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Midwives of Sixteenth-Century Rural East Anglia

  • JULIA ALLISON (a1)

Abstract

This study identifies more than fifty previously unrecorded Elizabethan, East Anglian rural midwives. Their professional lives are discussed in terms of licensing and oaths, knowledge, skills, caseload, travel, networking and years of practice. In regard to their family life, matters examined include marital status, spousal occupation, children, social standing, age at death and testacy. Finding and researching these midwives involved examination of a large number of different kinds of archive documents, including sixteenth-century parish registers and quarter session records. As data were examined a clearer picture emerged of these early midwives and their practice.

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References

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Notes

1. Cressy, David, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997; repr. 1999), pp. 5961 .

2. Harley, David, ‘Provincial Midwives in England: Lancashire and Cheshire 1660-1760’, in Marland, Hilary, ed., The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe (Abingdon, 2005), pp. 2748 .

3. Julia Allison, ‘Elizabethan Midwives: Beliefs, Practices and Outcomes of Childbearing in Rural East Anglia’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester, 2013).

4. Norfolk Record Office, PD 209/1.

5. Morgan, Victor, Key, Jane and Taylor, Barry, eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey: 1596-1602, volume 4 (Norwich, 2000), p. 101 .

6. Smith, A. Hassell and Baker, Gillian M., eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey: 1556-1577, volume 1 (Norwich, 1979), pp. 53 , 57, 61, 65, 76.

7. Evenden, Doreen, The Midwives of Seventeenth-Century London (Cambridge, 2000); Harley, ‘Provincial Midwives’.

8. See ‘Early midwives found for this study’ See supplementary online material.

9. Essex Record Office, D/P 389 1/1.

10. ERO, D/P 15/1/1.

11. ERO, Q/SR 211/99.

12. ERO, D/P 15/1/1.

13. ERO, D/P 39/1/1.

14. ERO, D/DK/T233/8.

15. ERO, D/ABW 9/97.

16. Norfolk Record Office, PD 679/1.

17. NRO, PD 679/1.

18. NRO, ANW, will register, Lyncolne, folio. 338.

19. Smith, A. Hassell and Baker, Gillian M., eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, 1578-1585, volume 2 (Norwich, 1983), p. 146 .

20. Wells parish register records the baptism of more than twenty infants born to women who witnessed her will.

21. NRO, PD 679/1.

22. This is an archaic term used to describe women who fraudulently claim themselves to be midwives.

23. Carter, E. H., The Norwich Subscription Books: A Study of the Subscription Books of the Diocese of Norwich, 1637-1800 (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1937), p.135 .

24. Towler, Jean and Bramall, Joan, Midwives in History and Society (London, 1986), pp. 56–7.

25. Thompson, E. M. and Frere, W. H., Registrum Matthei Parker (Canterbury and York Society, 1928), p. 472 .

26. See p. 000, ‘Women who attended base births with the midwives’.

27. Allison, Julia, Delivered at Home (London, 1996), pp. 81–2. This practice had a long history. Even into the 1960s, women were instructed by the ‘list of requirements for the district midwife’ to ensure that they had candles for an emergency, such as a power cut.

28. Crawford, Patricia, Parents of Poor Children in England 1580-1800 (Oxford, 2009), p. 1 .

29. Allison, ‘Elizabethan Midwives’, p. 174.

30. Donnison, Jean, Midwives and Medical Men: A History of the Struggle for the Control of Childbirth (New Barnet, 1988), p. 19 .

31. ERO, D/P 94/1/1.

32. ERO, D/P 39/1/1.

33. ERO D/AZ 1/2; ERO, D/P 205/1/1.

34. ERO, D/AZ/1/10.

35. ERO, D/ABW 30/107.

36. Emmison, F. G., Elizabethan Life: Morals and the Church Courts (Chelmsford, 1973), p. 320 .

37. Donnison, Midwives and Medical Men, p. 21.

38. Stone, Laurence, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England: 1500-1800 (Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 46 .

39. ERO, D/ACW 5/265.

40. ERO, D/ABW 30/107; ERO, D/P 15/1/1.

41. Towler and Bramall, Midwives in History and Society, p. 65.

42. ERO, D/ABW 50/159.

43. ERO, D/ABW 30/107.

44. ERO, D/ABW 3/210.

45. Morgan, Victor, Key, Jane and Taylor, Barry, eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, 1596-1602, volume 4 (Norwich, 2000), pp. 101–2.

46. Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds, IC500/1/17.

47. ERO, D/DK/T233/8.

48. ERO, D/DC 27/741.

49. ERO, Q/SR 387/80; ERO, Q/SR 227/49; ERO, D/ABW 50/159.

50. ERO, D/ABW 30/58; ERO, D/ABW 50/159.

51. Morgan, Key and Taylor, eds, Papers of Nathaniel Bacon, volume 4, pp. 101-2.

52. ERO, D/ACW 3/210.

53. ERO, Q/SR 163/102.

54. ERO, Q/SR 207/95 (1614).

55. ERO, Q/SR 211/99; Geoffrey Nightingale was a magistrate.

56. ERO, Q/SR 41/22; William Cache was a juror at Witham Petty Sessions.

57. ERO, Q/SR 204/38; Stephen Nightingale was the constable at Newport Pond.

58. Smith, A. Hassell and Baker, Gillian M., eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, 1586-1595, volume 3, (Norwich: Norfolk Record Society, 1988), p. 237 ; John Burwood son of Margaret was a vicar of Baconsthorpe, Norfolk. NRO, PD 679/1; Richard Burwood, John's son and Margaret's grandson was the curate of Wells, Norfolk.

59. Marland, Hilary and Kloosterman, G.J., eds, Mother and Child Were Saved: the Memoirs 1693-1740 of the Frisian Midwife Catharina Schrader (Amsterdam, 1987), p.7 , reports that midwife Catharina Schrader practised midwifery for fifty years, until the age of 88.

60. ERO D/AZ/1/10.

61. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, p. 55, reports expectation of life in the 1640s as 32years.

62. Evenden, Doreen, The Midwives of Seventeenth-Century London, (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 106137.

63. Laslett, Peter, The World We Have Lost: Further Explored (London: Methuen, 1965; repr. Abingdon: Routledge, 2005), p. 216 .

64. Brigden, Susan, New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors 1485–1603 (London: Penguin Books, 2000), p.63.

65. Cressy, David, Agnes Bowker's Cat: Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.10.

66. Essex Quarter Session rolls have been transcribed and are no longer available to the public; however a search of one of the rolls by staff at Essex Record Office did not reveal any midwives’ signatures.

67. ERO, Q/SR 305/76.

68. ERO, Q/SR 312/124; ERO, Q/SR 363/49; ERO, Q/SR 399/116.

69. Weir, W., ‘London Newspapers’ in London ed. Knight, Charles (London, 1843), volume 5, Chapter CXX11, p. 340, describes the evolution of pamphlets, available in London and other major cities into newspapers in the 1620s.

70. ERO, Q/SR 207/95.

71. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, p. 64.

72. Myles, Margaret F., Textbook for Midwives with Modern Concepts of Obstetric and Neonatal care (Edinburgh, 1985), p. 718.

73. Armstrong, David M., ‘Birth, Marriage and Death in Elizabethan Cumbria’, Journal of Local Population Studies, 53 (1994), p. 35 .

74. Wills of husbands of midwives in the study, were all signed with a mark. Laslett, Peter, The World We Have Lost: Further Explored (London, 1965) p. 231.

75. A. Hassell Smith and Gillian M. Baker eds, The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, 1556-1577, volume 1, pp. 74-75 and 78.

76. ERO, D/P 127/1/1; nine women were present at a birth attended by Midwife Mother Wryte in 1569.

77. ERO, Q/SR 69/50; David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells (London,2004) p. 7, St. Stephen the Martyr is celebrated on 26th December and St. Michael the Archangel on 29th September in the Julian calendar.

78. ERO, Q/SR 80/63.

79. ERO, Q/SR 80/28.

80. ERO, Q/SR 36/1/1.

81. ERO, D/P 39/1/1.

82. Marshall, Jayne and Raynor, Maureen, eds, Myles Textbook for Midwives, 16th edn. (Edinburgh, 2014), p. 116 . Lanugo is the fine downy hair on a fetus in utero which begins to disappear from the 36th week of pregnancy.

83. Towler and Bramall Midwives in History and Society, p. 44.

84. ERO, Q/SR 277/49.

85. ERO, D/P 11/1/1.

86. A clyster pipe was used to administer an enema. Decoctions were made from herb extracts.

87. Harley, ‘Provincial Midwives’. With a single exception in 1743, Harley was likewise unable to find evidence of how a provincial English woman became recognised as a midwife.

88. Emmison, F. G., Elizabethan Life: Home, Work and Land (Chelmsford, 1976), p. 125 .

89. B, G. and Dobbs, G. H., A Dictionary of Midwifery and Public Health (London, 1953), p. 305 . William Harvey and Percival Willughby claimed that ‘the midwives duty in a natural birth is no more but to attend and wait on Nature’.

90. Allison, ‘Elizabethan Midwives’, pp. 154-84.

91. Donnison, Midwives and Medical Men, p. 21.

92. Wilson, Adrian, The Making of Man-midwifery, 1660-1770 (London, 1995), pp. 33-5.

93. ERO, Q/SR104/44. Two unnamed midwives in Pentlow clearly recognised their need for further assistance when they summoned a third midwife, Mother Lamberd, to a difficult birth in 1589.

94. Evenden, The Midwives of Seventeenth-Century London, p. 14, n.75, criticises attempts by a number of academics to establish the annual caseload of sixteenth and seventeenth-century midwives; Allison, Delivered at Home, pp. 7-8, 117-18; midwives’ caseloads remained difficult to quantify even into the twentieth century.

95. SROB, FL501/4/1.

96. Wilson, The Making of Man-midwifery, p. 55.

97. ERO, Q/SR 69/50; ERO, Q/SR 107/44-45.

98. ERO, Q/SR 153/29, 30.

99. ERO, D/P 39/1/1; ERO, D/P 113/1/1.

100. Morgan, Key and Taylor, eds, Papers of Nathaniel Bacon, volume 4, p. 101.

101. Ashcroft, Lorraine and Fell, B. G., eds, The Diary of A Kendal Midwife: 1669-1675 (Westmoreland, 2001), p. ii contains a map of the widespread area around Kendal where the midwife travelled in order to undertake confinements.

102. Virgoe, Roger, ed., Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family (London, 1989), p. 96 ; Dodd, A. H., Life in Elizabethan England (London, 1961), pp. 140–51.

103. ERO, Q/SR 113/40; ERO, Q/SR 189/36; ERO, Q/SR 103/14.

104. ERO, Q/SR 148/139.

105. ERO, Q/SR 46/1; ERO, Q/SR 180/46; these are examples of numerous jury presentments regarding the parlous state of the highways and bridges in East Anglia.

106. Wilson, The Making of Man-midwifery, p. 34, makes the assumption that villages with ten to twenty births a year usually had their own midwife so that midwives gained little experience of difficult births.

107. ERO, Q/SR 80/53; ERO, D/P 36/1/1.

108. ERO, Q/SR 104/59 a; ERO, D/P 113/1/1.

109. ERO, Q/SR 107/44-45.

110. ERO, Q/SR 107/44-45.

111. ERO, Q/SR 104/59 a.

112. ERO, Q/SR 107/45.

113. ERO, D/P 109/1/1.

114. ERO, Q/SR160/17.

115. ERO, Q/SR/84/44.

116. ERO, D/P 109/1/1.

117. ERO, D/P 25/1/1.

118. ERO, D/P 109/1/1.

119. Emmison, Elizabethan Life: Morals and the Church Courts, p. 320.

120. Macfarlane, Alan, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study (London, 1970) reports that Essex Assizes records contain some 503 indictments under the Witchcraft Statute between 1560-1680; ERO, T/A 418/41/43; ERO, Q/SR 110/70.

121. Sharp, Jane, The Midwives Book or The Whole Art of Midwifry (1671), ed. Hobby, Elaine (Oxford, 1999), p. 297 , demonstrates the concern felt by midwives, even into the seventeenth century, when she advises prayer as ‘the best remedy’ for an infant who was lean and pining away from witchcraft.

122. Baker and Smith, Papers of Nathaniel Bacon, volume 1, p. 81.

123. Ibid., p. 200.

124. ERO, D/P 109/1/1.

125. ERO, Q/SR 80/53.

126. ERO, D/P 163/1/1; ERO, D/DC/27/741.

127. ERO, D/P 243/1/1.

128. ERO, T/A 418/88/44.

129. ERO, Q/SR/225/123; ERO, Q/SR 249/97.

130. ERO, Q/SR 328/117.

131. ERO, Q/SR 415/96.

132. ERO, Q/SR 80/53.

133. ERO, Q/SR 211/99.

134. See pp. 000.

135. Emmison, F. G., Elizabethan Life: Disorder (Chelmsford, 1970), p. 157 .

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Rural History
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