Reproduction was of crucial social and cultural importance in early modern England. It mattered because of the need to produce heirs for families that had property and to create more working hands in families where labor was necessary for survival. In less practical terms, childbirth was also understood as one of the main justifications for marriage and as an essential component of the fulfillment of gender roles for both married women and married men. Because reproduction was so important in this society, infertility – the failure to reproduce – created a crisis. It was a personal and emotional crisis for the couple involved. It was also a medical crisis, one which was discussed at length in popular gynecological manuals and for which women sought treatment primarily among their experienced peers, but also from physicians and other medical practitioners. It was a crisis of gender ideals, inviting mockery and satire of the femininity of barren women and the masculinity of childless men. Finally, it was a religious crisis, because infertility could be seen as a punishment of sins or as a test of faith. <br/><br/>
This dissertation focuses on the experience of infertility and reproductive disorders in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and examines this topic not only from a medical perspective but also from its cultural, gendered and emotional dimensions. It explores fertility problems defined broadly to include difficulties in conception, miscarriages and stillbirths. The study offers a comprehensive view of how infertile couples understood their condition, gave meaning to it, and ultimately sought to treat it. The dissertation also uses infertility as a lens through which to explore broader issues in early modern English culture. It examines how medical views of the bodies influenced ideas of morality, explores how women and physicians negotiated matters of expertise relating to the reproductive body, looks at women's communities and mutual support networks and discusses the impact of the Reformation on therapeutic practices. <br/><br/>
"'Make me a Fruitfull Vine:' Dealing with Infertility in Early Modern England"
History Theses and Dissertations.
Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.