Category Archives: Food & Drink

1691: Amusingly-shaped vegetable proves wife not impotent

In 1691, Joseph de Arostegui of Calahorra, in northern Spain, petitioned for divorce from his wife, Antonia Garrido, based on her alleged impotence. According to Joseph’s 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.

Source: Testimony of Dr Juan Munoz, Archives of the Diocese of Calahorra, folio 1. 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 named 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.

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.

1799: Polish glutton dines on dogs, cats, candles

An engraving of early modern gluttons at work

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.

Source: Letter from Thomas Cochrane, September 9th 1799; published in The New England Quarterly, vol. 2, 1802. 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.

1641: “Bedew not thy face of those thou speakest with”

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, reportedly just a lad of 10. Youths Behaviour was, in essence, 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 the etiquette of 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.

Source: Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour, or Decency in Conversation amongst Men, 1641. 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.

1782: Bottom-like coconuts highly prized in the Seychelles

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 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…”

Source: William Thomson, Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa &c., 1782. 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.