No childe rightly shaped

These fragments from 1609 come from a disturbing account of the birth of a child in Kent.

It is not unknown to most part of the kingdome, that Sandwich is one of the principall townes in Kent, bordering upon the Sea, unto which towne now standeth a very olde house, being the dwelling place of one Goodwife Wattes, whose husband is a shepheard, a very honest poore old woman, well-beloved of the country, and of an honest conversation amongst her neighbours.

Upon the thirty of July last past, 1609, being Saturday, there came unto this old poore womans house, a certaine wandring young woman, great with child, handsome, and decently apparelled, and being not well able to travell further, by reason of her great belly, desired succour of this kind-hearted old woman Mother Watts.  Mother Watts not onely granted her houseroome and lodging for that night, but also sucker, helpe and furtherance at the painefull hour of her deliverie. This bigge belly wandring young woman, having thus by her humble intreaties obtained lodging, the very first night of her lying there, fell into a most strange labor, where her wombe was tormented with such greevous paine that it much affrighted the old woman Mother Watts, and she immediately called in her neighbours, being women all of a willing forwardness in such a business. But not any of them knew how to shift in such a dangerous case, wherefore amazedly they looked one of another, til such time as one goodwife Hatch, the younger, was sent for, being a Midwife of a milde nature, and of good experience, who at her comming thither, so cunningly shewed her skill, that with the helping hand of God, this distressed young woman was speedily delivered.

But her wombe yeelded forth into the world a kind of creature, but no childe rightly shaped, for it was most strange & dreadful to behold, and drove the Midwife goodwife Hatch and the rest of the company into a great fright, even readie to sinke downe dead to the ground with feare.  For it had no head, nor any signe or proportion thereof, there onely appeared as it were two faces, the one visibly to be seene, directly placed in the breast, where it had a nose, and a mouth, and two holes for two eyes, but no eyes, all which seemed ugly, and most horrible to be seene, and much offencive to humane nature to be looked upon. The other face was not perfectly to be seene, but retained a proportion of flesh in a great round lump, like unto a face quite disfigured, and this was all of that which could be discerned.  The face, mouth, eyes, nose, and breast, being thus framed together like a deformed peece of flesh seemed as it were a chaos of confusion, a mixture of things without any discription, from the breast downeward to the bowels it was smooth and straight, all the other parts of the body retained a most strange deformitie, for the armes grew out at the toppe of the shoulders, having neither joynt nor elbow, but round and fleshy, at the end of which armes grew two hands, with fifteene fingers, the one hand had eight, the other seaven, of a contrarie shape, not like to the naturall fingers of new borne children: also it had foureteene toes, of each foote seaven, beeing as it were like geese or ducks feete.

They were all strucken almost sencelesse: the Roome also where this childe lay, smelled so earthly (for it was dead borne) that not any of them all could hardly endure the scent thereof.  Among other remembrances, this is to be observed for a thing of strangenesse, that the woman her selfe confessed, that this monster, a little time before her delivery, moved in her belly not like unto other naturall children, but as shee had beene possessed with an evill spirit, which put her to extreame torments.  Not many hours passed, before the reports of this strange birth was bruited abroade, and the eares of the inhabitants thereabout dwelling, so filled with the newes thereof, that they came in multitudes to behold it, in such aboundance that it was wonderfull.

But now againe to our purpose. On Sunday beeing the last of July, this new delivered woman, in reason seeming to bee weake and sicklie, lying in her bed, desired the olde woman, her hostess Mother Wattes, to goe into the towne, & to buy such necessaries as was needefull for a weake woman in child-bed to have, giving her money for the same purpose, the which mother Watts most willingly did. But before Mother Watts could returne from Sandwich, which was in lesse time then two houres, she had got up out of her bed, put on all her cloathes, and was gone from the house, leaving behinde her eight shillings, lying uppon the Table, the child being dead, layde by it, with an intent that the money should pay for the burial of the same.  All which mother Watts her returne, beeing found in this order, seemed to bee an accident most strange, whereupon she immediately called in her neighbors, where with a generall consent, they certified the same unto the Magistrates, who upon good consideration together, with the advice of a reverend and learned Minister, of Saint Clements church in Sandwitch, one M. Simons, who verie charitably gave it buryall, & withall, giving many godly admonitions to the people, concerning this most strange birth.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

2 Comments

  • November 18, 2010 - 7:45 am | Permalink

    Anencephaly? Conjoined partial twin – a real axis duplication? I suspect the newly delivered woman beat it before they started blaming her for the malformed stillbirth, which sounds like it had taken a while before coming out. Poor thing.

  • November 7, 2010 - 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post: fascinating as always. This reminded me of the description of Richard’s birth in Shakespeare’s Richard III: evil being born with teeth.

  • 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