Category Archives: Women

Curiosities Family Food Women Woodcut

Every day she nourisht him, with her most tender brest

Two intriguing early modern woodcuts which depict the breastfeeding scene from the story of Roman Charity recorded by Valerius Maximus. Pero secretly breastfeeds her father Cimon who is imprisoned and otherwise liable to starve to death. Her selfless act leads to her father’s pardon and release. The story appears to have been popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even Rubens depicted the scene. Below are both woodcuts, the first dates from 1635, and the second from 1750. It’s interesting to note the same image inverted and changed in the second woodcut. These are the only examples of breastfeeding images in woodcuts I’ve seen to date.

From A worthy example of a vertuous wife who fed her father with her own milk, being condemned to be famished to death and after was pardoned by the Emperor. To the tune of Flying fame (1635)


From Roman charity: A worthy example of a virtuous wife, who fed her father with her own milk. He being commanded by the emperor to be starved to death, but afterwards pardoned (1750)


Roman Charity by Rubens (c.1612)

Cosmetics Household Women

To beautifie the Face


Today’s post offers up some intriguing early modern beauty tips, which reveal that wrinkles, sunburn, pimples, and chapped lips were just as much of annoyance to women in the seventeenth century as they are to their modern-day counterparts.


Take two handfuls of Rosemary and boil it softly in a quart of Spring-water till it comes to a pint, and let it be covered. Then strain it out, and every morning when you Comb your head, dip a sponge in this water and rub up your hair.

Make a decoction of Turmeric and Rubarb. Wash your Hair very clean, and then with a Sponge moisten your Hair with the decoction therewith, and it will make it fair.

Hair dye:
To make the Hair black, take the juice of red Poppy, the juice of green Nuts, Oyl of Myrtle, Oyl of Costomary [?], each one part, boyle it a while and anoint the Hair therewith.

To curl the Hair, take a quantity of Pine Kernels burnt and beat to a powder, mix them with Oyle of Myrtle, make an Oyntment therewith, and anoint the Head.

To make the Nails grow, take wheat-flower and mingle it with Honey, and lay it to the Nails and it will help them.

Cracked nails:
Anoint your fingers with the powder of brimstone, Arsenick, and Vinegar.

Hand cream:
To make the hands white, take the flower of Beans, of Lupines, of Cornstarch and Rice, of each six ounces. Mix them and make a powder, with which wash your hands in water.



Whitening toothpaste:
Take Harts-horn, and horses Teeth, of each two ounces, sea-shells, salt, and Cypress-Nuts each one ounce. Burn them together in an Oven and make a powder. Rub the teeth therewith.

Mouth wash:
To make breath sweet, wash your mouth with the water that the peels of Citrons have been boyled in, and you will have sweet breath.

For cleansing the face and skin, wash the face with water that Rice is sodden in, and it cleanseth the face, and taketh away Pimples.

Face scrub:
To beautifie the face, take a pinte of Cuckoo-spittle and bruise the thick parts with Rose-water, dry it in the Sun three days then use it.

Wrinkle cream:
To make a water to take away Wrinkles, take a decoction of Briony and Figgs, each a like quantity, and wash the face with it.

Blemish cream:
To take away pits in the face by reason of small-pox, wash the face one day with the distilled water of strong Vinegar, and the next day with the water wherein Bran and Mallows have been boyled, and continue this twenty days or a Month.

Face pack:
To make a Pomatum for the Face, take six dozen Sheeps Feet with the bones, break the bones and take out the marrow, then boyl the feet well and scim off the Oyl that rises, and put it to the Marrow. To which, put four great cold-seeds beaten, the rind of one Citron, two penny worth of Borax, three Cloves, Lily roots well beaten, and a little Rose-water. Boil all together for the space of two hours, then strain it and wash it with waters till it be white. Use this at night. It nourishes, smoothens, softens, and whitens the Skin. If you mix it with some Pearl, you will have a most incomparable Cosmetic remedy.

Freckle remover:
To take away freckles, anoint your face with Oyl of Almonds, or with hares blood.

To take away sun-burn, take the juice of a Lemmon, and a little salt, and wash your Face or hands with it, and let them dry of themselves, and wash them again, and you shall find all the sun-burn gone.



Lip balm
For the Lips Chapt, rub them with the sweat behind your ears, and this will make them smooth and well coloured.

Take two ounces of white Bees-wax and slice it, then then melt over the fire with two ounces or more of pure sallad oyl and a little white Sugar, and when you see that it is well incorporated, take it off the fire and let it stand till it be cold. Anoint your Lips or sore Nose, or sore Nipples with this.

For stench under the Arm-holes, first pluck away the Hairs of the Arm-holes and wash them with White-wine and Rose-water.

Hair remover:
Take the juyce of Fumitory, mix it with Gum Arrabick, then lay it on the place, the Hairs first plucked out by the Roots, it will never permit any more Hair to grow on that place.

Breast reduction
To make the breasts small, take of Rock-Allom powdered, and Oyl of Roses, of each a like  quantity, mix them together and anoint the breasts therewith.



Sources: The Accomplished Ladies Delight, Hannah Woolley (1686), and The Family Physitian, George Hartman (1696)

Custom Etiquette Love Men Women

To the Faire Murderess of my Soul


More today from the entertaining book of compliments from 1699. The author devotes quite a few pages to guiding his male readers through the process of writing a love letter, and provides some possible greetings and signatures for his readers to adopt. He also presents a series of sample letters which can be copied in an effort to woo the ladies, and below the suggested greetings are two of the most entertaining.


Suggested droll greetings when writing a love letter to a mistress:

To the most gracious Queen of my Soul
To the most illustrious Princess of my Heart
To the Countess Dowager of my Affections
To the Baroness of my Words and Actions
To the Peerles Paragon of Exquisite Formosity
To the Empress of my Thoughts
To the Lilly-white-hands of my Angelical Mistress
To the Ninth Wonder of the World
To the most Accomplished Work of Nature, and the Astonishment of all Eyes
To the Faire Murderess of my Soul
To the Rose of pure Delight
To the Choise Nutmeg of Sweetest Consolation
To her who is Day without Night, a Sun full of Shade, a Shade full of Light, Mistress, Etcetera

Suggested signatures:

Your Gally-Slave
Your Always burning Salamander
Your Continual Martyr
Your poor Worm, that must of necessity die, if trod upon by the foot of your disdain
The Vassal of your Severest Frowns



A Cockney to his Mistress

My Dear Peggie

I have here sent thee these Lines writ with my tears, and a little blacking that our Maid rubs my Father’s Shoes with, that I may unload a whole Cart-load of grief into the Warehouse of thy bosome. Truly Peggie, I think I shall die, for I can neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor wake. Nothing that my mother can buy, either in Cheap-side or Newgate-Market will go down with me. My mother sees me looking as pale as the Linen in Moor-fields, and moping in the Chimney corner. She jeers me, saying, What are you love-sick Tom? I cry and make a noise like a Cat upon the Tiles. But let all the world say what they will, I will pout and be sick, and my Father and Mother shall lose their eldest Son, but I’ll have Peggie, that I will. I beseech thee not to omit any occasion of writing to me, that since I cannot kiss thy hand, I may kiss the Letters that thy hand did write. The Bearer hereof is our Cook-maid, one that pitties my condition, and is very trusty. I have therefore engaged her to call and see thee every time she goes to Market. My Mothers Rings are all close lockt up, else I would steal one to send it thee. However I intreat thee to accept of the good will for the deed, and to take in good part the endeavours of thy most faithful servant.


As I was going to steal a ring, my Father came in, taken suddently and desperately ill. The Physicians were sent for, and by their whispering, assure me that he cannot live. As soon as he is dead I shall not fail to visit thee.


A Countrey Bumpkin to his Mistress

Sweet honey, Jone

I have here sent thee a thing, such a one as the Gentlefolks call a Love Letter. T’was indicted by my self after I had drank two or three draughts of Ale. Truly Jone, my parents never brought me up to speak finely, but this I can say in downright terms, I love thee. Marry, Jone, many times and oft have I fetcht home thy Cows when no body knew who did it. Marry, Jone, when thou didst win the Garland in the Whitson-holidayes, I was sure to be drunk that night for joy. I know thou dost love Will the Tayler, but I can tell thee Jone, I think I shall be a better man than he shortly; I am learning to play the Fiddle, so that if thou wilt not yeild the sooner, I will ravish thee with my musick. Tis true I never yet gave thee a Token, but I have here sent thee a piece of silver Ribband. I bought it in the Exchange, where all the folks shouted at me. But what wilt thou give me, Jone? Alas, I ask for nothing but thy self. What a happy day that would be, to see us with our best Cloathes on, at Church, and the Parson saying, I Tom, take thee Jone. I would take thee, and hug thee, and then away to the Alehouse for the Canaries and the Sillabubs and the Shoulder a Mutton and gravie, with a hey down derry and a diddle diddle dee. Thus having no more to say, I rest in assurance of thy good will. Honestly, truly, and blewly.


If you enjoyed this, you’ll enjoy the same author’s hyperbolic compliments for women here at The Stars Borrow Light From Your Radiant Eyes

Curiosities Witchcraft Women

She threw up crooked pins


This extract comes from a late seventeenth century account of witchcraft in Somerset. I think it’s the first witchcraft text I’ve read which details victims vomiting household objects, and it makes for some curious reading. The text doesn’t unfortunately relate what subsequently happened to the suspected witch. 

In the Town of Beckenton, in Somersetshire, liveth one William Spicer, a young Man about eighteen Years of Age. As he was wont to pass by the Alms-house (where lived an Old Woman, about Four score) he would call her Witch, and tell her of her Buns; which did so enrage the Old Woman, that she threatened him with a Warrant; and accordingly did fetch one from a Neighbouring Justice of the Peace. At which he was so frightened, that he humbled himself to her, and promised never to call her so again. Within a few days after, this Young Man fell into the strangest Fits that held him about a Fortnight. When the Fits were upon him, he would often say that he did see this Old Woman against the Wall in the same Room of the House where he was, and that sometimes she did knock her Fist at him; sometimes grin her Teeth, and sometimes laugh at him in his Fits. He was so strong, that three or four Men could scarce hold him; and when he did call for Small Beer to drink, he would be sure to bring up some Crooked Pins to the Number of Thirty, and upwards.

In the same Town liveth one Mary Hill, about the same Age of this Young Man; who meeting with this Old Woman, demanded the Ring she borrowed of her, with a threatening from the Old Woman that she had been better to have let her kept it longer. About a Week before the said Mary was taken with Fits, she met this Old Woman in the Street; who taking her by the hand, desired her to go with her to Froom, to look after some Spinning Work. The said Mary being afraid, refused to go with her. About four days after she met the Old Woman again, who begged an Apple of her, which she refused to give her.

The Sunday following, she complained of a pricking in her Stomack; but on Monday, as she was Eating her Dinner, something arose in her Throat, which was like to have Choaked her; and at the same time she fell into Violent Fits, which held her till Nine or Ten a Clock at Night. The Fits were so strong and violent, that Four or Five Persons were scarce able to hold her, and in the midst of them, she would tell how she saw this old Woman against the Wall, grinning at her, and that she was the Person that had bewitcht her.

The Wednesday following, she began to throw up Crooked Pins, and so continued for the space of a Fortnight. After this, she began to throw up Nails and Pins. And then she began to throw up Nails again, and Handles of Spoons, several pieces of Iron, Lead, and Tin, with several clusters of Crooked Pins; some tied with Yarn, and some with Thread, with abundance of Blood. She threw up in all, above Two Hundred Crooked Pins.

The People of the Town seeing the sad and deplorable Condition of the said Mary, did cause this old Woman to be brought near the House where the Mary Lived, and being gathered together above an Hundred People, the said Mary was brought forth into the open Air, who immediately fell into such strong Fits, that two or three men were scarce able to hold her, and being brought upon the Hill by the Church, and the old Woman brought near her (notwithstanding there were four men to hold the said Mary in a Chair) she mounted up over their Heads into the Air; but the men, and others standing by, caught hold of her Legs, and pulled her down again.

This old Woman was ordered to be searched by a Jury of Women, who found about her several purple Spots, which they prickt with a sharp Needle, but she felt no pain. She had about her other Marks and Tokens of a Witch, and she was sent to the County Jayle.

This old Woman was had to a great River near the Town, to see whether she could sink under Water. Her Legs being tied, she was put in, and though she did endeavour to the uttermost by her Hands, yet she could not, but would lie upon her Back, and did Swim like a piece of Cork. There were present above Twenty Persons to Attest the Truth of this. She was had to the Water a second time, and being put in, she swam as at first; and though there were present above Two Hundred People to see this Sight, yet it could not be believed by many. At the same time, also, there was put into the Water, a Lusty young Woman, who sunk immediately, and had been drowned, had it not been for the help that was at hand. To satisfy the World, and to leave no Room for doubting, the old Woman was had down to the Water the third time, and being put in as before, she did still Swim. At this Swimming of her, were present, such a Company of People of the Town and Country, and many of them, Persons of Quality, as could not well be Numbered; so that now, there is scarce one Person that doubts of the Truth of this thing.

It is full Ten Weeks ago that this young Woman was first seized with these Terrible Fits, yet she continues to be often seized with terrible Fits, and to bring up both Nails and Handles of Spoons, and is still remaining an Object of great Pity.

Since writing this post, Tom White alerted me to the digitised records of this case, which reveal that the witch, Elizabeth Carrier, died in prison. The records are held on a wonderful database entitled Witches in Early Modern England, which can be accessed here


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