Category Archives: Pregnancy and childbirth

1683: Wife delivers black children, thanks to statue

Stephanus Blankaart (1650-1704) was a Dutch physician, medical researcher and author. One of Blankaart’s interests was unusual physical deformities, particularly those occurring in newborn children. Blankaart’s research in this field caught the attention of Russian emperor Peter the Great, who later assembled his own collection of deformed foetuses and body parts.

In a 1683 text, Blankaart recorded several cases of physical deformity he had encountered, including a ten-year-old boy covered in fish scales and another child with an ear growing in the middle of the forehead. He also recalled that a married woman in Amsterdam had given birth to two children who were:

“…otherwise healthy, but with the colours and features of a Moor [North African].”

According to Blankaart, the woman was treated by Nicolaas Tulp, another well-known physician. After some investigation Tulp offered an explanation for the woman’s coloured children: she kept a large statue of a naked Moor in her house and had often “gazed upon it”.

Source: Stephanus Blankaart, Collectanea Medico-Physica, 1683. 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.

1612: Umbilical cord length determines other appendages

Jacques Guillemeau was a French surgeon who specialised in obstetrics, a prolific writer and a physician to the Bourbon monarchy. Writing in 1612 Guillemeau says the amount of umbilical cord left untrimmed after birth will determine the size of a man’s tongue and penis:

“…the navel must be tied longer or shorter, according to the difference of the sex, allowing more measure to the males… because this length doth make their tongue and privy members the longer, whereby they may both speak the plainer and be more serviceable to ladies… the gossips commonly say merrily to the midwife; if it be a boy, make him good measure… but if it be a wench, tie it short.”

Source: Jacques Guillemeau, Child-Birth or the Happy Delivery of Women, trans. 1612. 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.

1478: Waiting crowd shown the newborn prince and his testicles

Philip, the future king of Castile, was born on June 22nd 1478. The following day, Margaret of York, the child’s godmother, carried baby Philip into the market square in Bruges where a large crowd had gathered. According to a Flemish chronicler, Margaret proudly stripped the baby and showed him to the crowd:

“…She took his testicles in her hands and spoke: ‘Children, see here your newborn lord Philip, from the emperor’s side’. The crowd, seeing that it was a son, was overwhelmingly happy, thanking and praising our beloved God that he had granted them a young prince.”

Margaret’s display was a response to rumours, circulated by agents of French king Louis XI, that baby Philip was actually a girl.

Philip became King of Castile shortly before his 28th birthday but died suddenly just three months later. His obsessive and unstable wife Joanna, who at the time of Philip’s death was pregnant with their sixth child, became even more erratic. She refused to surrender Philip’s body for burial, keeping it in her apartments for several months. According to some chroniclers, she sometimes opened Philip’s casket to kiss and stroke his corpse.

Source: Cited in W. Appe Alberts, Dit sijn die wonderlijke oorloghen van den doorluchtigen hoochgheboren prince, &tc., 1978. 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.

1590: Men without pubic hair inclined to impotence

Phillip Barrough was an English physician who practised in the second half of the 16th century. In his 1590 book The Method of Physick, Barrough describes the signs of fertility and impotence:

“A woman that is fertile ought to have a moderate stature and height of the body, breadth of the loins, buttocks sticking out, a handsome and convenient greatness of the belly, a straight breast and large paps… The hot distemper of a man is easily known by the abundance of hairs, especially black hairs, upon the genitals and the places adjoining, from above unto the middle thighs.”

Men with no hair about their testicles, writes Barrough, are more inclined to impotence:

“A temperament that is too cold is declared by the parts about the stones being bald and without hair… They that be of this temperature be not desirous [or] prone to carnal lust.”

Source: Phillip Barrough, The Method of Physick, London, 1590. 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.

1686: Unnatural sex position leads to unnatural birth

Cornelis Stalpart van der Wiel (1620–1702) was an esteemed Dutch surgeon. He had a busy practice in The Hague that received well-to-do patients from all over the Low Countries. Stalpart was also a prolific writer, recording new illness, injuries and physical anomalies.

Writing in 1686, Slapart describes the curious case of Elisabeth Tomboy, one of his brother’s patients. Tomboy was a Dutch housewife who in January 1678 gave birth to a normal and healthy baby daughter. However on September 27th 1677, 14 weeks beforehand, Tomboy had gone into premature labour. Attended by Dr Stalpart Jnr and a midwife, Mrs Tomboy gave birth to a stillborn puppy:

“…being a bitch, about a finger long and having all its limbs.”

Bestiality was the usual explanation for deformed births of this kind. Stalpart, drawing on the investigations of his brother, who was also a physician, offered an alternative explanation. He penned this part in Latin, to keep it from “common readers” and to spare Mrs Tomboy further embarrassment:

“Her husband was a coarse, crude drunk, shameless and utterly inhuman… from time to time he took her from behind, threatening her with clubs and iron pipe so that she would have to comply…”

Elisabeth Tomboy, Stalpart said, became so convinced that she would conceive a dog that she did. This story was repeated (though never corroborated) by other early modern medical writers, as evidence of maternal impression.

Source: C. Stalpart van der Wiel, Hondert zeldzame aanmerhngen, zoo in de genees-als heelkunst, 1686. 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.