1776: Hester Thrale tends her husband’s swollen testicle

Hester Salusbury Thrale (1741-1821) was a Welsh-born writer, best known for her friendship and correspondence with Dr Samuel Johnson. In 1763, Hester married wealthy brewer and future MP Henry Thrale. The union was not popular with Hester’s aristocratic family, who considered Thrale too middle-class and flighty.

Shortly before the wedding Hester’s father told her:

“If you marry that scoundrel he will catch the pox and, for your amusement, set you to make his poultices.”

This prediction seemed to come true in 1776, when Hester wrote:

“Mr Thrale told me he had an ailment and showed me a testicle swelled to an immense size… I now began to understand where I was and to perceive that my poor father’s prophecy was verified… I am preparing poultices as he said and fomenting this elegant ailment every night and morning for an hour together on my knees…”

Thrale denied any possibility that he had syphilis or a similar disease, claiming that his testicular swelling started after an accident “jumping from the chaise”. A relieved Hester later wrote that:

“He has, I am pretty sure, not given it [to] me, and I am now pregnant and my bring a healthy boy, who knows?”

Despite a relatively loveless marriage, Hester Thrale delivered her husband 12 babies in just over 13 years. Only four of these children lived beyond the age of 10. Hester Thrale was widowed when her husband died, aged 52, in 1782. Hester soon took up with and later married her daughter’s Italian music teacher.

Source: Journal of Hester Thrale, July 23rd 1776. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.