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“Very sore nights and days”: the child’s experience of illness in early modern England, c. 1580-1720

Newton, H. (2011) “Very sore nights and days”: the child’s experience of illness in early modern England, c. 1580-1720. Medical History, 55 (2). pp. 153-182. ISSN 2048-8343

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S0025727300005743


Sick children were ubiquitous in early modern England, and yet they have received very little attention from historians. Taking the elusive perspective of the child, this article explores the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of illness in England between approximately 1580 and 1720. What was it like being ill and suffering pain? How did the young respond emotionally to the anticipation of death? It is argued that children’s experiences were characterised by profound ambivalence: illness could be terrifying and distressing, but also a source of emotional and spiritual fulfilment and joy. This interpretation challenges the common assumption amongst medical historians that the experiences of early modern patients were utterly miserable. It also sheds light on children’s emotional feelings for their parents, a subject often overlooked in the historiography of childhood. The primary sources used in this article include diaries, autobiographies, letters, the biographies of pious children, printed possession cases, doctors’ casebooks, and theological treatises concerning the afterlife.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
ID Code:45114
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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