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Monday, 15 March 2010

Sofonisba Anguissola: ‘The first great woman artist of the renaissance’

Self Portrait. ANGUISSOLA. Sofonisba. WGA 1550.Self portrait (1554)

Sofonisba Anguissola (b.ca. 1532-1625) was born into an Italian noble family in Cremona. She was a successful painter whose work was even admired by Michelangelo. Her success has led her to be described as ‘the first great woman artist of the Renaissance’ (Perlingieri 1992). Sofonisba’s five sisters Elena, Europa, Lucia, Anna Maria and Minerva and her brother Asdrubale also painted, however Sofonisba the eldest of her siblings was the most notable. She conducted herself as a professional artist rather than a noble woman who painted as a hobby. Her father Amilcare was highly supportive of her career and went to great lengths to advertise her work. He even arranged for her to be informally tutored by Michelangelo who was also complimentary of her work. Interestingly her painting was praised for its lifelike quality a description normally retained for the best male artists of the day. Her popularity extended to Spain, in 1559-73 she was a lady in waiting and portrait painter at the Spanish court of Philip II. She married the brother of the Viceroy of Sicily, Don Fabrizio de Moncado in 1569. Later she was married for a second time to Orazio Lomellino a Geonese noble around 1579. She was buried in San Giorgio dei Genovesi, Palermo on 16 November 1625 having had a successful career.

Artists sisters 1555. by Sofonisba. Anguissola
A painting by Sofonisba of her sisters playing chess (1555)

San Giorgio dei Genovesi. Palermo
Last resting place: San Giorgio dei Genovesi, Palermo

Further Reading
Perlingieri, Ilya Sandra, Sofonisba Anguissola: the first great woman artist of the Renaissance, (1992)
Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin (eds.), Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England, (2007)

Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Monday, 8 March 2010

An international woman for International Women's Day!

Go to IWD site
As it is International Women's Day today (have a good one!)
I am going to rectify my euro-centricity by celebrating an international woman of note:

Murasaki Shikibu (973-1014) was a highly educated woman of the Japanese court, she is considered to be the worlds first novelist. Despite this we don’t even know her real name as it was not recorded (which was normal for daughters at this time). She married and had a daughter Kenshi, who grew up to be a poet herself. After her husband died she was called to be a lady at the court of Empress Akiko, more than likely because of her story writing skills. It was there Murasaki wrote her novel the The Tale of Genji. It is an invaluable source for historians as it gives a unique insight into the lives of the wealthy in medieval Japan.
Murasaki at work
Further Reading:

Tyler, Royall (ed.), The Tale of Genji, (Penguin: London, 2003)
Bowring, John (ed.), The diary of Lady Murasaki, (Penguin: London, 1996)
Copyright © 2010 E.JH

Sunday, 7 March 2010

16th Century Style: Headdresses

Veiled headdresses

Beaded detailing

A country style or working woman’s headdress and a plaited style headdress

All these images are taken from paintings featured on the Web Gallery of Art a very useful source for European paintings from the 11th-19th centuries

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

In November 1726 news arrived in London that a 25 year old woman named Mary Toft had given birth to rabbits in the presence of a surgeon named John Howard in Surrey. King George I taking an interest in this event sent a surgeon of his own to examine the woman and he arrived just as she was giving birth to a fifteenth rabbit. The king’s surgeon Nathaniel St. André examined the rabbit and it appeared to have four months growth, it was noted how the woman seemed cheerful and easy after the birth and how there seemed to be no water or blood or any vaginal trauma. Mary Toft claimed that she had started thinking and dreaming about rabbits during her pregnancy, this was seemingly offered as a possible cause for the strange births. St. André was convinced by the births, even though the evidence was dubious, and took some samples to show the King. The King wanted further investigation and sent surgeon Cyriacus Ahlers to visit Mary who again gave birth to rabbits. However Ahlers found that on further examination the rabbits could not have developed inside Mary due to the presence of dung, hay, corn and straw inside the rabbits. Meanwhile St. André asked Richard Manningham a prominent obstetrician to examine Mary as well. Manningham was not convinced either and decided that she should be sent to London for further observation where she seemingly went into labour again. However Mary did not give birth to any more rabbits, a servant was caught trying to sneak a rabbit into Mary’s room on the request of Mary’s sister in law. After being threatened by Manningham with intrusive surgery she admitted that she had been lying about the whole affair. She confessed that in fact a woman (who she would not name) had colluded with her, encouraging her to emulate the births for profit.


‘The woman told her she must put up her Body so many pieces of Rabbets...From that time Mary Tofts did often, by the Assistance of that Woman, convey parts of Rabbets into her body, till at last she could do it by her self, as she has an Opportunity, and that she did continue to so do.’
(Richard Manningham)

This was unfortunate for St. André who had openly expressed his belief in the case publishing A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets on 3rd December 1726. His career was left in ruins and he died in poverty in an almshouse in Southampton. The case had caused a great public stir and its disproval caused a great deal of embarrassment to the medical profession making them the brunt of jokes at their perceived naivety. Mary spent a few months in prison but it seems that the establishment did not wish to create further embarrassment and the case was dismissed.

As mentioned in an earlier post (Monstrous Births Imagined) in the medieval and early modern period it was thought to be entirely possible for a woman to affect the birth of her child through her thoughts during pregnancy. It comes as no surprise then that Mary was able to convince some others, even a surgeon that she had given birth to rabbits. However as Gelis points out in History of Childbirth, this case shows that the time in which monstrous births were considered a bad omen for the future had passed. Perhaps too the belief in the possibility of monstrous births of this kind had by the end of the 18th century passed as well.

Further Reading
Gelis, Jacques, History of Childbirth, (Polity Press, 1991)
University of Glasgow, 'The Curious Case of Mary Toft' www.special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/aug2009.html

Mary Toft Illustration from University of Glasgow special collection, The Curious Case of Mary Toft (edited by me) 
Rabbit illustration my own

Copyright © 2010 E.JH