1579: Light your home with dung-dissolved glow worms


Thomas Lupton was an English moralist, eccentric and author of the 16th century. A staunch Protestant and an advocate for public welfare, Lupton wrote numerous manuscripts on several topics in the last quarter of the 1500s. One of these, the ornately titled A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts, was a disjointed collection of recipes, hints and medical receipts, gathered from various sources. Like others of his era, Lupton’s tips ranged from practical common sense advice to Paracelsian nonsense and bizarre wives’ tales. For example, to “clear and strengthen” your eyes, Lupton says to “wash them in the morning with your own water [urine]”. To stop a nosebleed, tie a thin thread tightly on your little finger. To strengthen the vital parts and “chief members” [genitals], or to avoid the plague, drink “burning gold quenched in our wine”. To kill intestinal worms, drink ox gall. If you’ve lost your voice, go to bed with a piece of raw beef tied to your forehead. For haemorrhoids, apply black wool or brown paper.

For warts, Lupton cites a common medieval treatment:

“Cut off the head of a quick eel and rub the warts all over well with the same blood, as it runs from the eel, then bury the head of the said eel deep in the ground. When the head is rotten, they will fall away.”

For chronic tooth decay and pain:

“The powder of earthworms, mice dung or a hart’s tooth, put into the holes of teeth that be worm-eaten, doth pluck them up by the roots, or make them fall out without any other instrument.”

Finally, Lupton offers a means of lighting your home, three centuries before the advent of electricity:

“Worms that shine in the night, called glow worms, being well stopped in a glass and covered with horse dung, standing there a certain time, will be dissolved into a liquor, which being mixed with a like proportion of quicksilver [mercury]… and then put up in the midst of a house will give such a bright light in the dark, as the Moon doth when she shines in a bright night.”


Source: Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts, 1590 ed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1598: Cheese shortens your “gear”, says adulterous wife


In 1598 a Hounsditch woman, Margaret Browne, appeared at Bridewell Court to give evidence against her neighbour. Browne and her husband lived next door to John Underhill, a local bookbinder, and his wife Clement. According to Browne’s testimony, Mr Underhill left town on business on May 13th. Around lunchtime Clement Underhill received a male caller, a man named Michael Fludd. Mrs Browne, apparently a pioneer of the Neighbourhood Watch movement, followed events through windows and gaps in the walls. She saw and overheard a salacious exchange in the Underhills’ kitchen:

“As they were eating their victuals, Underhill’s wife said unto Fludd these words: “Eat no more cheese, for that it will make your gear short, and I mean to have a good turn of you soon.”

After lunch Fludd retired upstairs to the Underhills’ bedroom, where he remained while Mrs Underhill attended their store. At six o’clock she joined him in bedchamber, where Fludd:

“…took her in his arms and brought her to the bed’s foot and took up her clothes… She put her hand into his hose and he kissed her and pulled her upon him… He plucked up her clothes to her thighs, she plucked them up higher, whereby [Mrs Browne] saw not only her hose, being seawater green colour, and also her bare thighs.”

After nature had taken its course, Fludd “wiped his yard on her smock”, then Underhill “departed from him to fetch a pot of beer”. They then shared some bread and drink, with Mrs Underhill reportedly toasting Fludd’s performance in bed. Browne’s husband, who arrived home in time to witness the fornication next door, supported his wife’s testimony. Confronted with this evidence, Fludd confessed to having “carnal knowledge of the body of the said Clement Underhill”. Despite the graphic nature of Mrs Browne’s testimony Fludd was treated leniently: he was ordered to pay 20 shillings to the Bridewell hospital. Mrs Underhill was not arraigned and escaped without penalty from the court, though she did not escape public humiliation.


Source: Bridewell Court Minute Book 1598-1604, May 1598, f.23. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1517: Frog-squeezing copulation leads to frog-faced child


Ambroise Pare was arguably the most famous barber-surgeon of the 16th century. Pare served as a medical advisor to several French kings and once saved the life of a military officer who had been run through 12 times with a sword. In Pare’s Oeuvres, a collection of surgical memoirs written near the end of his life, he recalled a strange case from the early 1600s. According to Pare, a woman near Blois had delivered a baby with the “face of a frog”. In 1517 the family was visited by a military surgeon, who examined the child and asked how it came to be deformed. According to the child’s father:

“…his wife had a fever… in order to cure it, one of her neighbours advised her to take a live frog in her hand and hold it until it died. That night she went to bed with her husband, still holding the frog in her hand… They copulated and she conceived, and through the influence of her imagination [she now] has this monster that you have seen.”

Pare’s writings contain another incident involving frogs. In 1551 Pare was consulted by a mentally disturbed man who was convinced his insides were inhabited by frogs, which were “leaping about” in his stomach and intestines. Pare issued the patient with a strong laxative, resulting in “urgent emissions” from his bowels – and then secretly slipped some small live frogs “into his close stool”. The patient, apparently satisfied that the frogs were discharged, left feeling much better.

Source: Ambroise Pare, Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Pare, 1664 edition. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1536: Paracelsus warns against glueing on severed body parts


Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a prominent but controversial figure in post-medieval medicine. Born Aureolus von Hohenheim in Switzerland, he was trained by his physician father but also dabbled in chemistry, metallurgy and alchemy. By the mid 1520s he was practising in Strasbourg while also researching and writing. Paracelsus’ philosophy focused on the relationship between the human body and naturally occurring organic and mineral matter. He also stressed the importance of natural healing processes, something evident in this extract from 1536:

“The surgeon must know that nature cannot by fooled or changed. He must follow nature, not nature follow him. If he uses remedies contrary to nature, he will ruin everything. For example, you cannot replace a limb that has been cut off and it is ridiculous to attempt it. In Veriul, I once saw a barber surgeon take an ear that had been hacked off and stick it back with mason’s cement. He was given great praise and there were cries of ‘Miracle!’ But the next day the ear fell off, as it was undermined with pus. The same thing happens with limbs if you try to stick them back on again. Where is the honour in such trickery?

Source: Paracelsus, Grosse Wundartznei, 1536. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1565: Abused mule has feet cut off, then burned alive


Historical records briefly mention a case of bestiality in 16th century France. According to a chronicler named Ranchin, an unnamed Montpelleir farmer was surprised “behind his mule” in 1565. According to the witness, the farmer was committing an “act that cannot be mentioned”. The farmer was put on trial, convicted of buggery and bestiality and sentenced to be burned alive. The mule, despite its passive role, was sentenced to the same fate. But according to Ranchin, the mule refused to go without a fight and turned nasty, prompting brutal action from the executioner:

“Mulus… erat vitiosus et calcitrosus. In primis abcissi fuere quatuor pedes ipsius et demun in ignem projectus et una cum homine combustus fuit.”

(‘The mule was vicious and kicking. He was dealt with first, all four of his feet were removed and cast into the fire, after which he and the man burned.’)

Source: Memoires des Antiquaires de France, v.8. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.