10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Life In Medieval England

Doctors Spread Dung On Expecting Mothers

Childbirth has never been fun, but as terrible as it is today, it used to be a lot worse. In the medieval times, doctors didn’t really have a lot of ideas on how to keep an expecting mother from dying. Pretty well the only thing they knew how to do was to rely on divine intervention—so that’s exactly what they did.

Monks and midwives would sit by a pregnant woman and pray, calling on the child to come out “without dying, and without the death of your mother.” Or else they would rely on magic. Sometimes, they’d feed a woman vinegar and sugar and cover her in eagle’s dung, kind of just hoping that eagle poop might be something that keeps women alive.[7]

When magic failed, they just prayed for a miracle. An abbey in Yorkshire kept a holy, sacred girdle on hand at all times, convinced that it had magical powers that would keep a woman alive through a pregnancy. They weren’t the only ones who believed in it, either. When Henry III’s wife became pregnant, he ordered the monks to bring him the sacred girdle.

None of it seems to have worked particularly well. An estimated one in three children died before they turned five, and about 20 percent of all mothers died from the childbirth. To be fair, though, we don’t have any data on mothers who covered themselves with eagle dung and clutched onto the sacred girdle.

Aborted Fetuses Were Used As A Contraceptive

Before Planned Parenthood, there were other ways to get contraceptives. Women who needed contraceptives or an abortion could visit women who called themselves sorceresses—but these women didn’t exactly sell condoms and birth control pills.

The contraceptives these women sold were incredibly disturbing. They made magical amulets that were supposed to keep a woman from getting pregnant. Inside each one was a pair of weasel’s testicles, a child’s tooth, and a severed finger cut from an aborted fetus.[8]

They sold love potions, too, which were pretty much the same thing. Their love potions contained extracts of the purest essences of—you guessed it—aborted babies. Apparently, their customers would drink these.

It was all pretty messed up. Still, when it comes to the contraceptives, you’ve got to admit: Any woman wearing an amulet full of weasel testicles, baby teeth, and fetus parts probably isn’t going to be getting pregnant anytime soon.

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