In 1691, Joseph de Arostegui of Calahorra from northern Spain petitioned for divorce from his wife, Antonia Garrido, based on her alleged impotence. According to his testimony, there had been no consummation of their four-year marriage because his wife “does not have her parts like other women”.
Antonia contested her husband’s claim for divorce, her lawyer asserting that Antonia’s genitals were fully functional but had been affected by “evil spells and witchcraft”.
As was usual in early modern trials where impotence was alleged, Antonia was ordered to submit to at least two examinations by doctors and midwives. At the second of these examinations:
“…the [surgeon] Francisco Velez inserted into the said parts of the said Antonia Garrido a stem of cabbage in a shape similar to a virile member… and seeing that it entered with liberty…”
The examiners, content that penetration had been achieved, ruled that Antonia was capable of intercourse, and the church court turned down Joseph’s petition for divorce. The fate of their marriage after this is unknown.
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 the 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.
In 1799 Doctor Thomas Cochrane, a prison surgeon in Liverpool, reported on the unusual eating habits of a man in his care.
Charles Domery was a Polish-born prisoner-of-war, captured off the coast of Ireland while serving with French republican forces. According to Cochrane’s description, Domery was in good health and physically unremarkable aside from his above average height (six foot three inches). He had pale skin, long brown hair and a “pleasant and good-tempered” demeanour.
Domery’s appetite, however, was something else. His preferred diet was several pounds of meat, cooked or raw, followed by several large tallow candles:
“The eagerness with which he attacks his beef when his stomach is not gorged resembles the voracity of a hungry wolf tearing off and swallowing pieces with canine greediness. When his throat is dry from continued exercise he lubricates it by stripping the grease off candles between his teeth, which he generally finishes in three mouthfuls. [He then] wraps the wick like a ball, string and all, and sends it after in a swallow.”
According to testimony from Domery, corroborated by his fellow prisoners-of-war, he had previously supplemented his meagre military rations by eating whatever else he could find:
“When in the camp, if bread and meat were scarce, he made up the deficiency by eating four or five pounds of grass daily. In one year he devoured 174 cats (but not their skins), dead or alive. He says he had several conflicts in the act of destroying them, by feeling the effects of their torments on his face and hands. Sometimes he killed them before eating but when very hungry he did not wait to perform this humane office.”
Domery also reported eating several dead dogs and live rats, as well as discarded offal from cattle and sheep. He claimed to have once nibbled on the amputated leg of a fellow sailor.
While detained in Liverpool his daily ration included raw meat, liver and candles. On a single day Dr Cochrane watched Domery consume ten pounds of raw beef, four pounds of raw cow’s udder and two pounds of candles. Domery was released from detention in 1800 but his fate is not known.
Youths Behaviour, or Decency in Conversation amongst Men, is a mid 17th-century guide to etiquette and manners, first published in 1641. Its author was Francis Hawkins, a lad of just ten years old. In reality Youths Behaviour was an example of parental vanity publishing, printed at the request of Hawkins’ father: its frontispiece featured an engraved image of the author, promoting him as a child prodigy.
Despite Hawkins’ tender age, Youths Behaviour became a best seller, going through numerous print runs and at least 12 editions over the next three decades. Much of its advice was not original but was translated and adapted by Hawkins from earlier works, such as Desiderius Erasmus’ De Civilitate Morum Puerilium.
Topics covered by Hawkins included personal conduct, bearing, manners and methods of speaking. There was also a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ when dining out. When at the house of another, Hawkins cautions against eating too much – and warns not to sniff the fare:
“Take not thy repast like a glutton… Eat not with cheeks full and with full mouth… Smell not to thy meat, and if thou do hold thy nose to it, set it not afterwards before another [diner]…”
He also warns against spreading thy germs by double-dipping:
“If thou soakest thy bread or meat in the sauce, soak it not again after thou hast bitten it. Dip therein at each time a reasonable morsel which may be eaten at one mouthful.”
Hawkins also gave advice on conversation. He suggested respecting the personal space of others, lest you drench them with spit:
“Neither shake thy head, feet or legs. Roll not thine eyes. Lift not one of thine eyebrows higher than thine other. Wry not thy mouth. Take heed that thy spittle [doth] not bedew his face with whom thou speakest. To that end, approach not too nigh him.”
On reaching adulthood, Francis Hawkins joined the Jesuits. He studied theology and, according to some sources, medicine. Hawkins was later responsible for training novices in Scotland and on the continent. He died in Liege, Belgium in 1681.
William Thomson was a late 18th century Scottish writer and theologian. The son of a Lothian carpenter, Thomson was an excellent student and received scholarships to study at St Andrew’s and Edinburgh universities.
After a brief stint in the clergy, Thomson moved to London and wrote extensively on military matters, history, law and poetry. He also travelled widely and published accounts of his experiences abroad. Writing in 1782 Thomson described a visit to Praslin, the second largest island of the Seychelles. Praslin was small and remote but according to Thomson had arable land with excellent soil and a good amount of tall timber.
Even better, it produced a type of coconut that looked and smelled like a human backside:
“These islands are remarkable for producing a tree which yields a kind of cocoa-nut, representing in the most striking manner the figure of a human breech [buttocks], thighs, etc. [and] having a fetid smell from an aperture of the fundament, like that of human excrement. The Indians, struck with this resemblance, set an enormous value upon these nuts…”
James C. Jackson (1811-95) was a New England journalist who, in middle age, abandoned writing to train as a doctor. He became a prolific writer and an advocate for vegetarian diets. In 1863, Jackson invented a coarse breakfast cereal called ‘granula’. A forerunner to granola, it was designed to replace red meat consumption and therefore reduce “animal lusts”.
Like his fellow food reformers Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg, Jackson was obsessed with curtailing masturbation. In an 1861 book about sexual health and reproduction, Jackson advised parents and guardians to be ever vigilant for signs their offspring might be indulging in “furtive nocturnal activities”.
Jackson also offered several tips for spotting the regular masturbator, including changes in behaviour, loss of memory, poor posture and an irregular walk:
“A masturbating girl who is past the age of puberty may be known by her gait… Their style of motion may be characterised as a wiggle rather than a walk… Were I a young man, I should always at the outset be suspicious [of a woman] if, when I saw her walk, she should exhibit this peculiar wiggle.”
One of the most visible signs of a masturbating teenager, according to Jackson, is unusual or bizarre eating habits. Self polluters are “exceedingly capricious in their appetites” and “not satisfied with any food unless it is richly seasoned or highly flavoured”. They can sometimes be found in the kitchen gulping down spoonfuls of spices like cloves, cinnamon and mace. Jackson also cited cases of masturbators who could not resist eating “lumps of salt”, licking “lime off the wall” or chewing up “slate pencils”.
In 1652 Pasqua Rosee, a London coffee house, published what is probably history’s first advertisement for coffee. According to the Rosee’s handbill, coffee is best taken mid-afternoon; the user should avoid food for an hour before and after. It should be drunk in half-pint servings, “as hot as can possibly be endured” without “fetching the skin off the mouth or raising any blisters”.
Among the claims made about the medicinal qualities of coffee:
“It forecloses the orifice of the stomach.. it is very good to help digestion… it quickens the spirits and makes the heart lightsome. It is good against sore eyes… good against the headache… deflexion of rheumas… consumptions and cough of the lungs. It is excellent to prevent and cure the dropsy, gout, and scurvy… It is very good to prevent miscarryings in child-bearing women. It is a most excellent remedy against the spleen, hypochondriac winds or the like. It will prevent drowsiness and make one fit for business… for it will hinder sleep for three or four hours.
In September 1870, the Prussian army, led by future German emperor Wilhelm I, laid siege to Paris. The city was well defended so the Prussians decided to force a surrender by blockading and starving it.
The city remained defiant but by early November, the meat larders of Paris were almost empty. With no beef, pork or mutton available, Parisians began to consume what they quaintly referred to as “variety meats”.
The first to appear in butcher shops and on menus was horse meat, as the city’s pet horses, working horses and racehorses were butchered and sold off. Dogs, cats and rats were also gathered for human consumption. The flesh from an “ordinary dog” sold for four or five francs a pound but a “trained dog” could fetch almost twice that amount. A dressed or smoked rat sold for two or three francs while a whole cat could fetch as much as 12 francs.
A correspondent named Vizetelly spoke favourably of cat meat, which:
“..when broiled and seasoned with pistachio nuts, olives, gherkins and pimentos… proved a very dainty dish.”
The supply of cats, dogs and rats also dwindled, prompting culinary attentions to turn to the local zoo. During November and December, the menagerie in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes fielded hefty offers from wealthy locals, eventually selling off more than half its animals. The deers and ungulates were the first to go, followed by the zoo’s camels, kangaroos, wolves and zebra. All were slaughtered, butchered and sold for high prices as ‘exotic meats’.
A few animals survived, including the zoo’s big cats, the hippopotamus and the primates, as recorded by Labouchere:
“All the animals in the Zoological Gardens have been killed except the monkeys. These are kept alive from a vague Darwinian notion that they are our relatives, or at least the relatives of some of the members of the government.”
Two less fortunate animals were the zoo’s male elephants, Castor and Pollux. Both animals were purchased for 27,000 francs by a Parisian grocer and dispatched with 33-millimetre bullets, before being carved up and sold at exorbitant prices. Only wealthier Parisians could afford a slice of pachyderm, but according to Labouchere, elephant meat was nothing to write home about:
“Yesterday I had a slice of Pollux for dinner. Pollux and his brother Castor are two elephants that have been killed. It was tough, coarse, and oily. I do not recommend that English families eat elephant, as long as they can get beef or mutton.”
In early January 1871, the Prussians started bombarding Paris with heavy artillery. After sustaining three weeks of artillery fire, the French surrendered on January 28th. The victorious Prussians then lifted their siege and sent wagonloads of food into the starving city.
In November 1909, several US newspapers reported that President William H. Taft and family had enjoyed a gargantuan Thanksgiving feast at the White House. The Tafts reportedly enjoyed a huge Rhode Island turkey, a 50-pound mince pie and a 26-pound possum, straight from the Georgia woods.
Little wonder that President Taft weighed in excess of 330 pounds while in office and, according to legend, couldn’t fit in the White House bath:
In 1632, two prominent German doctors, Sennert and Nesterus, learned of a man named Claudius, a noted glutton and omnivore. Nesterus travelled to Claudius’ village in Lorraine and attended one of his regular ‘performances’. According to Nesterus’ report to Sennert, Claudius swallowed and held down a variety of objects on demand, including:
“…chalk, coals, ashes… nasty objects, of gross excrements of animals and urine mixed with wine and ale, bones, hares’ feet [still] clothed with skin and flux; and chewed with his teeth pewter platters, leaden bullets and other metals, and afterward swallowed them down his gullet.”
According to others in the village Claudius once “ate a whole calf raw, with the skin and hair, in the space of a few days” and followed this by consuming “two tallow candles burning”. Claudius occasionally swallowed live animals, particularly fish, however he did this reluctantly following a nasty experience:
“[He] once swallowed down whole two live mice, which frisked up and down his stomach, often biting it, for a quarter of an hour.”
Several years later Nesterus made inquiries after Claudius, to find out if he was still alive and still eating all manner of things. The answer was yes to both, however Claudius’ teeth were “now blunted, so he did it less frequently”.