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criticisms of practicing midwives

believed that the

female midwife, not a male practitioner such as

himself, was the proper person to manage childbirth.

This ingrained assumption on Willughby’s part

reflected the conceptual horizon imposed by the fact

that the male practitioner’s task was to deliver a dead

child, not a living baby. (1997: 167)


This observation might come from his experiences while

working with his daughter, Eleanor Willughby, who became a

midwife at the age of fifteen or sixteen, possibly at her father’s

request. In


, a case history of a dangerous

childbirth, it was presumably the (unidentified) daughter-

midwife who successfully completed the delivery under adverse

conditions. According to Willughby’s account, a pregnant

woman designated as “Sir Tennebs Evanks lady”



diagnosed by Eleanor, only nineteen or twenty at the time, as

having a fetus in the breech position but her father disagreed;

later Eleanor’s diagnosis proved to be correct, and she

delivered the baby safely. Moreover, her father had to creep in

and out of the room on his hands and knees so that the mother

would not see him: this deception was needed because “[t]he

arrival of the male practitioner signaled that the birth was

difficult” (Wilson, 1997: 163).

This unusual story informs us, as Wilson says, of “the

association of the male practitioner with difficulty and danger,

and the fact that Willughby’s relations with midwives were


Male midwives were usually summoned only when it was expected to be a

miscarriage or a case of the baby being stillborn, as these were more

difficult cases to handle. Willughby’s original manuscript is unavailable, as

it was written in 1672.


The real identity of her husband is plausibly Sir Gervase Bennet, “an

irascible Puritan, who was (as Willughby described him in the London

version) ‘one of Oliver’s creatures’, that is, a client of Cromwell’s, and who

was active both in London (where he had a minor government post) and in

Derby (where he served for a time as an alderman).” For this information

the critic Adrian Wilson consulted Gerald Aylmer (1997: 161, 175).