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2 Midwives in the Middle Ages? Birth Attendants, 600–1300

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Chapter Summary

The concept of midwifery was preserved in classical sources, such as medical texts, read and copied in the period, and particularly through the presence of midwives in Apocryphal accounts of the Nativity, which were popularized in sermons and public art as part of the increasingly important cult of the Virgin Mary. This chapter argues that the use of midwives re-emerged in the twelfth-century and had become an accepted and even in some places institutionalized part of care for women in at least some regions of North-Western Europe by 1300, although midwives always supplemented, not replaced, other types of attendants. As evidence for birth attendants is scarce and scattered, the chapter draws on a wide range of sources, including histories and chronicles, encyclopaedias, saints' vitae, miracle collections, secular law codes, medical texts, advice manuals, fictional works, inquisitions post-mortem, apocryphal literature, iconographic evidence, and more.

Keywords: advice manuals; apocryphal literature; birth attendants; iconographic evidence; inquisitions post-mortem; medical texts; midwives; North-Western Europe; secular law codes



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