Saturday, 13 February 2010

Monsterous Births Imagined

In the medieval and early modern period much of what was known about human physiology, conception and childbirth amounted to guesswork. Often unusual or ‘monstrous’ births were perceived as a bad omen but it was also believed that the mind the mind of the mother to be could affect a child's development in adverse ways. Reasons given for monstrous births in Ambroise ParĂ©’s text Des Monstres et Prodiges (1573) were the imagination, demons and devils and ‘the wrath of God’. Contemporary pamphlets reported births of conjoined twins and other unusual births but more subtle differences could also be considered monstrous. In ParĂ©’s assessment of monsters he included anything that could be differentiated from the norm such as the occurrence of warts or a flat shaped nose.
Crawford has argued that in post-reformation England monstrous births were used by Protestant reformers as religious propaganda to guide their people through a tumultuous period in English history. For instance a double bodied, two faced child would be illustrated in the popular press as not only a punishment for sex out of wedlock, but also as an allegory for religious dishonesty.

Illustration: Anon, The forme and shape of a monstrous child, borne at Maydstone in Kent, 1568
Source: Early English Books Online

Copyright © 2010 Elaine Hunter


  1. Haha! I'm laughing hysterically and sharing with my husband. He is not as amused.