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, [accessed 7 May 2010]
[2] Anon, ‘The Gossips meeting’

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

[4] Thomas D’Urfey, ‘Collin's walk through London and Westminster a poem in burlesque’, 1690, EEBO, [accessed 7 May 2010]

[5] William Gouge, ‘Of domesticall duties eight treatises’, 1622, EEBO, [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