Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Question from Theresa - Margaret Beaufort's labor

I am absolutely obsessed with anything Tudor and further back and have set myself to learning as much as possible about this subject. I have read Phillipa Gregory's book "The Red Queen" for the umpteenth time and have been confused each time by something I've read. During Margaret Beaufort's labour with Henry VII, it said that Margaret was "tossed in a blanket" to help labour progress. I understand that some of this book is fiction, but something like that can't just come out of the blue - there must be a grain of truth about this somewhere. As a mum of seven kids, I can't understand for the life of me how that is supposed to help. Can anyone give me some insight on this? Thank you very much!


Foose said...

There appears to have been an influential medieval book of women's medicine originating in Italy, De Passionibus Mulierum Curandarum, also called the Trotula, after its alleged author, the midwife Trotula of Salerno. It advises the following when the baby is determined already to be dead within the mother's body:

"Those who labor excessively in giving birth to a dead fetus we assist thus. Let us place the patient on a linen sheet and let us have it held by four strong men at the corners, the head of the patient a little elevated. We will make the sheet be pulled strongly this way and that at opposite corners, and immediately she will give birth."

Note that it specifies this use for only a dead child. However, you can see how the last clause may have attracted attention from midwives and doctors struggling with the delayed birth of a live child.

The 1544 Trotula published in Strasbourg was edited by a German doctor called Georg Kraut, who included this recommendation:

"... that in case of difficulties of birth, one should call first upon God's aid before attempting other remedies, later adding that the practice of bouncing a woman on a sheet to induce labor would work if God were willing." (This and the excerpt above from The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine, edited and translated by Monica H. Green.)

I can't access the 1544 edition, so I don't know if Kratz was commenting on a birth with a live or already dead infant. But this may indicate that the practice was in use by that time for prolonged deliveries where the infant was still alive in the uterus.

kb said...

Foose - That's fantastic information!

Foose said...

Yes, it's interesting, but not conclusive - I couldn't find any anecdotes or case histories of a woman actually subjected to the practice during a live birth.

However, "Trotula" turns up in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and one source I looked at said the "texts were no longer used much even in the fifteenth century except in England (where they had always been popular") (emphasis mine - perhaps the "blankets" rather than sheets was a concession to the English climate.)

I wonder if "tossing in blankets" was more of an "urban legend"/childbirth horror story that was popularly circulated, based on the line in the Trotula, rather than an actual recommended practice?

Also, the 1544 editor's name was definitely Kraut, not Kratz (as I used in the second instance).

kb said...

I'm also wondering if 'tossing' has a slightly different interpretation for the time. For example, rolling a woman in labor gently from side to side might help shift the baby in the womb. In that case, 'tossing' is less aggressive than we might assume based on the word's meaning today.

So a woman on a sturdy sheet of fabric might be rolled back and forth by people holding the edges. If the woman is exhausted from a long labor ("labor excessively") might not be able to get up and walk around to help shift the baby. Borrowing the strength of others to move the woman about a bit might have been welcome.

Just a thought.

HHeather said...

I"m just reading The Red Queen now and was wondering about the same thing. It seems like the practice was continued to be used for quite some time, including in "western medicine," according to the below article:


YogaAndBirth said...

Today we use Rebozo, which is like a blanket, to aid in readjusting a poorly positioned baby in the birth canal. Rebozo originates in Hispanic countries but it's the same principle. Google "rebozo techniques" for demonstration. Simply put, if the baby is in the birth canal in a position that makes delivery difficult, there are techniques using a rebozo, blanket, or sheet that can help gently dislodge the baby so it can reenter the birth canal in a better position. It also helps relax the woman's pelvis.

Unknown said...

Sancho Panza repeatedly refers to a trauma involved in being "tossed in a blanket" in Don Quixote, but it was in reference to being pranked at an inn by some ruffians messing with him. Research indicates this "blanket tossing" was usually a carnival game involving a poor dog... so whatever the case, apparently being tossed in a blanket was some common "thing" in medieval times?

Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you! Labour is bad enough, but to be subjected to this....I just can't imagine!