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More than Mothers: Juries of Matrons and Pleas of the Belly in Medieval England

  • Sara M. Butler


Common law was an all-male system, with one glaring exception: juries of matrons. If a convicted felon requested a reprieve from execution on the grounds of pregnancy, it was the responsibility of a group of twelve matrons to perform an inspection in order to determine if she was in fact pregnant. Matrons were in a position of great authority. Their verdicts were definitive: if they decided a woman was pregnant, then she was sent back to prison. Despite the significance of their role, little is known about medieval matrons and what qualified them to sit on a jury. Were they mothers? Honorable wives? Midwives? The goal of this paper is to argue that matrons had training in obstetrics. This was particularly important for medieval matrons because the quickening (that is ensoulment, signaled by the first fetal movements) did not become the focal point of the matrons' assessment until at least 1348. Before this, the diagnosis was much more medically challenging as matrons had to determine whether a felon had conceived. Overall, the medieval records demonstrate great confidence in medieval matrons and their obstetrical expertise.

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She is grateful to the “Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice, c.1100–c.1750” Project at Swansea University, particularly to Deborah Youngs, Emma Cavell, and Teresa Phipps, who invited the author to participate in a workshop in June of 2017, where she presented a preliminary version of this article. She presented a different version of this article also at the Sewanee Medieval Colloquium in April of 2018, where it received the Susan J. Ridyard Prize. The author also thanks Fiona Harris-Stoertz and Sara McDougall for reading drafts along the way and providing helpful comments. Finally, the author expresses enormous gratitude to Gautham Rao and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their editorial suggestions and for helping her to craft a more effective final product.



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2. Jenks, Susanne, “occidit … inter brachia sua: Change in a Woman's Appeal of Murder of her Husband,” Legal History 21 (2000): 119–22.

3. Compurgation is essentially trial by oath, in which the accused defends his or her reputation with a collection of sureties.

4. Goheen, Robert B., “Peasant Politics? Village Community and the Crown in Fifteenth-Century England,” American Historical Review 96 (1991): 43.

5. Neal, Derek, The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 29.

6. The first finder discovered a corpse that later became the subject of a coroner's inquest. It was his/her responsibility to raise the hue and cry.

7. Hanawalt, Barbara A., “The Voices and Audiences of Social History Records,” Social Science History 15 (1991): 162.

8. Butler, Sara M., Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England (New York and London: Routledge, 2015), 162.

9. Klerman, Daniel, “Women Prosecutors in Thirteenth-Century England,” Yale Journal of Law and Humanities 14 (2002): 271; and Bellamy, John G., Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middle Ages (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 126.

10. Orr, Patricia, “Non potest appellum facere: Criminal Charges Women could not—but did—bring in Thirteenth-Century English Royal Courts,” in The Final Argument: The Imprint of Violence on Society in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Kagay, Donald and J., L. Andrew Villalon (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1998), 141–62.

11. Wilkinson, Louise, “Women as Sheriffs in Early Thirteenth Century England,” in English Government in the Thirteenth Century, ed. Jobson, Adrian (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2004), 111–24.

12. Again, there are occasional exceptions. For example, Rodney H. Hilton discovered a female ale-taster. See his “Women in the Village,” in The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 105; although as Judith M. Bennett makes clear, this was highly unusual. See her “The Village Ale-Wife: Women and Brewing in Fourteenth-Century England,” in Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1986), 29.

13. Saunier, Annie, “Le visiteur, les femmes et les «obstetrices» des paroisses de l'archidiaconé de Josas de 1458 á 1470,” in Santé, médicine et assistance au moyen-âge, ed. Sosson, Jean-Pierre (Montpellier: Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, 1987), 44.

14. Bednarski, Steven and Courtemanche, Andrée, “‘Sadly and with a Bitter Heart’: What the Caesarean Section meant in the Middle Ages,” Florilegium 28 (2011): 52. Some of these women were highly skilled. Emmeline la Duchesse's multiple expert appearances in the criminal registers of the Parisian abbots of Saint-Martin-des-Champs establish that she was recognized as an expert on female anatomy, capable of assessing even damage to a fetus incurred by an assault on the womb. As cited in Müller, Wolfgang P., The Criminalization of Abortion in the West: Its Origins in Medieval Law (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2012), 153.

15. Kümper, Hiram, “Learned Men and Skillful Matrons: Medical Expertise and the Forensics of Rape in the Middle Ages,” in Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages, ed. Turner, Wendy J. and Butler, Sara M. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 108.

16. Cabré, Montserrat, “Women or Healers? Household Practices and the Categories of Health Care in Late Medieval Iberia,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82 (2008): 3136; and Gonthier, Nicole, “Les victimes de viol devant les tribunaux à la fin du Moyen Âge d'après les sources dijonnaises et lyonnaises,” Criminologie 27 (1994): 2325. Kümper cites both of these studies, “Learned Men and Skillful Matrons,” 105–6.

17. Lee, Patrick and Haldane, John, “Aquinas on Human Ensoulment, Abortion and the Value of Life,” Philosophy 78 (2003): 257.

18. Watson, Katherine D., Forensic Medicine in Western Society: A History (New York and London: Routledge, 2011), 48.

19. Oldham, James C., “On Pleading the Belly: A History of the Jury of Matrons,” Criminal Justice History 6 (1985): 30.

20. Murray, Jacqueline, “On the Origins and Role of ‘Wise Women’ in Causes for Annulment on the Grounds of Male Impotence,” Journal of Medieval History 16 (1990): 235.

21. As cited in Kümper, “Learned Men and Skillful Matrons,” 96.

22. Murray, “On the Origins,” 245.

23. Goldberg, Jeremy, “John Skathelok's Dick: Voyeurism and ‘Pornography’ in Late Medieval England,” in Medieval Obscenities, ed. McDonald, Nicola (York: York Medieval Press, 2006), 105–23.

24. York Borthwick Institute of Historical Research Cause Paper (hereafter, BIHR CP) F 111, Alice Russel c. John Skathelok (1432). Translation from Helmholz, Richard H., Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 89.

25. Goldberg, “John Skathelok's Dick,” 118–19.

26. Kane, Bronach, “Impotence and Virginity in the Late Medieval Ecclesiastical Court of York,” Borthwick Paper 114 (2008): 9. Russell c. Skathelok is cited in Helmholz, Marriage Litigation, 89; Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly,” 45 n. 29; Murray, “On the Origins,” 241; and Goldberg, “John Skathelok's Dick.”

27. Often litigants brought their own “matrons,” that is, family and friends both male and female who conducted a physical inspection of the man's genitalia and testified before the court. See Kane, “Impotence and Virginity,” 13–17.

28. Cited in Murray, “On the Origins,” 240.

29. York BIHR CP E 105, Tedia Lambhird c. John Sanderson (1370).

30. Pedersen, Frederik, “Privates on Parade: Impotence Cases as Evidence for Medieval Gender,” in Law and Private Life in the Middle Ages, ed. Andersen, Per, Münster-Swendsen, Mia, and Vogt, Helle (Copenhagen: DJØF Publishing, 2011), 82.

31. York BIHR CP E 105 (1370).

32. With exceptions for health, disability, or vows of celibacy. Barbara Hanawalt has suggested an average family size between 4.7 and 5.8 persons for later medieval England. See her The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 94; yet, remember that each live child might represent multiple miscarriages, stillbirths, and deaths in infancy. Carole Rawcliffe cites a 60% infant mortality rate for eleventh-century Norwich, as well as a 44% chance of mothers surviving into their late thirties. See her “Women, Childbirth, and Religion in Later Medieval England,” in Women and Religion in Medieval England, ed. Diana Wood (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003), 94.

33. Green, Monica H., Making Women's Medicine Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 134–36.

34. Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly,” 1–64.

35. Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly,” 16, 30. Thomas Forbes produced an article on the subject 3 years later, although he does not include any new evidence for the medieval period. See Forbes, Thomas, “A Jury of Matrons,” Medical History 32 (1988): 2333.

36. In March of 1832, the London Medical Gazette protested that serious decisions should not be entrusted to “such female stragglers and idlers as chance finds present in a criminal court on such an occasion. Such persons must be, literally, loungers and idlers.” “Norwich Jury of Matrons,” London Medical Gazette 12 (1832): 22–26, as cited in Forbes, “A Jury of Matrons,” 29.

37. Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly,” 16.

38. de Bracton, Henri, De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae, 4 vols., ed. Woodbine, George, ed. and trans. Thorne, Samuel (London: Selden Society, 1968–1976), 2:202. In this instance, he is providing instruction on an inheritance suit revolving around a widow who claimed to be pregnant with her dead husband's heir. Language of this nature appears also in miracle stories. In a miracle associated with St. Margaret of Scotland, a woman gave birth to a fetus thought long dead with the assistance of “devout and respectable women” (deuotas ac honestas). Bartlett, Robert, ed. and trans., Miracles of Saint Aebbe of Coldingham and Saint Margaret of Scotland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), 8083, as cited in Fiona Harris-Stoertz, “Midwives in the Middle Ages? Birth Attendants, 600–1300,” in Medicine and the Law, 75.

39. His discussion relates to couples in suits involving claims of non-consummation. Decretalium Gregorii Papae IX. Compilationis (IntraText, 1996–2007), book 4, tit. 15, c. 7, (October 11, 2016). The emphasis on reputation is mirrored also in a well-publicized letter written by Ivo of Chartres (d. 1115) to a knight who suspected he had not fathered his wife's unborn child. Ivo recommended he have her examined by “upright and mature women” (honestae mulieres et veteranae). Migne, Jacques P., ed., Patrologia Cursus Completus. Series Latina, 221 vols. (Paris: D'Amboise, 1844–1865), vol. 162, col. 210.

40. Broomfield, Frank, ed., Thomae de Chobham Summa Confessorum (Paris: Béatrice Nauwelaerts, 1968), 184–85. Even the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) plays up a woman's character, advising judges to engage “honest women of good reputation” to disrobe the accused and probe for instruments of witchcraft sewn into her clothing. Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James, The Malleus Maleficarum, trans. and ed. Summers, Montague (New York: Dover Publications, 1971), pt. III, qu. xiv, 225.

41. “Statute of Westminster I,” 13 Edw. I, c. 38 (1275). Luders, Alexander, Tomlins, Thomas E., France, John, Raithby, John, and Taunton, William E., eds. Statutes of the Realm (London: Record Commissions, 1810–1827), 1:89. Certain juries, such as coroners' juries and sheriffs' tourns, were open to the lower ranks. For a discussion of status and medieval juries, see Butler, Forensic Medicine, 79–83.

42. Kermode, Jenny, Medieval Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 12.

43. Hale, Matthew, Historia Placitorum Coronae, 2 vols. (London: E. and R. Nutt, 1736), 2:413.

44. The right to claim benefit of clergy was not extended to women, no matter how literate, until the seventeenth century.

45. Gabel, Leona, Benefit of Clergy in England in the Later Middle Ages (New York: Octagon Books, 1928–29; reprinted 1969), 111.

46. Cockburn, James S., Calendar of Assize Records, Home Circuit Indictments, Elizabeth I and James I: Introduction (London: HMSO, 1985), 122.

47. Beattie, John M., Crime and the Courts in England 1660–1800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 431.

48. Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly,” 19, 31–32.

49. Twice yearly, medieval justices travelled in circuits across England delivering the jails, meaning that in a period of a day or two they tried all accused felons awaiting trial housed in the county's prison before moving on to the next prison.

50. “matron,” A. noun, 1a, 1b, and 2. Oxford English Dictionary, (May 24, 2017).

51. Ibid. In the original French, Guy uses the phrase matronne savant et experimentee en la matiere. de Chauliac, Guy, Inventarium sive Chirurgia Magna, ed. McVaugh, Michael (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 1:386.

52. Caxton, Vitas Patrum (Westminter: Wynkyn de Worde, 1495), fo. clxxxxvii. Available through Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership,;submit=Go;subview=detail;type=simple;view=fulltext;q1=matrones (March 3, 2018).

53. Predicta Agnes instanter asserit se esse prignantem Et super hoc capta inde inquisicionem prout moris est per duodecim matrones que super premissis iurate dicunt super sacramentum suum quod predicta Agnes prignans est Ideo ipsa remittitur prisone in custodia Johannis Wutlysbury vicecomes etc salvo custodiendum, quousque etc. The National Archives, Kew, Surrey (hereafter TNA): Justices Itinerant (hereafter JUST) 3/167, m. 44d (1383).

54. TNA: JUST 3/82/16, m. 24 (1433–34).

55. Si femme est jugee a mort u a defac[iun] des membres ki seit enceintee, ne faced l'um justice desqu'ele seit delivere. “The (So-Called) Laws of William I,” in The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, ed. Agnes Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925; reprinted 2009), 268–69.

56. Watson, Edward, ed., Pleas of the Crown for the Hundred of Swineshead and the Township of Bristol (Bristol: W. C. Hemmons, 1902), 133–34, n. 15.

57. TNA: JUST 3/104, m. 15d.

58. Calendar of Close Rolls, 1272–1485 (hereafter CCR), 45 vols. (London: HMSO, 1911–63), Henry III (1227–31), 53; Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1216–1509 (hereafter CPR), 55 vols. (London: HMSO, 1891–1916), Henry III (1247–58), 20; CCR, Henry III (1251–53), 501.

59. Maitland, Frederic W., ed., Bracton's Note Book: A Collection of Cases decided in the King's Courts during the Reign of Henry the Third, Annotated by a Lawyer of that Time, Seemingly by Henry of Bratton (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1887, repr. Littleton: Fred B. Rothman, 1983), nos. 137 and 1605.

60. TNA: JUST 3/177, m. 49 (1390).

61. TNA: JUST 3 is the category of records that contains all jail deliveries.

62. None of the pardons in CPR relate to pleas found in TNA: JUST 3. This is not unexpected: most jail delivery rolls did not survive the Middle Ages.

63. See Butler, Sara M., “Pleading the Belly: A Sparing Plea? Pregnant Convicts and the Courts in Medieval England,” in Crossing Borders: Boundaries and the Margins in Medieval and Early Modern Britain: Essays in Honour of Cynthia J. Neville, ed. Butler, Sara M. and Kesselring, Krista J. (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 131–53.

64. Kowaleski, Maryanne, “Women's Work in a Market Town: Exeter in the Late Fourteenth Century,” in Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Hanawalt, Barbara A. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1986), 162 n. 43.

65. Müller, Criminalization of Abortion, 153, 156.

66. Green, Monica H., “Caring for Gendered Bodies,” in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, ed. Bennett, Judith M. and Karras, Ruth Mazo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 348.

67. Green, Making Women's Medicine Masculine, 34–36.

68. The date at which midwifery re-emerged as a profession is a topic of some debate. Fiona Harris-Stoertz, who makes a cogent argument in favor of this having happened in the twelfth century, provides a useful historiography of the debate in her “Midwives in the Middle Ages?” 59–60. Green (note 66) argues that this happened in the thirteenth century. So, too, do Vann Sprecher, Tiffany and Karras, Ruth Mazo, “The Midwife and the Church: Ecclesiastical Regulation of Midwives in Brie, 1499–1504,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 85 (2011): 173; and Taglia, Kathryn, “Delivering a Christian Identity: Midwives in Northern French Synodal Legislation, c. 1200–1500,” in Religion and Medicine in the Middle Ages, ed. Biller, Peter and Ziegler, Joseph (York: Boydell and Brewer, 2001), 7790.

69. Taglia, “Delivering a Christian Identity.”

70. Nuremberg is an excellent example of municipal licensing of midwives. See Wiesner, Merry E., “Early Modern Midwifery: A Case Study,” in Midwifery and the Medicalization of Childbirth: Comparative Perspectives, ed. Teijilingen, Edwin Van, Lowis, George, McCafferty, Peter, and Porter, Maureen (New York: Nova Science, 2004), 6374.

71. Taglia, “Delivering a Christian Identity,” 78.

72. Harris-Stoertz, Fiona, “Suffering and Survival in Medieval English Childbirth,” in Medieval Family Roles: A Book of Essays, ed. Itnyre, Cathy (New York: Routledge, 1996), 111.

73. Wiesner, “Early Modern Midwifery,” 64.

74. Harris-Stoertz, “Midwives in the Middle Ages?” 73. The phrase “birth attendant” was coined by Harris-Stoertz.

75. TNA: JUST 3/45/1, m. 5 (1332). This case appears again, with the list of matrons’ names, TNA: JUST 3/46/1, m. 6d and JUST 3/46/3, m. 7.

76. Nichols, Francis, ed., Britton: the French Text carefully revised with an English Translation, Introduction and Notes, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1865), vol. 2, book 3, ch. 13.

77. I thank Fiona Harris-Stoertz for bringing this to my attention.

78. “Statute of Additions,” 1 Hen. V, c. 5 (1413), Statutes of the Realm, 2:171.

79. TNA: JUST 3/174, m. 2 (1387); JUST 3/178, m. 9d (1393); JUST 3/177, m. 101 (1396).

80. Olson, Sherri, A Chronicle of all that Happens: Voices from the Village Court (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1996), 45.

81. Larson, Peter L., “Village Voice or Village Oligarchy?: The Jurors of the Durham Halmote Court, 1349–1424,” Law and History Review 28 (2010): 691.

82. Russell, Josiah C., “Late Ancient and Medieval Populations,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 48 (1958): 61. These are estimates and should not be seen as definitive.

83. Bracton, De Legibus, 2:201–2. Although English trial records offer no further insight into the process of examination, the concilium of Bartolomeo de Varignana, who gave expert testimony before a 1277 Bolognese criminal tribunal about a convicted felon named Gilia, also gives the impression that the examination was chiefly external. Bartolomeo and his physician colleague restricted themselves to “discernment of outer signs and symptoms” (signa et accidentia) whereas “[s]crutiny by touch” (ad tentandum) was left to two “wise women” (sapientes obstetrices). As cited in Müller, Criminalization of Abortion, 153.

84. Nichols, Britton, vol. 2, book 3, ch. 13. Fleta offers a similar statement: “she is to be handled about the breasts and the belly in all ways by which they may the better ascertain whether she be pregnant or not.” Richardson, Henry and Sayles, George, eds, Fleta, 3 vols. (London: Selden Society, 1955–1984), vol. 2, book 1, ch. 15.

85. See Connor, Henry, “Medieval Uroscopy and its Representation on Misericords – Part I: Uroscopy,” Clinical Medicine 1 (2001): 507–9.

86. Tavormina, M. Teresa, “Uroscopy in Middle English: A Guide to the Texts and Manuscripts,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 3rd series, 11 (2014): 54.

87. As cited in Green, Monica H., “Making Motherhood in Medieval England: The Evidence from Medicine,” in Motherhood, Religion, and Society in Medieval Europe, 400–1400, ed. Leyser, Conrad and Smith, Lesley (New York and London: Routledge, 2011), 179, n.15.

88. “Troubly” is defined as “Turbid, murky; also, full of impurities, thickened, gross; of moving water: turbulent, churning.” The Middle English Compendium (University of Michigan, 2018), (August 10, 2018).

89. Tavormina, “Uroscopy in Middle English,” 136.

90. The revised Voigts-Kurtz database of scientific and medical texts subject-tags includes almost 500 records dealing with urine or uroscopy. Voigts, Linda and Kurtz, Patricia, Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English: An Electronic Reference (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000), as noted in Tavormina, “Uroscopy in Middle English,” 2.

91. TNA JUST: 3/39/1, m. 7 (1305).

92. Green, Monica H. and Mooney, Linne, eds., “The Sickness of Women,” in Sex, Aging, and Death in a Medieval Medical Compendium: Trinity College Cambridge MS R.14.52, Its Texts, Language, and Scribe, ed. Tavormina, M. Teresa (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006), 2:521.

93. Nichols, Britton, vol. 2, book 3, ch. 13.

94. Park, Katharine, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 211.

95. Medieval women had fewer menstrual cycles. Whereas a woman in the modern West experiences approximately 450 cycles in her lifetime, a woman then was more likely to undergo only 50 menstrual cycles. See Stuart-Macadam, Patricia, “Iron Deficiency Anemia: Exploring the Difference,” in Sex and Gender in Paleopathological Perspective, ed. Grauer, Anne and Stuart-Macadam, Patricia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 57.

96. Soranus’ Gynecology, ed. and trans. Owsei Temkin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1956), 44.

97. Written by the Persian physician Haly Abbas and Latinized by Constantine the African. See Weisser-Amer, Melitta, “Medieval Women's Guides to Food during Pregnancy: Origins, Texts and Traditions,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 10 (1993): 14.

98. Weisser-Amer, “Medieval Women's Guides,” 8.

99. Lemay, Helen Rodnite, ed., Women's Secrets: A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries (New York: SUNY, 1992), 122.

100. Geissler, Paul, Prince, R. J., Levene, M., Poda, C., Beckerleg, S. E., Mutemi, W., and Shulman, C. E., “Perceptions of Soil-eating and Anaemia among Pregnant Women on the Kenyan Coast,” Social Science Medicine 48 (1999): 1069–79; and Young, Sera L., Craving Earth: Understanding Pica. The Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, & Chalk (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

101. Weisser-Amer, “Medieval Women's Guides,” 17.

102. Green, Monica H., ed., The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 97.

103. Soranus’ Gynecology, 44.

104. Ibid.

105. “Skin Changes during Pregnancy,” American Pregnancy Association: Promoting Pregnancy Wellness, (June 5, 2017).

106. Available in eighty-three extant copies from the medieval and early modern eras. Lemay, Women's Secrets, 122.

107. Ibid.

108. “Skin Changes during Pregnancy.”

109. Lemay, Women's Secrets, 124.

110. Ibid.

111. Green, Monica H., “Books as a Source of Medical Education for Women in the Middle Ages,” Dynamis 20 (2000): 336.

112. Ibid.

113. Bitel, Lisa M., “‘Conceived in Sins, Born in Delights’: Stories of Procreation from Early Ireland,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3 (1992): 200.

114. Seal, Samantha Katz, “Pregnant Desire: Eyes and Appetites in the Merchant's Tale,” The Chaucer Review 48 (2014): 284306.

115. Millett, Bella and Wogan-Browne, Joyce, ed. and trans., Middle English Prose for Women (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 3133, as cited in Tudor, Adrian, “Tant fist que cele si conçut: Sex and Pregnancy in Old French Fabliaux and Contes pieux,” French Studies Bulletin 19 (1998): 14.

116. This was not true in cases of suppositious births. The woman in question was to be lodged in one of the king's castles until the birth. During that time, two or three women were charged with examining her, as often as once a day if they deemed it necessary. Bracton, 2:202.

117. Maitland, Bracton's Note Book, no. 1503.

118. This case is mentioned in Hanawalt, Barbara A., “The Female Felon in Fourteenth-Century England,” in Women in Medieval Society, ed. Stuard, Susan Mosher (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 136.

119. Agnes of Kent appears in the following records: TNA: JUST 3/45/1, mm. 4, 10; JUST 3/45/2, mm. 3, 4d, 6, 7, 8d; JUST 3/45/3, m. 1, 3, 4, 5d, 7d, 12d; and JUST 3/46/3, mm. 2, 7.

120. Marnier, M. Ange-Ignace, ed., Le conseil de Pierre de Fontaine, ou Traité de l'ancienne jurisprudence Française (Paris: Joubert and Durand, 1846), 468–70, cited in Harris-Stoertz, Fiona, “Pregnancy and Childbirth in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century French and English Law,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 21 (2012): 272–73.

121. A Year Book is a legal textbook recording examples of common law cases with the intention of teaching soon-to-be lawyers how to plead.

122.enseinte et nient enseinte est bon issue et serra trie per un briefe de ventre inspiciendo, per femes per certeine signes privie; et issint face les justices del deliverance; nul scient per quel ele est enseinte, mes solement Dieu; Et ceo est la cause que si une feme devant espousels soit enseinte ovec un fits ou file et soit ne deins espousals, que le ley adjudge qu'il est le fitz le baron, pur ceo que ne covient en conusance de nul etc. Et auxy une feme peut estre enseint par vij ans. Year Book (hereafter YB), term Mich. 1 Hen VI, fo. 50. This case also appears in David J. Seipp, ed., Medieval English History: An Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268–1535, Boston University School of Law, 1422.042ss, (November 11, 2018). There is a possibility that Rolf was referring to lithopedion, an ectopic pregnancy that results in fetal death at a point at which the fetus is too large to be reabsorbed into the body and instead is calcified outside the womb. Popularly described as a “stone baby,” a calcified fetus can remain undelivered inside a woman's abdomen for years. It is a rare occurrence today at 1 in 11,000 pregnancies. Renato Passini Jr. et al., “Calcified abdominal pregnancy with eighteen years of evolution: case report,” Sao Paulo Medical Journal 118 (2000): 192–94. I thank Sarah-Grace Heller of The Ohio State University for bringing this to my attention.

123. Nichols, Britton, vol. 2, book 3, ch. 15; and Andrew Horne, The Mirror of Justices, ed. William Whittaker (London: Selden Society), 7:141.

124. Bracton, De Legibus, 2:203.

125. The church's current position that life begins at conception is a result of a papal bull put forward by Pope Pius IX in 1869. See Riddle, John M., Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1992), 162.

126. For arguments for and against this idea, see Riddle, Contraception and Abortion, 21.

127. As cited in Noonan, John Jr., “An Almost Absolute Value in History,” in The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 16.

128. Müller, Criminalization of Abortion, 1–2. In actual practice, mothers experience the first fetal movements sometime between the eighteenth and twentieth weeks of pregnancy.

129. Bednarski and Courtemanche, “‘Sadly and with a Bitter Heart.’”

130. Day ten, book four, Giovanni Boccaccio, “The Decameron,” Project Gutenberg, (June 2, 2017).

131. Leslie J. Downer, ed., Leges Henrici Primi (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 222–23, 70.14–14a.

132. Müller, Criminalization of Abortion, 67–68.

133. Si sit aliquis qui mulierum prægnantem percusserit vel ei venenum dederit, per quod fecerit abortivum, si perperium iam formatum vel animatum fuerit, et maxime si animatum, facit homicidium. Bracton, De Legibus, 2:341. Fleta makes a similar statement, but uses language that reflects a slightly more thoughtful discussion of canonical concerns. It “declared a person guilty of homicide who oppressed a woman, gave her a poison, or struck her, thus ‘not allowing conception’ (non concipiat) or causing an abortion (faciat abortivum) after the fetus shall have ‘already formed and animated’ (formatus et animates).” Richardson and Sayles, Fleta, vol. II book 1, ch. 23.

134. Stenton, Doris Mary, ed., Pleas before the King or his Justices, 1198–1212 (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1953), 3:72.

135. TNA: JUST 1/756, m. 269; Sarah wife of Portour, Aubyn le, in Chew, Helena M. and Weinbaum, Martin, eds., The London Eyre of 1244 (London Record Society, vol. 6, 1970), 50; and Christine wife of William Treweman, cited and discussed in Riddle, John M., Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 97.

136. YB, term unknown, 1348, fo. 101a (Seipp, 1348.279ass).

137. The matrons disagreed and Elena was burned at the stake. TNA: JUST 3/137A, m. 23 (1352).

138. TNA: JUST 3/189, m. 5 (1406).

139. TNA: JUST 3/160, m. 1d (1366).

140. Pardon of Margaret wife of Henry Melbury, CPR, Edw. III (1367–70), 274 (1369); pardon of Alice Marchant of Somerset, CPR, Edw. III (1367–70), 285 (1369).

141. The Leges Henrici Primi includes a chapter entitled, “Concerning the delivery of just judgement,” which states: “The danger is so much the greater to the judge than to the person who is being judged to the extent that we know, from the words of the Lord, that any judgment we pass on others is held in store for ourselves” (Tanto enim maius est periculum iudicantis quam eius qui iudicatur, quanto ex uerbis Domini iudicium super alios habitum nobis scimus reseruari.) Leges Henrici Primi, 130–131. The Mirror of Justices, another thirteenth-century abridgement and adaption of Bracton, addresses this concern in a list of homicides that are not sins: “The first case is that of lawful judges who kill by right judgment and holy conscience, and that of the ministers who assent to and execute lawful judgments of death.” Whittaker, William, ed., The Mirror of Justices (London: Selden Society, 1893), 7:135–36.

142. Whitman, James Q., The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

143. YB 1349, term uncertain, fo. 107a (Seipp, 1349.019ass), as well as YB 1351, Easter term, fo. 85b (Seipp, 1351.055).

144. Coke, Edward, The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning High Treason, and other Pleas of the Crown and Criminal Causes (London: E. and R. Brooke, 1797), xxi.

145. Hale, Historia Placitorum, 2:413.

146. Blackstone, William, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1765–1769), vol. 4, ch. 31, accessible through The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, Yale Law School, (April 4, 2018). Jailers may have been expected to proceed with the execution swiftly enough that there was no opportunity for the quickening to have taken place.

147. Joanna Carraway Vitiello, “Forensic Evidence, Lay Witnesses and Medical Expertise in the Criminal Courts of Late Medieval Italy,” in Medicine and the Law, 148.

148. Shatzmiller, Joseph, “The Jurisprudence of the Dead Body: Medical Practication at the Service of Civic and Legal Authorities,” Micrologus 7 (1999): 230.

149. Vitiello notes that physicians were asked about prognosis, whereas lay witnesses focused on cause of death.

150. See Butler, Forensic Medicine, 96–107.

151. Munkhoff, Richelle, “Searchers of the Dead: Authority, Marginality, and the Interpretation of Plague in England, 1574–1665,” Gender and History 11 (1999): 3, 8.

152. Griffiths, Paul, Lost Londons: Change, Crime and Control in the Capital City 1550–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 58, 271–75.

153. Green, Monica H., “‘Diseases of Women’ to ‘Secrets of Women’: The Transformation of Gynecological Literature in the Later Middle Ages,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30 (2000): 539. See also Harris-Stoertz, “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” 264. Catherine Rider has made this argument with respect to infertility. See her “Men's Responses to Infertility in Late Medieval England,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives, ed. Gayle David and Tracey Loughram (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 273–90.

154. Green, Making Women's Medicine Masculine; and Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate, Not of Women Born: Representations of Caesarean Birth in Medieval and Renaissance Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 47.

She is grateful to the “Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice, c.1100–c.1750” Project at Swansea University, particularly to Deborah Youngs, Emma Cavell, and Teresa Phipps, who invited the author to participate in a workshop in June of 2017, where she presented a preliminary version of this article. She presented a different version of this article also at the Sewanee Medieval Colloquium in April of 2018, where it received the Susan J. Ridyard Prize. The author also thanks Fiona Harris-Stoertz and Sara McDougall for reading drafts along the way and providing helpful comments. Finally, the author expresses enormous gratitude to Gautham Rao and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their editorial suggestions and for helping her to craft a more effective final product.

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Law and History Review
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