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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Bringing Downe the Floweres’: Recipes for Conception, Miscarriage, and Abortion in Seventeenth Century England

16th January 2017, 18:00, World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, Louise Garner, Department of History

This event is free to attend and open to all. The seminar will begin at 6pm, with tea and biscuits from 5.40pm.

Conception, pregnancy and childbirth were no different to any other bodily matter when it came to healthcare in the Early Modern era, and this life event was managed domestically. Many women would have turned to their mothers, sisters, other family members or friends and neighbours in order to seek medical advice as well as emotional support, before perhaps turning to a trusted professional midwife when the time came to deliver the child. The healthcare options surrounding an open and welcomed pregnancy can be charted in the corpus of home healthcare sources, whilst attempts to avoid or remove a pregnancy are more difficult to ascertain due to the Church’s stance on the prevention of pregnancy and abortion. Evidence that women had agency over this aspect of their fertility is often couched in ambiguous language that is difficult to decipher.

This brief talk will aim to demonstrate how manuscript recipe books and printed sources tell us how women in the Early Modern era managed their fertility and early pregnancies within a domestic setting. Manuscript remedy books provide a rare insight into the care and healing given by household lay-practitioners to their family and friends during the early modern period and can show us the problems encountered, methods used and information transferred in a domestic health-care setting. A recipe offers a snapshot of belief and practice at a moment in time and as Elizabeth Stiller outlines, "Such texts are powerful expressions of cultural belief in human transformation.”

Contact for more information about this event.