A childe without a head

These snippets come from a marvellous propaganda pamphlet entitled A DECLARATION of a Strange and Wonderfull MONSTER published in 1645, which recalls the account of a woman who gave birth to a monster as a direct consequence of cursing the Roundheads.  The account, according to the title page, was subsequently presented to Parliament, complete with a certificate of authenticity signed by a minister, a midwife, and ‘divers other eye-witnesses’.

The Dukedome of Lancashire is the County where this Monster was brought forth.  The people that live there are a mixt number, some precious godly people, but for the most part very bad.  No parts in England hath had so many witches, none fuller of Papists. The Gentlewoman (for so she is both by Birth and Marriage) was delivered of this Monster at her Husbands house in Kirkeham, where the Midwife being sent for, came to her, and delivered her in that house; the child (or rather Monster), was born but dead, and there it was shewed, and from thence carryed into the Church-yard a day or two after, and there buried.  After which some (in Gentlemans habit) were seen to go in, supposed to be Popish Priests and Fryars.

For the course of life which the woman lived, who bore this Monster, it hath been much spent in Popish devotion, and some times in company with her neighbours, the gentlewomen and farmers wives that lived about her. She hath often been heard to curse against the Roundheads, also to revile the Parliament, and she hath been heard to wish that she and hers might never live to be Roundheads, and that the Puritans deserved all to be hanged; and many such like expressions would often fall from her. Amongst the rest, one speach of hers was most notorious, ‘I pray God that [should] I shall be a Roundhead, or bear a roundhead, I may bring forth a Childe without a head.’

Rumours of this headless child quickly spread, and a govenment official eventually order the exhumation of the little body:

Mr Fleetwood caused the grave to be opened, and the childe to be taken up, and laid to view, and found there a body without an head, as the Midwife had said; only the childe had a face upon the breast of it, as you may see in the portraicture.

A certificate of authenticity was

shewed before divers of the Committee, and by Collonel More a Member of the House of Commons, brought up to London, and shewed to divers of the House, who have commanded it to be printed, that so all the Kingdome might see the hand of God herein, to the comfort of his people and the terror of the wicked that deride and scorn them.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

5 Comments

  • November 10, 2009 - 11:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the comments. I do think this kind of propaganda piece was probably quite common, although I hadn’t come across the headless child/Papist conflation before. The illustration is so wonderful that I can’t help but imagine it circulated in quite a few texts.

  • November 9, 2009 - 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve seen the illustration (in another version) in another context, but couldn’t tell you where. Wolf/Wolfius/etc’s epic late 16th century Lectiones memorabiles et reconditae contains several similar anti-Papist headless-child anecdotes, although obviously without the (round)head joke, and there are copycat stories in Dutch as well. If you dug them all out you could fill a zombie nursery.

  • November 9, 2009 - 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of the Mistris Parliament pamphlets. There’s one on a ‘monstrous birth’ as well. In that case clearly a political metaphor.

  • November 9, 2009 - 1:40 pm | Permalink

    That baby is huuuge. The birth must have been a nightmare (aside from all the other hideousness of course).

  • November 9, 2009 - 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I grew up near Kirkham, and nothing has changed, monsters and papists all!

    The piece reads like the kind of judgemental nonsense we see now in The Daily Mail. Would this generally have been recognised as propagandists nonsense, do you think? I guess superstition was probably still a significant aspect in society.

  • Comments are closed.

    All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove
    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

    Join other followers:

    © Shakespeare's England 2009-2014