As part of my course this year, we were asked to write a short assignment and then "convert" or "translate" it for the everyday reader, who doesn't study history. In the spirit of updating my blog with every single piece of social media I've written (new page here), I thought I may as well share this piece with you all and see if I can get anyone else all fired up about delivering babies in sixteenth-century France. Why wouldn't you?
(Reading age had to be 13 - the frightening national reading age here in the UK - so apologies if some of you find it too simplistic. It's a really interesting challenge if you're a blogger, though. There are lots of online reading age calculators you can use to ensure your writing is as accessible as possible.)
Louise Bourgeois Boursier: what can she teach us about early modern midwifery?
Louise Bourgeois was a midwife in Paris. From 1601-1609 she helped the Queen of France Marie de Medici give birth to her children. She was probably trained by her husband who was a surgeon. She might also have attended a midwifery school in Paris. To get her licence, she had to be examined by a doctor, two surgeons and two other midwives.
Henry IV chose another midwife for the Queen but she wanted Bourgeois instead. It was not uncommon for a woman to choose her own midwife as men were usually left out of birth. She was paid 500 crowns for every boy she delivered and 300 for every girl. When she finished working, she was given 6000 crowns. She asked for a pension of 500 from Henry IV and he gave her 300. This was a large amount considering most midwives earned 50 crowns per delivery.
In 1560, laws were passed in Paris which made it the first state to control midwifery. Before, the Church had been in charge of approving midwives, but now it was the state who would give out licences. For example, midwives could no longer make a report unless a doctor and two surgeons approved it. These laws put midwives under control of surgeons and showed the tension between female midwives and male doctors. Both sides thought the other less able.
This tension was shown when Princess Marie de Bourbon died in childbirth. Bourgeois was partly blamed but she wrote an apology letter. This included confident information and she mentioned books she had written about midwifery. She said the surgeons who had done the autopsy were wrong. These events damaged her reputation and her career then ended.
Bourgeois is important because she got a pension for her work, which was not common. Her work and apology letter also show the tension between men and women in medicine at the time.