‘To[o] much eating stifles the child’: fat bodies and reproduction in early modern England


  • The author is very grateful to the British Academy for funding the initial research on which this article is based through a small research grant, and to the Leverhulme Trust for the major research fellowship which has allowed her to complete it, and time to write. The research was also generously supported by the Wellcome Trust, grant number WT085433 Many thanks also to Simon Barton, Laura Gowing, Tim Rees and Alex Walsham for reading and commenting upon earlier versions and whose insights and suggestions have made this a better article. The quotation in the article title is from J. Guillemeau, Childbirth, Or, The Happy Delivery of Women (1635; originally De l'heureux accouchement des femmes, 1609), p. 71.


This article examines associations between fat bodies and reproductive dysfunction that were prevalent in medical, midwifery and other literature in early modern England. In a period when fertility and successful reproduction were regarded as hugely important for social, economic and political stability such associations further contributed to negative attitudes towards fat bodies that were fuelled by connection with the vices of sloth and gluttony. Fat bodies were categorized as inherently, constitutionally, less sexual and reproductively successful. Consequently they were perceived as unhealthy and unfit for their primary purpose once they had reached sexual maturity: marriage and the production of children.