Thursday, 12 September 2013

Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England

Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England by Caroline Bicks, published by Ashgate Publishing (Aldershot, Hampshire / Burlington, VT), 2003.

From the title, and the chapter titles, this looked totally arcane and pointless as an idea for a book, but it actually draws on a lot of interesting first-person historical documents, starting out with an account of King Louis XIII's (a long-awaited male heir) birth in 1601. Here's midwife Louise Bourgeois speaking (her 1617 "How and When the Queen Gave Birth" was itself newly translated in 2000):

He asked me at every hour if the queen would soon give birth and what the infant would be. To quiet him, I said yes. He asked me again what the baby would be. I told him that it would be whatever I would like. "What," he asked, "isn't it made?" I said yes, that it was a baby, but that I could make it a boy or a girl, whichever pleased me. He said, "midwife, since it depends on you, put there the pieces of a boy."


1. Lurking in the Gossip's Bowl: Men's Tales and Women's Words

2. "Sometimes the Midwives break it": Pressing Maids and Making Women

3. "As God makes, so the Midwife shapes": Crowning Heads and Reforming English Bodies

4. Stealing the Seal: Baptizing Women and the Mark of Kingshep

5. "(Miraculous) Matter": Lucina at Ephesus and the Churching of Women

Epilogue: Lucina in London

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