Category Archives: Marriage

Marriage Witchcraft

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

Curiosities Marriage

A very Horne

These entertaining snippets come from a little warning piece published in 1588, entitled A myraculous, and Monstrous, but yet most true, and certayne discourse, of a Woman (now to be seene in London) of the age of threescore yeares, or thereabouts, in the midst of whose fore-head (by the wonderfull worke of God) there groweth out a crooked Horne, of foure inches long.

This woman, whose name is Margaret Gryffth, was lately the wife of David Owen, with whom she lived many years verie quietly and honestly, having four children, whereof three are yet alive. So hath she since her widowhood maintained her self with her small portion of land, and other necessaries in very good order.

There appeared of late, viz, in May last, through the wonderful worke of God, as the woman her self confesseth, in the middle of her fore-head, a small hard knob, having on the top thereof at first a dry skab, which she laboured by cutting, and all other helpe of Surgerie, to have covered and cured, but all was in vaine. It hath growne both in greatness and hardness, so that it is now become both in colour, quantitie, and proportion, a very Horne, much like unto a Sheepe’s horne, four inches long, most miraculously growing downe out of her fore-head, to the middle of her nose, and there it crooketh towards her right eye.

Some speaches there are, but yet doubtfully reported, and not willingly acknowledged, either by her or her friends, that there hath heretofore some words passed betwixt her husband and her in his life time who, suspecting her of some light behaviour, and charging her with it in these termes, that she had given him the Horne, she then not only constantly denied it, but wished also that if she had given her husband the Horne, she might have a Horne growing out of her owne face and fore-head, to the wonder of the whole world.

Thus, well beloved Christians, you may behold, how the Lord our God, seeking to drive into our dull senses a reverent regard of his Majestie, doth not only often ring into our eares the thundering threatenings of his just judgements, which yet might shake stonie Rockes, but sometimes presenteth before our eyes, visible and apparent tokens of his displeasure.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved


Seeing I am such an eye sore unto you

These snippets come from Thomas Dekker’s The Bachelers Banquet: OR A Banquet for Bachelors: Pleasantly discoursing the variable humors of Women, their quicknesse of wittes and unsearchable deceits (1603). Thomas Dekker was a playwright and pamphleteer with a vivid ear for dialogue.  Here he paints a picture of a typical argument between husband and wife. Putting aside the fact this pamphlet was intended to be read by men as a warning against irrational female behaviour, what’s interesting is the intimate domestic detail revealed through the marital bickering. It provides a fascinating snapshot of the interactions between men and women in early modern England. In addition, the subject of their argument, clothes, is so contemporary in nature it reminds us that some things never really change.

‘I pray you husband let me alone, trouble me not, for I am not well at ease.’

Which he hearing presently makes this reply. ‘Why, my sweet hart, what ailes you, are you not well? I pray thee wife tell me, where lies thy griefe? Or what is the cause of your discontent?’

Whereupon the vile woman fetching a deepe sigh, makes this answere. ‘O, husband God help me, I have cause enough to greeue, and if you knew all you would say so: but alas it is in vaine to tell you any thing, seeing that whatsoever I say, you make but light reckoning of it.  Therefore it is best for me to bury my sorrowes in silence, being out of hope to have any help at your hands.’

‘Jesus, wife,’ (saith he) ‘why use you these words, is my unkindness such that I may not knowe your griefes? Tell me, I say, what is the matter?’

‘In truth, husband, it were to no purpose, for I knowe your custome well enough; as for my words, they are but wind in your eares, for how great soever my griefe is, I am assured you will but make light of it, and thinke that I speake it for some other purpose.’

‘Go to, wife,’ saith her husband, ‘tell it me, for I will know it.’

‘Well, husband, you shall. You know on Thursday last, I was sent for, and you willed me to goe to Mistresse M. and when I came thither I found great cheere, & no small companie of wives. But the meanest of them all was not so ill attired as I, and surely I was never so ashamed of my selfe in my life. Yet I speak it not to praise my selfe: but it is well knowne, and I dare boldly say, that the best woman there came of no better stocke than I.’

‘Why, wife,’ saith he, ‘of what calling & degree were those you speak of?’

‘Truly, good husband,’ (saith she) ‘the meanest that was there, being but of my degree, was in her gowne with trunk sleeues, her farthingale, her turkie skirtle; her taffety hat with a gold band, and these with ye rest of her attire, made of ye newest fashion, which is the best.  Whereas I, poore wretch, had on my threadbare gowne, which was made me so long ago it is now too short for me, it was made above three yeares ago, since which time I am growne very much, and so changed with cares and griefes, that I looke farre older then I am.’

‘Tush, wife,’ (quoth the good-man) ‘let them say what they like, we are never a whit the worse for their words, we have enough to do with our money, though we spend it not in apparell: you knowe, wife, when we met together, we had no great store of household stuffe, but were fain to buy afterwards, as God sent mony, and yet you see we want many things that is necessary to be had. Besides the quarter day is neere, and my Landlord you know will not forbeare his rent. Moreover, you see how much it costs me in law about the recovering of the Tenement which I should have, or else I shall have but a bad bargaine of it, for it hath already almost cost me as much as it is worth.’

At these words his wifes colour begins to rise, whereupon she makes him this answere.  ‘Jesus, God,’ (saith she) ‘when you have nothing else to hit me in the teeth withall, ye twit me with the Tenement.’

‘Why, how now, wife,’ saith her husband, ‘are you now angry for nothing?’·

‘Nay I am not angry, I must be content with that which God hath ordained for me. But I wish the time was, when I might have been better advised. There are some yet living that would have been glad to have me in my smock, whom you know well enough to be proper young men, and therewithall wise and wealthy. But I verily suppose I was bewitched to match with a man that loves me not. I may truly say I am the most unhappy woman in the world. Do you thinke that Tom & N. M. (who were both suiters to me) do keepe their wives so? No, for I know the worst clothes they cast off, is better then my very best, which I weare on the chiefest dayes in the yeere. I know not what the cause is that so many good women die, but I would to God that I were dead too, that I might not trouble you no more, seeing I am such an eye sore unto you.

‘No, wife,’ (saith he) hoping so with a jest to make her merry, ‘by my honestie I sweare, I verily thinke that if I were dead, you would not be long without another husband.’

‘No marvaile sure,’ saith she, ‘but by my christian soule I sweare, there should never man kisse my lipps againe. And if I thought I should live long with you, I would use meanes to make my selfe away.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Biography Court Elizabeth Love Marriage Poetry

In Stella’s face I read what love and beauty be

Penelope Rich was a notorious Elizabethan beauty, inspiring poetry and praise from the courtly male elite. But as a married women she also achieved a certain notoriety and fame by virtue of a serious of love affairs.   Born into the wealthy Essex family in 1563, Penelope was the daughter of Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex and his wife, Lettice. Well-educated, she spoke several languages including French, and was accomplished in music. Before his death, her father had sought to have her contracted in marriage to the poet and courtier Philip Sydney, however Sydney opposed the match and seemed disinclined to marry. In 1581 Penelope arrived at court and became one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honour, and by the end of the year she was married to Robert Rich, Lord Rich of Essex, later first Earl of Warwick. The wedding took place in November, and afterwards Penelope developed a habit of visiting her mother, who by now had become wife of the Queen’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester; often staying with her brother Robert, earl of Essex (he of the famous Essex Rebellion of 1603).

At the time of her marriage, Sydney, who had previously discounted marriage to Penelope, appears to have had belated second thoughts, and attending court in 1581 he fell in love with her. Astrophil and Stella, his famous sonnet sequence, is thought to have been inspired by Penelope. There are several puns on the name Rich throughout the sequence, and in Sonnet 35 he claims:

long needy Fame
Doth even grow rich, naming my Stella’s name

No evidence survives to confirm Stella ever read Sydney’s poetry, neither is there proof the two became lovers, but Penelope’s biographer suggests it is likely, since ‘on his deathbed in 1586 Sidney reportedly told the preacher George Gifford of a vanity in which he had taken delight, of which he must now rid himself, naming Lady Rich.’


Philip Sydney


Penelope and her husband had five children, four of whom survived. But Penelope was not content to lead the life of a wife and mother, trapped in a country house with no diversions. She insisted on attending court, and soon attracted the advances of another courtier, Sir Charles Blount. Their affair became public knowledge in 1590 when he wore her colours at the Accession Day jousting tournament. Blount and Penelope went on to have six children together, the first, Penelope, born in 1592. However the child was given the surname Rich, and her mother continued to spend some time with her husband. She nursed him through a serious illness in 1600 and he appears to have at the very least accepted the situation he found himself in, even permitting all the children to be brought up together. This may have been because by this stage Penelope was quite a powerful force at court. People petitioned her for favours and for mediation with the Queen, and she would request favours for people from Robert Cecil. However after Essex’s debacle in Ireland in 1599, her brother fell dramatically out of favour with the Queen, and Penelope, ill-advisedly attempted to intervene. The result was a humiliating response from Elizabeth, castigating Penelope for daring to meddle, and although the two later resolved their differences, Penelope was never fully forgiven.

In 1603, Penelope’s relationship with court suffered a catastrophic failure when she was named as one of the ring-leaders in Essex’s botched attempt at a coup:

she had dined at Essex House with the leaders the previous night, and went to fetch the earl of Bedford on the morning of the revolt. After the trial, Essex reportedly insisted that she had urged him on by saying that all his friends and followers thought him a coward. She maintained that she had been more like a slave, and that her brother had wrongly accused her. After a brief confinement, and examination by the privy council, she was released.


Sir Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire


After the death of the Queen, Penelope restored her status and social standing by escorting James I’s wife from the borders, and appearing in a series of masques at court alongside the new queen Anne. In 1605, her marriage to Rich was formally dissolved in the London consistory court, on the grounds of her acknowledged adultery. Although she named no one in the proceedings, she had by this point become involved with the earl of Devonshire, formerly Mountjoy, head of armed forces in Ireland. Remarriage remained illegal while her former spouse lived, but nevertheless the two were married on Boxing Day 1605.  Her new husband prepared a long defence of his marriage to Penelope, writing to James I, claiming that Penelope had ‘protested during the wedding with Rich, that after it Rich had tormented her, and had now not “enjoyed her” for twelve years.’ Their marriage however proved to be short lived. Devonshire died in April the following year, and Penelope outlived him by little more than a year, dying at Westminster in July 1607.

Penelope fascinated men throughout her life. She was celebrated in paintings, poetry, and songs; described as ‘the starre of honor, and the sphere of beautie’. Nicholas Hilliard painted her portrait, and named his daughter after her. The happiness of her relationship with Devonshire was celebrated by John Ford in his elegy Fame’s Memorial.

Sources: DNB; NPG; EBBO

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