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Pregnancy and Childbirth in Late Medieval English Vernacular Culture

Collins, C. ORCID: (2022) Pregnancy and Childbirth in Late Medieval English Vernacular Culture. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00114193


Using evidence from a wide range of Middle English texts, this thesis aims to present an improved understanding of pregnancy and childbirth in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. This interdisciplinary approach makes it possible to present new insights and to go beyond questions of medical concepts and practices. The thesis also argues that Middle English texts are more likely than Latin sources to represent real practice, as those who translated and adapted these texts from Latin often omitted and added material from earlier works in line with contemporary knowledge. Additionally, these texts offer insight into information circulated to a wider audience, by providing access to those who could not read Latin. The thesis begins with an analysis of a selection of Middle English medical treatises to establish the medical treatments a pregnant or parturient woman might expect to receive, including: diagnosis of pregnancy or pregnancy loss; advice on keeping well during pregnancy; and dealing with complications during childbirth. The following chapters examine carefully selected herbals, lapidaries, pastoral literature, chronicles, and romances to reveal what these sources can add to our understanding of pregnancy and childbirth in late medieval England. The final chapter examines late medieval private letter collections. These letters, written by women as well as men, provide a unique insight into the actual, lived experience of pregnancy and childbirth in this period. Through comparison of this unique range of sources, the study is able to provide contextualisation and corroboration of evidence found across Middle English vernacular culture. Through this approach, a portrait of the contemporary attitudes, practices, and experiences surrounding pregnancy and childbirth is drawn. Notably, it is shown that pregnancy and childbirth had emotional, spiritual, social, and political implications, and were not considered a solely medical concern. Finally, the merits of this approach having been established, a number of avenues for further research are offered.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Lawrence-Mathers, A. and Matthew, E.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:114193

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