Tag Archives: early modern history

For Valentine’s Day: The 17th-Century Method for Knowing When Your Heart is Broken

t-shirt available at redbubble.com

t-shirt available at redbubble.com

I’ve been happily married for almost 18 years, but my kids listen to enough Taylor Swift (Lord help me) for me to know what a broken heart means in 21st-century America:  It means “breaking down and coming undone,” feeling that “I’m only me when I’m with you” (don’t get me started on how messed up this is), and sopping up the “teardrops on my guitar” (Taylor Swift lyrics).

Maybe what Taylor needs is a good dose of 17th-century medical inquiry. How did you know when your heart was broken?  When it stopped beating.  Probably because of a plague.  

For a more nuanced understanding of the workings of the heart, we owe a debt of gratitude to physician and natural philosopher William Harvey, who is credited with “discovering” the circulation of the blood.  Harvey was the first to systematically describe the action of the heart and the circuitous motion of the blood in the body.

Before Harvey, most physicians followed 2nd-century Roman physician Galen, who theorized that the heart’s role was to produce the body’s heat: venous blood came from digested food that was “cooked” in the liver and imbued with vital spirit. Other parts of the body sucked up this blood for nourishment.  Some of the blood that went to the heart  passed through the ventricular septum, where it was further refined and mixed with “inspired air” from the lungs. This new concoction was the arterial blood, also used for nourishment.

One critical problem for 17th-century doctors, however, was that medical schools favored a model of dissection in which the professor merely read anatomical texts; a hired anatomist (sometimes, if not often, himself illiterate) did the actual dissection.  So the anatomy professor did not always realize that what was in the text was not what could be found in the body itself.

Harvey, who insisted on performing dissections himself, observed that the heart simply does not behave the way the textbook said it would. Nor, to his aggravation, could he find any proof that ventricular blood could pass through the septum.

Another vexing problem for Harvey was how the blood could circulate around the body without reversing direction, pooling in the hands and feet. This was cleverly solved, however, by considering a discovery made by his professor at Padua, Hieronymus Fabricius, that veins had valves that could stop the flow of blood. Harvey relied on a beautifully simple experiment to show the function of the veins: you can see it in the video below from 23:16-24:55Do be careful, however, as the rest of the video has much blood and organ stuff.

William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood. Douglas Fisher Productions. 1978

Here, also, is a picture of the experiment.

veins

Image of veins from Harvey’s Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, Wikimedia Commons

So, play along at home, my friends! Try these experiments: if your blood does not flow in the correct direction, likely your heart is broken.  But if the experiment is successful, your heart is in fine working condition and primed to have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Edited to add:  I told my daughter about this post, and she sent me this meme to share with you all. We are clearly a family of literalists.

heart

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Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month: January

No, this isn't really Ambrose Westrop--there's no picture of him available. I've always just really liked this painting. This is Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c.1590

No, this isn’t really Ambrose Westrop–there’s no picture of him available. I’ve always just really liked this painting. This is Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c.1590. Wikimedia Commons

If Ambrose Westrop were alive today, he would be considered a Nice Guy™.

Why would Westrop be my January candidate for Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month if he was such a nice guy?

No, he wasn’t a nice guy, he was a Nice Guy™ (Nice Guy definition from GeekFeminismWiki). This is a relatively new coinage to describe that dude who complains that girls ignore him “because he’s too nice,” the guy who’s sick and tired of providing a shoulder to cry on without getting something out of it–after all he’s done for her, shouldn’t a woman at least give him a chance, you know, physically?

And if she doesn’t put out?  Well, then she’s a bitch. Basically, the Nice Guy™ thinks women owe him physical intimacy for human decency. Something like this:

(By the way, the trademark symbol is a part of the definition–it’s used to mark out the “Nice Guy” from the “nice guy.”)

Okay, back to the Renaissance: Ambrose Westrop was one of many priests listed by John White in a pamphlet called First Century of Scandalous, Malignant Priests (you can find it here in Princeton’s digital archives: http://archive.org/stream/firsc00whit#page/n61/mode/2up).   He was a vicar in Much (now Great) Topham in the mid-17th century.  Reverend Westrop was a bachelor and not terribly happy about it.

A young woman took Westrop’s fancy, so he did something really “nice,” and really public, to get her attention: “And being a sutor to one Mistris Ellen Pratt a Widdow, he did write upon a peece of paper these words, Bonny Nell, I love thee well, and did pin it on his cloake, and ware it up and downe a Market-Towne.”

Huh. Well, that could be sweet, I guess, if in fact Bonny Nell returned the feelings.  If not, it could be—oh, I don’t know, passive aggressive “niceness”?  For what it’s worth, after Mistress Pratt married another, Westrop took to the pulpit, “for five or six weekes after, utter[ing] little or nothing else in the Pulpit, but invectives against Women.”

After the Bonny Nell debacle, Westrop set his sights on another woman and very kindly invited her to dinner.  What a nice guy, right? Thing is, she either didn’t want to come or had other plans, so “he immediately roade to her house, and desiring to speake with her, she coming to the doore, without speaking to her, he pulled off her head-geere and rode away with it.”

Umm, not only is that not very nice, it’s downright weird (even by early modern standards, I think).

We don’t know whether the Reverend Westrop found the right woman, but lord help her if he did because here are his thoughts on womankind:

“That a woman is worse than a Sow, in two respects. First, because a Sowes skinne is good to make a cart-saddle, and her bristles good for a sowter. Secondly because a Sow will runne away if a man cry but Hoy, but a woman will not turne head, though beaten down with a Leaver; and that the difference betweene a woman and a Sow, is in the nape of the neck, where a woman can bend upwards, but the Sow cannot, and that a woman is respected by a man, onely for his uncleane lust, and that she that is nursed with Sowes milk will learne to wallow; and divers modest women absenting from Church, because of such uncivill passages, he affirmed, That all that were then absent from church were whores.”

So, for behavior befitting a Nice Guy™, I nominate Ambrose Westrop, Vicar of Much Totham, for January’s Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month.

More:

http://feruleandfescue.blogspot.com/2006/08/scandalous-malignant-priests.html (a great blog post about the pamphlet sFirst Century of Scandalous, Malignant Priests)

http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.com/pdf/13/9780198201687.pdf (short discussion of Westrop in David Cressy’s excellent Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England)

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January 31, 2013 · 9:40 am

Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month–November

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Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month–October

EdwKelley

“EdwKelley”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EdwKelley.jpg#mediaviewer/File:EdwKelley.jpg

Happy Hallowe’en!  During this time of unwitting mimicry of ancient ceremony and conjuration of forgotten powers, it seems only appropriate to venture into the world of Renaissance magic for this month’s “Peckie” (short for “Peckerhead,” of course).

***

Adopting an alias.  Speaking with angels.  Wife-swapping.  If October’s “Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month” nominee Edward Kelley were alive today, he’d have his own show on TLC.

Edward Kelley is most famous for his partnership with John Dee, the great Renaissance magus and scholar.  Dee served as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth, counted among his acquaintances Renaissance power mongers Frances Walsingham and William Cecil, and served as tutor to the poet Sir Philip Sidney.

In 1582, Kelley introduced himself to Dee.  Dee had been increasingly obsessed with occult communication—specifically “angelic conversations” enabled by a scryer, one who could interpret the messages of a crystal ball. Kelley found Dee and gave him the happy news that his scryer-hunting days were over: Edward Kelley himself was just the man Dee was looking for.

Scrying was not, however, Kelley’s first career, nor was “Edward Kelley” his first name. Though Kelley proclaimed to have matriculated at Oxford, seventeenth-century historian of Oxford Anthony á Wood could find no student of that name during that time in any of the colleges of the university. He did, however, find a young man–same age, from the same place in Ireland–going by the name “Edward Talbot.” “Talbot” left Oxford abruptly–given that he was pilloried and had his ears clipped in Lancaster after that, as punishment for forgery, chances are he did not leave Oxford willingly.

Kelley managed to convince Dee of his ability to speak with the angels.  He described to Dee the process by which he received these angelic communications: He would see the celestial beings in crystal ball, and they would indicate letters on a tablet in their own language, a tongue Dee and Kelley called “Enochian.”  English translations of the Enochian communications would unfurl from the angels’ mouths in paper ribbons. Dee seems to have been sincerely thrilled and amazed with Kelley’s astonishing ability to communicate with the angels.

Yup.  Really.

Shortly after Kelley and Dee began working together, Kelley met and married the widow Jane Cooper, and, to his credit, seems to have treated her well, even arranging for her to have a Latin tutor.

In 1583, Dee, Kelley, and their families moved from England to Europe, trying to win the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia, himself highly interested in magic and alchemy.  Having failed to secure his sponsorship, they traveled a bit before connecting with another patron, Vilem Rožmberk.  They settled in the Bohemian town of Třeboň and began building a reputation for themselves.

Kelley was very, very good at building a reputation—in this particular iteration, it was as an alchemist, a much more lucrative trade than scrying.  It was so much more lucrative, in fact, that Kelley began trying to get out of his partnership with John Dee.  But how to do it?

Here’s where the movie of Edward Kelley’s life gets an “R” rating: scholars think that in order to convince Dee to sever their partnership, Kelley reported that an angel named Madimi ordered them to share everything they had—including Dee’s wife of nine years, Jane (Jane was 23 when she married the 51-year-old John Dee) and Kelley’s wife, conveniently also named Jane.

Dee wasn’t happy about the angel Madimi’s command, but on May 22, 1587, what Dee termed “the cross-matching”  occurred.  Nine months later, Jane Dee gave birth to a son, Theodorus Trebonius Dee.

After the “cross-matching,” Kelley left Dee in Třeboň.  Dee went back to his home in Mortlake to find his library decimated and his collections ravaged.  He died in poverty, forced to sell off various of his prized possessions.

Unlike Dee, Kelley went on to find fame, riches, and the patronage of Rožmberg; Emperor Rudolf II even had him knighted.  Eventually, however, Kelley got caught in his web of deception.  Rudolf had him imprisoned on a false charge of murder, hoping to keep him from leaving Bohemia with his “secret” for turning base metals into gold.  Kelley died in prison in 1597.

Edward Kelley is considered the progenitor of the con-man-alchemist trope, the magician who fleeces his followers, as in Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist. I imagine that in Disney movies and such he’d be the wheedling dealer in tricks, the man who betrays the good guy but really has a heart of gold.

Though something tells me if Edward Kelley had a heart of gold, he’d hock it.

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Ex libris

“King Charles I at the Bodleian Library,” by William Gale

I believe that most people (or at least the people I want to know) have a special “library place” in their hearts. It’s what causes the smile that breaks when entering a new library; the shiver on catching the familiar whiff of old books; the frisson of anticipation after realizing that stacks and stacks of books can be taken home and savored.

Libraries have been a big part of my life for the last five years.  In 2007, my community’s library was closed for lack of funds, leaving 82,000 American citizens without access to any public library whatsoever.  Unthinkable, right?

Long story short: a group of very cool folks got together and fundraised and fundraised some more and re-opened the library as a nonprofit.  There are hopes that we can pass a library district in the near future so that the library is again sustainably funded, but in the meantime we all work like crazy to keep the doors open (more here: www.josephinelibrary.org).

So last year, when I planned my first solo trip to England—sans husband and kids, free to direct my steps wherever I wanted without worrying about potty breaks, snacks, or pending soccer matches—it was only natural that at the top of my must-visit-or-else-what-the-hell’s-the-point-of-going list was Oxford’s storied and magnificent Bodleian Library.

The Bodleian, built in 1320, was Oxford’s first university library (meaning it wasn’t attached to one specific college). That original library, smallish and uninspiring, expanded when Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, donated over 200 valuable manuscripts in the 1440s, so the university constructed a new room over the Divinity School. (Harry Potter fans: note that the hospital wing scenes with Madame Pomfrey were filmed in the Divinity School, and all of the Hogwarts library scenes were filmed in Duke Humfrey’s library.)

Duke Humfrey’s library, finished in the 1480s, lasted about 60 years until, under legislation passed under King Edward VI meant “to purge the English church of all traces of Roman Catholicism,” the library was stripped of all books and manuscripts containing “superstitious books and images.”  (Why do I include this in my short history of the Bodleian?:  it is perversely of some comfort to me to know that my town’s library is not the only victim of shortsighted thinking on the part of autocratic politicians.)

The Bodleian was resuscitated in 1598 by an injection of funds from Sir Thomas Bodley, after whom it was renamed. Bodley established three guidelines that have shaped the Bodleian’s character:

1)      He established an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London that would direct the mission of the Bodleian to this day: a copy of every book registered with the Stationers’ Company was to also be deposited at the Bodleian. This agreement transformed it into a critically important repository of learning in England for the next four centuries.

2)      He determined that scholars from all universities should have unfettered access to the holdings of his library, a generous and liberal policy that allowed the Bodleian to transcend the relatively parochial constraints of English scholarship. (While all scholars were welcome, however, they all had to swear the following oath: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.” I know this because I couldn’t resist buying the tea towel with the oath printed on it.)

3)      He ordained that no books were to leave the building. No borrowing of books or materials, period.  This policy is in place to this day for the majority of the collection.

I find this last policy fascinating, because in the early days of my library’s resurrection, we faced a critical decision: invest in the (rather expensive) software that would allow us to circulate books or just house the collection for patrons to view in the library. A very sage and experienced librarian decided the point by declaring that if books and materials didn’t circulate, we would have a reading room, not a proper library. If we agree with that definition (and I do), the the Bodleian, one of the most famous libraries in the world, is technically a reading room.

Even King Charles I, facing a mutinous parliament in London and escaping to the relative security of Oxford in 1642, was denied borrowing privileges at the Bodleian (though in order to appease His Majesty, the librarians had a little stall built inside Duke Humfrey’s Library so the King could taste the fruits of scholarship in privacy). By the doctrine of the divine right of kings, this was the man who was, in Shakespeare’s words, “the figure of God’s majesty/His captain, steward, deputy-elect,” and yet even he was denied check-out privileges.

After my tour of the Bodleian, marveling at the majesty of most influential books and manuscripts in history, I stopped by a pub (as I am wont to do). It occurred to me, as I re-acclimated to the noise and smell and colors of everyday life, that the American library tradition–begun by Benjamin Franklin and brought to fruition by Andrew Carnegie and countless American communities–of enabling every citizen to have free and unfettered access to information is one of the most radical movements in history.

In Oxford, at the Bodleian, I could gaze at magnificent books chained to the shelves, marvel at the scholarship contained in the august buildings, and admire the history of the furniture, the paintings, the architecture.  But in little Grants Pass, Oregon, I could walk into my community’s library and check out almost any book in the building.

In this, I am richer than kings.

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Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month–September

 

"Forceps.Smellie" by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Ekem - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Forceps.Smellie.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forceps.Smellie.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Forceps.Smellie.jpg

“Forceps.Smellie” by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Ekem –  Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – 

While doing research, I often come across fascinating tidbits or though-provoking morsels I want to share.  For example, did you know midwives would sometimes place chunks of nutmeg or cloves on a laboring woman’s thigh, reasoning that the baby would be attracted to the delicious scent and want to make its way into the world?

See, that’s pretty cool.  Not very useful, but pretty cool.

Sometimes, though, I come across a story that infuriates me so much I want to scream out loud (generally not recommended in a library, by the way).  It’s for such occasions that I’m setting up the Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month Award.

The first of the candidates is one of two chaps named Peter Chamberlen, whom I stumbled upon while researching the childbirth preferences of Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669).  Peter and his brother Peter (and yes, I’m channeling Newhart here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN6UAzYY8qg) were sons of a French Huguenot emigre who moved to England in 1576 to escape religious persecution.  The two Peters became midwives (yeah, I didn’t know there were male midwives in the Renaissance, either), and one of them (probably Peter the Elder, though nobody really knows) invented the obstetrical forceps.

Great, wonderful, lovely.  The forward advance of medical knowledge, countless lives saved, etc. etc.

Except not.  The bastard Peters kept their forceps invention secret for 150 years. They carried the forceps into the birthing room in a lined box, and they only brought them out after everyone had left the room and the laboring mother was blindfolded.

Can you imagine?

I was lucky, living in the 21st century, that there was no need for forceps in delivering my two beautiful children; both were born by c-section.  But I’m pretty sure that had I lived in the 17th century, my first delivery would have needed those forceps (the second wouldn’t have, because I would have died in the first).

I remember lying there helplessly, ashamed of feeling as though an alien being were ripping me apart (I absolutely could not think of her as a baby by that point), praying for anything to stop the pain, the fear.  I think of all those women of the Renaissance in that same position, women and children who could have survived with the skillful use of forceps to help along a delivery.

And those guys kept them secret, hidden in a box, as did Peter the Younger’s son, Dr. Peter (yes, again) Chamberlen, and Dr. Peter Chamberlen’s sons, Hugh, Paul, and John Chamberlen, who all joined in the family trade.  Hugh Chamberlen tried to sell the secret to the French govenment, but was sent away penniless when he failed to successfully deliver the baby of a woman with a severely deformed pelvis.

Finally, when Hugh Chamberlen’s son—named Hugh (yes, again) Chamberlen—having no male heirs to train up in the family trade, leaked the secret in the beginning of the 18th century.

So, for extreme selfishness costing the lives of countless women and children, the first Out of Time Blog’s Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month award goes to Peter Chamberlen.  Congratulations, asshole.

For more info on the Peters and Hughs Chamberlen:

http://wellcometrust.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/history-of-medicine-of-forceps-and-family-secrets/

http://fn.bmj.com/content/81/3/F232.full

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