earlymodernrecipes

exploring recipe books from the seventeenth-century

Archive for the tag “Pregnancy”

‘To cause a woman to have her sickness’

I said that not all the recipes were as innocent as they initially seem. Here is a prime example.

A recipe from Elizabeth Grey’s book to cause a woman to ‘have her sickness’ (to bring on her period):

‘Take Ergimonie, Motherwort, Avens and Parsley, shred them all with Oatmeal, make Pottage of them with Pork, let her eat the Pottage but not the Pork’.

Now why would a woman want to purposefully induce that monthly annoyance? An unwanted pregnancy perhaps? There were no pregnancy tests in the early modern period. Although an early modern woman knew the signs of pregnancy- missing periods, weight gain, morning sickness etc., she did not know for certain she was pregnant until the quickening- when you first feel the baby kick- and even this could easily be mistaken. It is not that surprising that many women, especially first time mothers, claimed to have been surprised to find themselves giving birth.

Abortion became illegal in 1624 under the infanticide statute, but an induced miscarriage was only called an abortion if it occurred after the quickening. Therefore any woman, suspecting an unwanted pregnancy could prepare and take this remedy in the hope of an early abortion. The result would not even be recognised as a miscarriage if taken early enough in the pregnancy. Rather it was seen as a restoration of the menses, a good thing as, if a woman did not have her monthly bleed it was thought that the excess blood would congregate around her brain.

Many of these remedy manuals were pocket-size and so could, if necessary, be easily hidden. Convenient when delicacy was needed in such a situation.

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