Saturday, June 26, 2010

Question from Sarah - Tudor fertility remedies

Does anyone know what treatments women may have had for fertility problems during the reign of Henry VIII? And do we know of any of the women at the court using them?


  1. Maybe I'm misremembering it, but wasn't there a shrine that women would make a pilgrimage to for success in conceiving? It's not a treatment per se, but something that they believed would increase their chances of getting pregnant.

  2. You are remembering it correctly, Lara. It was the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Walsingham, Norfolk. Did it help anybody? Not that I can see from various accounts of women who went there and women who didn't. The only "treatments" available at the time was prayers. Did prayers have any difference at all? Sorry, but they don't seem to be any more effective than chance alone.

  3. I think there must have been some folk remedies available for fertility, as there have been historically in almost all cultures. Sorry, but I don't have any specific information about them.

  4. Its not a fertility treatment, but wasn't there something about eating asparagus to ensure that you gave birth to a boy?

  5. Hi Sarah, You can find tons of fertility remedies by reading receipt books – the sex manuals of their day. Most of them are dated to the 17th century but little changed between centuries regarding medical practices.

    Doctors at the time believed infertility was caused by too much vaginal dryness so they would often proscribe methods to make more “heat.” Heat was associated with a more sanguine environment. A man’s “seed” was believed to be just distilled blood so it needed the right environment to stick around. A woman without enough heat was believed to have a ‘slippery’ womb so doctors would advise eating rich meats to raise the temperature.

    Conversely, you could also be stuck with a too hot womb and then the doctor would proscribe lamb and leafy vegetables - believed to make you less hot.

    It was all about balance. Having the right balance = baby on the way.


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