Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I came across this extraordinary document which describes childbirth procedures in detail, for the 16th century, at least. It was written to prove the legitimacy of the baby, if a son, because the father was already dead. Pity such scrupulous attention wasn't paid to the birth of "the Old Pretender."

It also confirms that the birthing stool was the usual situation, and interestingly that a man's support was common enough not to be commented on as strange here, even though the man clearly isn't her husband. I've used this in a number of stories, such as Secrets of the Night.

"And the aforesaid Isabel de la Cavalleria, complaining about the pains of her labour, lying down on her back in the arms and legs of the aforesaid lord Martin de Palomar y de Gurrea, lord of Argavieso, who was sitting in a chair holding her with strength, the aforesaid Isabel having some relics on her belly and many blessed candles lit around, and the midwives were there, Aina on her knees in front of the aforesaid Isabel and the aforementioned Catalina Salinas was between the legs of the aforesaid Isabel de la Cavalleria, sitting on a stool with a cloth laid out in her knees to administer the labour and to receive the baby who was about to be born, and there was a clean brass pot between the legs of the aforesaid Isabel, as we could see, where I, the notary and the witnesses saw and heard fall in the blood and the water which were coming out from the body of the aforesaid Isabel de la Cavalleria while in labour pains. "

Sentence breaks were unpopular at the time, it seems!

You can read it all at the link.


smcdon0610 said...

I think that it is very interesting that they had a container to catch the blood and water from childbirth. I wonder if that was common.
I am a nurse, and now, we use pads to soak this up.
Was it because of legal issues even though the father appeared to be present?
Very interesting! Thanks for the scrupulous research.

Jo B said...

I thought they were using basins until recently. If a woman is in a birthing chair or equivalent with open air beneath her legs, wouldn't a basin be more efficient than pads?

There could also be an economical reason. Cloth would have to be discarded or need a lot of laundering, and they never threw away anything if they could help it. A basin only needed to be washed.

This is also part of the reason they didn't give birth in the bed, which would be messed up.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head.

As you'll see, folks, I've opened this blog to comments. I can't promise to be quick to respond, but feel free to post and talk to each other.