Posts Tagged ‘Women’

This essay was written by Rachel during the course of her studies towards a Master’s degree at the University of New England.

 “Have you drunk any malificium, that is, herbs or other agents, so that you could not have children?”[1]

Were contraceptives and other means of family limitation such as abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment practised in medieval Western Europe?  If so, what remedies and methods of contraception were used, to what extent, and were they successful?  Early research into the topic concluded that contraception was virtually unknown in the Middle Ages and that medieval people did not have a ‘contraceptive mentality’. [2]  However, more recent investigations have produced a plethora of writing which clearly demonstrates that medieval society not only knew about various forms of contraception and abortifacients; they used them to such a degree that medical texts, church doctrine and the common literature of the time are strewn with references to their use.  Documents are littered with contraceptive recipes and methods and contain warnings and prohibitions against certain herbs, many of these originating in antiquity.  Contemporary research into the history of human fertility control has therefore ceased to ask when contraception became common place and effective, and instead questions how family limitation was practised prior to the eighteenth century.[3] The idea and practice of controlling the number of children conceived and born has been employed across all cultures through time, although the methods and efficacy vary.[4]

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