Put her head but in a blacke bagge

These snippets come from A certaine relation of the hog-faced gentlewoman called Mistris Tannakin Skinker (1640), a curious story about the fantastical birth of a child with a hog’s nose, who eventually marries at the age of sixteen.

In a place in Holland, called Wirkham lived one Joachim Skinker, whose wifes name was Parnel; a man of good revenue, but of a great estate in money and cattle. These two having very lovingly lived together, without any issue to succeed them in their goods and inheritance: it being no small griefe unto them, that either strangers, or some of their owne ungrateful Kindred should after death enjoy those meanes for which they had so laboriously travail’d, when they were in their greatest despaire, it happened thus she found her selfe conceived with childe, which was a greater joy and comfort to her and her husband. In the yeere 1618, she was safely delivered of a Daughter, all the limbes and lineaments of her body well featur’d and proportioned, only her face, which is the ornament and beauty of all the rest, had the Nose of a Hog, or Swine: which was not only a stain and blemish, but a deformed uglinesse, making all the rest loathsome, contemptible and odious to all that lookt upon her in her infancie. To conceale their shame, they so farre mediated with the Midwife and the other women that were present at the delivery, that they should keepe it as close and secret as it was possible to doe, and they called the name of it Tannakin, which is in English Anne, or Hannah.

It is credibly reported, that this Burgers wife having conceived, an old woman suspected for a Witch came to begge of her an Almes, but she being at the time busied about some necessary affaires gave her a short and neglectfull answer; at which she [the witch] went away muttering to her selfe the Divells pater noster, and was heard to say, As the Mother is Hoggish, so Swinish shall be the Child shee goeth withall. Which is a great probability that the infants deformity came by the malitious Spells, and divelish murmurations of this wicked woman.

[When] it was publickly discovered to the World; insomuch that much confluence of people came to see the progedy, which wearied the Father, and cast a blush upon the cheekes of the good woman the mother, some desirous to heare her speake, others importunate to see her feede. Then milke and the like was brought unto her in a silver Trough; to which she stooped and eate, just as a Swine doth in his swilling Tub; which the more mirth it bred in the Spectators, increased in the father the more melancholy: insomuch that he bethought himselfe to finde out some meanes, (if it were possible) either to mend or end his sorrowes.  And to that purpose, hearing of a famous Artist, who was both a Mathematician, and an Astrologian (whose name was Vandermast) and lived not farre from him; a man who was suspected to have been well versed in blacke and hidden Arts, to him he repaired, and when he had made knowne his griefes by every circumstance, he desired of him some present remedy, for which hee would bee no way ingratefull. Who, after some pause, told him that whilst she continued in the estate of a Virgin, there was no hope of her recovery; yet advised him not to match her unto Clowne, Bore, or Pesant. He repaired backe to his owne house, and acquainted his wife with the passage of the whole businesse; where they long consulted betwixt themselves, what were best in this difficult case to bee done.

After much reasoning Pro and Con, they concluded to put her into very rich and costly habit (but her face still vaild and covered) and to give out that what gentleman of fashion or quality soever would take her to his bed after loyall Matrimony, (for she was at this time betwixt sixeteene and seventeene yeares of age, and therefore marriageable) should receive for a Dowry with her, forty thousand pound, payed downe in Starling and Currant money. This was a baite sufficient to make every Fish to bite at, for no sooner was this publickely divulged, but there came Suitors of all sorts; insomuch that his Gates were thronged as at an Outcry, or rather as a Lottery, every one in hope to carry away the great Prize of forty thousand pound; for it was not the person, but the prize at which they aimed.

One [suitor] thinkes to him selfe, so the body bee handsome, though her countenance be never so coarse and ugly, all are alike in the night; and in the day time, put her head but in a blacke bagge, and what difference betwixt her and another woman?  Another comforteth him selfe thus: That if shee cannot speake, shee cannot chide; and therefore hee shall be sure not to have a scold to his wife.

Amongst some Suitors came a Scotch man being a Captaine, who having hazarded the greatest part of a months pay uppon one Suite of Cloathes, was desirous to see this Gentlewoman, and was received by the Parents; who thinking him to be some great Leard in his Country, gave him generous entertainement. She was brought unto him with her face covered, and in an habit which might well have suited the greatest Lady in the Land; who admiring her feature and proportion, was much inamoured of her person, but desirous to see her face, discovered, when hee beheld it; hee would stay no other conference, but ran away without further answer, saying; they must pardon him, for hee could indure no Porke.

Next came a Sow-man, borne in England, having accomodated himselfe for the same adventure, and presuming that loving Sow so well, no Hogs-face could affright him; he presently at the sight of her could endure her company no longer, and at his farewell, said, so long as I have known Rumford, I never saw such a Hogsnout.’

Eventually this poor girl’s parents do find her a suitable match, and the story concludes with a cunning twist.

The day of marriage came, when the Ladyes striving to tricke her up in the richest habite and best ornaments they could devise, the more they strived to beautifie her, the more ugly and deformed she appeared. Briefly, married they were, and bed-time came, heaven knowes to his small comfort, and lesse content. The Bride-chamber was prepared, and the rooms, according to the Brides appoyntment stucke full of lights. The doors are shut, to bed she goes, and urgeth him to make haste, and doe the office of an husband: who was no sooner laid by her side, with as much distance as was possible, shee pluckt him by the arme, and desired him to reach a Light; and if shee could receive no other favour at his hands, yet at least once more to looke upon her, and she would then acquit him of his promise.

This seeming to be an easie condition, he takes a light, and looking steadfastly upon her, he discovered a sweet young Lady of incomparable beauty and feature, the like to whom to his imagination he never had in his whole life time beheld: at which strange sight being much extasied, he grew as greatly Inamoured, insomuch, that he beganne to court her, and offered to kisse her, &c. But she modestly putting him backe, said to him as followeth: Sir, I am indeed no other than I now seeme unto you; and of these two things I give you free choice, whether I shall appeare to you thus as you now see me, young, faire, and lovely in your bed, and all the daytime, and abroad, of my former deformity: or thus beautifull in the day, to the sight of your friends, but in your armes every night of my former Age and Uglinesse: of these two things I give you free choice of, which till you have resolv’d me, there can be no other familiarity betwixt in: therefore without pause give me a speedy answer.

This more then all the rest distracted him  For what was her beauty to him in the night, if she appeared to all his friends so loathsome by day?  Or what was her rare feature to him, either abroad amongst his friends, or at board, if she were so odious to him in bed?  Therefore he said unto her: Sweet and delicate Lady, I am confounded in your question; nor know I what to answer; but into you owne hands and choyse I give the full power and soveraignty to make election of which you best please. At which words shee lovingly turned towards him, and said, Now Sir, you have given me that which all women most desire, my Will, and Soveraignty; and know I, waw by a wicked and sorcerous step-dame inchanted, never to returne to my pristine shape, till I was first married, and after had received such power from my Husband · And now from henceforth I shall be the same to you night and day, of that youth and lively-hood which you now see mee; till Time and Age breed new alteration, even to the last period of my life. At which, how incredible his joy was.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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