The research for this article was made possible by a postdoctoral research fellowship provided by the Society for Renaissance Studies. The author would also like to thank Alexandra Walsham, Sarah Toulalan and Catherine Rider, along with the anonymous reviewers, whose generous comments and suggestions helped to shape the final version of this article.
Female barrenness, bodily access and aromatic treatments in seventeenth-century England†
Article first published online: 12 MAR 2014
© 2014 The Author. Historical Research published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Institute of Historical Research.
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Volume 87, Issue 237, pages 423–443, August 2014
How to Cite
Evans, J. (2014), Female barrenness, bodily access and aromatic treatments in seventeenth-century England. Historical Research, 87: 423–443. doi: 10.1111/1468-2281.12058
[This is a revised copyright line on 21 March 2014.]
- Issue published online: 15 JUL 2014
- Article first published online: 12 MAR 2014
- 1See, e.g., Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550–1680 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 120–122; , Artisans of the Body in Early Modern Italy: Identities, Families and Masculinities (Manchester, 2007), p. 26; , ‘The subject of touch: medical authority in early modern midwifery’, in Sensible Flesh: on Touch in Early Modern Culture, ed. E. D. Harvey (Philadelphia, Pa., 2002), pp. 62–80, at pp. 69–70; The Woman Beneath the Skin: a Doctor's Patients in 18th-Century Germany (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), p. 83; , Midwiving Subjects in Shakespeare's England (Aldershot, 2003), p. 64 (Bicks noted that Simon Forman treated 830 women for gynaecological problems in 1597 but rarely described manual examinations); , Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in 17th-Century England (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 26–28 (MacDonald did not state explicitly that physicians did not touch their patients but described the process Richard Napier went through with his patients, relying on both questions and patient narrative); , John Hall and his Patients: the Medical Practice of Shakespeare's Son-in-Law (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1996), p. xl. See also , Sufferers and Healers: the Experience of Illness in 17th-Century England (1987), pp. 108–109. Beier did not specifically address the issue of touch in treatment, but shows that medical practitioners used a range of methods for treatment.,
- 2Speculum feminarum: gendered perspectives on obstetrics and gynecology in early modern Germany’, Signs, xvii (1992), 725–760, at pp. 733, 757–9; Beier, p. 44. Other works did not address this topic explicitly (Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Tudor and Stuart England (1982); Eccles did note at one point that an instrument could be used to help physicians view the internal cavity of the neck of the womb (p. 84))., ‘
- 3Childbirth and the Display of Authority in Early Modern France (Aldershot, 2005), pp. 60–62; , Female Patients in Early Modern Britain: Gender, Diagnosis and Treatment (Aldershot, 2012), pp. 64–73, 76–9. Churchill's analysis demonstrated clearly the complexities of physician access to the female body and highlights that physicians did touch female patients, who did not feel shame or fear about exposing their bodies to a male practitioner. Importantly, Churchill also considered issues of consent and permission in these cases.,
- 4Eccles, pp. 87–8; McTavish, p. 63. For examples of touching the female body outside parturition, see 61–62; , Medical Ethics in the Renaissance (Washington, D.C., 1995), pp. 115–116. , ‘Boils, pushes and wheals: reading bumps on the body in early modern England’, Social History of Medicine, xxii (2009), 321–339, at p. 330; 757–759, who argued that male midwives used the speculum in order to gain visual access to the interior of women's bodies without touch., pp.
- 5Introduction: the “Sense of All Senses”’, in Harvey, Sensible Flesh, pp. 1–21, at p. 17., ‘
- 6109., p.
- 757., p.
- 8Making Women's Medicine Masculine: the Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology (Oxford, 2008), p. 200; see also , pp. 145–146. Elizabeth Pepys was concerned about the shame of having her private parts operated on by a surgeon and urged her husband to stay with her while the operation was performed. Pepys was thankful that the operation was eventually deemed unnecessary.,
- 964., p.
- 10In the realm of the senses: an introduction’, Amer. Hist. Rev., cxvi (2011), 307–315, at p. 307., ‘
- 11Jour. Amer. Hist., xcv, no. 2 (2008).
- 12Jour. Amer. Hist., xcv, no. 2 (2008); Amer. Hist. Rev., cxvi, no. 2 (2011). Outlines of the historiography of the history of the senses can be found in these issues. For a discussion of the differences between history of the senses and sensory history, see M. M. Smith, ‘Producing sense, consuming sense, making sense: perils and prospects for sensory history’, Jour. Soc. Hist., xl (2007), 841–858, at p. 842.
- 13The nose knows: the sense of smell in American history’, Jour. Amer. Hist., xcv (2008), 405–416; Smells like? Sources of uncertainty in the history of the great lakes environment’, Environmental Hist., xi (2006), 269–299; How Race is Made: Slavery, Segregation and the Senses (Durham, N.C., 2006)., ‘
- 14Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600–1770 (New Haven, Conn., 2007); , ‘Fume and perfume: some 18th century uses of smell’, Jour. British Stud., xliii (2004), 444–463; Sensory History (Oxford, 2007); , The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England (Baltimore, Md., 2011); , ‘Scent of a woman: performing the politics of smell in late medieval and early modern England’, Jour. Medieval and Early Modern Stud., xxxviii (2008), 229–252; The Senses and the English Reformation (Farnham, 2011); ‘Special issue: The senses’, ed. J. Reinarz and L. Schwarz, Jour. 18th-Century Stud., xxxv (2012), 463–627.,
- 15Smells and the medieval surgeon’, Micrologus, x (2002), 113–132, at pp. 114–15., ‘
- 16Aroma: the Cultural History of Smell (1994), pp. 58–62. See, e.g., Wear, p. 327., and ,
- 17Classen, Howes and Synnott, pp. 60–2.
- 18Reading Sex in the 18th Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Literature (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 205–208; , Imagining Sex: Pornography and Bodies in the 17th Century (Oxford, 2007), pp. 68–72. Toulalan highlighted the focus in erotic literature upon sight as a means of arousal.,
- 1978–101; Toulalan, pp. 62–91., pp.
- 21324., p.
- 22English Sexualities 1700–1800 (Basingstoke, 1997), p. 25.,
- 2326., p.
- 25Culpeper's Directory for Midwives … (1676), sig. A3v–A4r.,
- 26Blood, Bodies and Families in Early Modern England (Harlow, 2004), pp. 38–40; Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in 17th-Century England (2003), p. 115; A. Capern, The Historical Study of Women: England 1500–1700 (Basingstoke, 2008), p. 24.,
- 27The Sorrowful Bride; Or, The London Lasses Lamentation for Her Husbands Insufficiency (1682–94); , The Lamenting Lady … (1620).,
- 28The Lamenting Lady.,
- 29Common Bodies, p. 17.,
- 30Common Bodies, p. 17.,
- 31The marketplace of print’, in Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c.1450–1850, ed. M. S. R. Jenner and P. Wallis (Basingstoke, 2007), pp. 108–132, at p. 112., ‘
- 32The terms ‘smell therapy’ and ‘scent therapy’ are not used extensively in this article because the author is discussing both aromatic diagnosis and treatment, and because this is not a term found in the early modern sources.
- 33The Midwives Book, Or the whole Art of Midwifery Discovered … (1671); , Culpeper's Directory for Midwives.,
- 34The Compleat Doctoress: Or A Choice Treatise of all Diseases incident to Women … (1656); , The Sick Womans Private Looking-glasse: Wherein Methodically are handled all Uterine Affects, or Diseases Arising from the Wombe … (1636).,
- 35Making Women's Medicine Masculine, p. 163.,
- 36In bad odor: smell and its significance in medicine from antiquity to the 17th century’, in Medicine and the Five Senses, ed. W. Bynum and R. Porter (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 61–68, at p. 61; see also ., ‘
- 3762., p.
- 38Ephemeral History of Perfume, p. 5.,
- 39Cited in Ephemeral History of Perfume, p. 12.,
- 40Aromatic substances were used as treatment for the suffocation and descent of the womb in the medieval text the Trotula (see The Trotula: an English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine (Philadelphia, Pa., 2001), pp. 71–73).,
- 41Synopsis Medicinae, or, A Compendium of Astrological, Galenical and Chymical Physick … (1671), p. 359.,
- 42Select Aphorismes: Concerning the operation of Medicines according to place in the Body of fraile Man (1655), p. 77.,
- 43Practical Physick; The Fourth Book … By Daniel Sennertus, N. Culpeper, and Abdiah Cole … (1664), p. 63.,
- 44Trotula, pp. 71–73.,
- 45Select Aphorismes, p. 77.,
- 46These examples were taken from a list that is fairly representative (110–111)., pp.
- 47See, e.g., A Directory for Midwives: Or, A Guide for Women in their Conception, Bearing, and Suckling their Children … (1668), p. 76. Eccles discusses these treatments but with little consideration for concerns about access to the female body (p. 80).,
- 4880–81., pp.
- 49Select Aphorismes, p. 77.,
- 50See Hippocrates’ Women: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece (1998), p. 31. , Hippocratic Recipes: Oral and Written Transmission of Pharmacological Knowledge in 5th- and 4th-Century Greece (Leiden, 2009), p. 103. The test attributed to Aristotle in this book is different to those recited in the early modern period – the smell is intended to colour the eyes and saliva.,
- 51Medical Conflicts in Early Modern London: Patronage, Physicians and Irregular Practitioners, 1550–1640 (Oxford, 2003), p. 220; , p. 26.,
- 52210–216., pp.
- 53Patient's Progress: Doctors and Doctoring in 18th-Century England (Stanford, Calif., 1989), pp. 17–18.and ,
- 5434., p.
- 5534; see also , p. 88., p.
- 56115–116. This concern also related to the status of the woman. It was thought to be less acceptable to touch virgins, as the therapy might spoil their virginity; this was perhaps less of a concern in a discussion of fertility where medical writers assumed that their patients were married (see also , pp. 79, 83)., pp.
- 57115–116; see also , pp. 77–79., pp.
- 58Churchill noted that practitioners were aware of the importance of sexual trust and propriety in maintaining their own reputations and that male practitioners took steps to maintain this (89)., p.
- 59The Birth of Mankinde … (1604), p. 191; , p. 164; , A Directory for Midwives: Or, A Guide for Women … (1671), p. 74.,
- 60The General Practise of Physicke … Translated into English, in divers places corrected, and with many additions illustrated and augmented, By Jacob Mosan … (1605), p. 296.,
- 61296., p.
- 62136 (original emphasis)., p.
- 63See also Praxis Medicinae Reformata … (1700), p. 246.,
- 64The Practice of Physick in Seventeen Several Books … By Nicholas Culpeper, Physitian and Astrologer. Abdiah Cole, Doctor of Physick. And William Rowland, Physitian … (1655), p. 505 (original emphasis). Repeated verbatim in the 1668 and 1678 editions.,
- 65505., p.
- 66The Method of Phisick … (1601), p. 202.,
- 67202., p.
- 68The Hidden Treasures of the Art of Physick Fully Discovered in Four Books … (1659), p. 345.,
- 69Systema Medicinale, A Compleat System of Physick Theorical and Practical … (1686), bk. V, p. 237.,
- 70345., p.
- 71296., p.
- 72296., p.
- 73Fictions of Well-Being: Sickly Readers and Vernacular Medical Writing in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain (Philadelphia, Pa., 2010), pp. 26–32.,
- 74The following texts do not contain the test: The English Midwife Enlarged Containing Directions to Midwives … (1682); Peter Chamberlen, Dr. Chamberlain's Midwifes Practice: Or, A Guide For Women in that High Concern of Conception, Breeding, and Nursing Children (1665); , The Ladies Companion, Or, English Midwife Wherein is Demonstrated the Manner and Order of How Women Ought to Govern Themselves … (1671); , The Womans Doctour, Or, An Exact and Distinct Explanation of All Such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex … (1652).,
- 75The Expert Midwife: Or, An Excellent and Most Necessary Treatise of the Generation and Birth of Man … (1637), p. 17, irregular pagination; see also , p. 192.,
- 7618., p.
- 77The Diseases of Women with Child, and In Child-bed … (1672), p. 5.,
- 78The Expert Midwife: A Treatise of the Diseases of Women with Child and In Child-Bed (Edinburgh, 1694), p. 5 (original emphasis).,
- 79See The Compleat Doctoress; Richard Bunworth, The Doctresse: a Plain and Easie Method of Curing those Diseases which are Peculiar to Women … (1656); Nicholas Fontanus, The Womans Doctour; John Pechey, General Treatise of the Diseases of Maids, Bigbellied Women, Child-Bed-Women, and Widows … (1696).,
- 80111; , De Morbis Foemineis, The Womans Counsellour: Or the Feminine Physitian … (1657), p. 120., p.
- 81Sensory History, p. 60.,
- 8212–13., pp.
- 83For a discussion of frigidity and infertility, see Procreation, pleasure and provokers of lust in early modern England, 1550–1780’ (unpublished University of Exeter Ph.D. thesis, 2010)., ‘
- 84183–196., pp.
- 85180–196., pp.
- 86Mercurius Compitalitius: a Guide to the Practical Physician … (1684), p. 569; see also , Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana … (1654), p. 239.,
- 87570 (original emphasis)., p.
- 88The Bartholins, the Platters and Laurentius Gryllus: the peregrinatio medica in the 16th and 17th centuries’, in Centres of Medical Excellence? Medical Travel and Education in Europe, 1550–1789, ed. O. P. Grell, A. Cunningham and J. Arrizabalga (Farnham, 2010), pp. 3–16, at p. 10., ‘
- 89A Golden Practice of Physick in Five Books … By Felix Plater … And R. W. Abdiah Cole … (1662), p. 171. The heating qualities of these drugs are also related in , Erotomania: Or A Treatise Discoursing of the Essence, Causes, Symptomes, Prognosticks, and Cure of Love, or Erotique Melancholy (Oxford, 1640), p. 238.,
- 9063., p.
- 91For a discussion of aphrodisiacs, see 221–231., pp.
- 92The aphrodisiac qualities of these substances are noted in Classen, Howes and Synnott, p. 72.
- 93Storax is a fragrant resin of the tree styrax officinalis (see The Oxford English Dictionary Online <http://www.oed.com> [accessed 24 July 2012]).
- 94138., p.
- 95509., p.
- 96509 (original emphasis)., p.
- 97Riverius, p. 509. This advice was repeated in The Store-house of Physical Practice: Being A General Treatise of the Causes and Signs of All Diseases Afflicting Human Bodies … (1695), p. 399.,
- 98300., p.
- 99Making Women's Medicine Masculine, pp. 167–169)., sig. A5v (original emphasis). This was part of a traditional topos of shame seen in medieval texts ( ,
- 10055., p.
- 10153., p.
- 102195., p.
- 103196., p.
- 104114–115., pp.
- 105British Library, Additional MS. 72619, Trumbull papers, vol. ccclxxviii, fos. 79r, 89r; Wellcome Library, MS. 373, Jane Jackson, fo. 47r; Wellcome Libr., MS. 751, Elizabeth Sleigh and Felicia Whitfeld, fo. 22.
- 1068., p.
- 107The Compleat Midwife's Practice Enlarged in the Most Weighty and High Concernments of the Birth of Man … (1698), p. 319.,
- 108Non-aromatic ointments were also applied in this way. Sir William Wentworth recorded that his father had an ointment applied to his genitals by an angel (Wentworth Papers 1597–1628, ed. J. P. Cooper (Camden, 4th ser., xii, 1973), p. 28).,
- 109Beier noted that Samuel Pepys applied a tent to his wife's genital swelling/abscess, showing that husbands could be involved in gynaecological treatments (145)., p.
- 110509 (original emphasis)., p.
- 111509., p.
- 112509., p.
- 113171., p.
- 114177., p.
- 115See, e.g., 7., p.
- 117See, e.g., 119; or , The Compleat Doctoress, p. 145., p.
- 118The Compleat Doctoress, p. 144.,
- 119Wellcome Libr., MS. 373 fos. 73v–74r.
- 120Wellcome Libr., MS. 373 fo. 74r.
- 121Provincial midwives in England: Lancashire and Cheshire, 1660−1760’, in The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe, ed. H. Marland (1993), pp. 27−48, at p. 40; ‘A touch of danger: the man-midwife as sexual predator’, in Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment, ed. R. Porter and G. S. Rousseau (Manchester, 1987), pp. 206–232; , pp. 86–89. For medieval context, see , Making Women's Medicine Masculine, pp. 201–202., ‘
- 122Ephemeral History of Perfume, pp. 180–181.,
- 123570., p.
- 124177. In the original text gloves is mispelled as cloves., p.
- 125Ephemeral History of Perfume, pp. 126–153.,
- 126In this author's further research on infertility, a range of domestic recipe books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were examined, none of which explicitly described medical gloves.
- 127Sadler, sig. A4r (original emphasis).
- 128Nugae Venales: Or, A Complaisant Companion: Being New Jests, Domestick and Foreign (1675), pp. 99–100.,