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-HonorΓ© Fragonard,  A young girl reading, c.1776.

Copyright © 2010 E.JH