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The Birth of Mankind
  1. Lesley Smith
  1. Curator, Tutbury Castle, Tutbury, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Lesley Smith, Tutbury Castle, Castle Street, Tutbury, Burton on Trent, Staffordshire DE13 9JF, UK; info{at}

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For over a century, between 1540 and 1654, one piece of medical literature, The Byrth of Mankynde, was what would now be described as a bestseller and a huge commercial success. This is hardly surprising, as its contents offered information on some of the secrets of the human body that could transform the fortunes of the rich and powerful. Reading this book, society could find out about sex, fertility, pregnancy and even best practices for infant care. At the time the work was published children were used as chess pieces to forge family links, enlarge fortunes and even bring about peace between nations. Any information that could assist a couple in their journey towards achieving a healthy family of children, preferably boys, was likely to be desirable, and the sales of the book demonstrate the eagerness of English society to find out more.

History of the book

Despite the title of the book, its roots can be found in the landscape of Germany many years prior to the English version. It was originally published in 1513 by the City Physician of Worms, Eucharius Rosslin, who would later hold the same title in Frankfurt am Main. The early title had been rather romantic: Der Swengern Frauwen und Herbammen Rosegarten (The Rose Garden for Pregnant Women and Midwives). It is also known by the Latin version's title: Du Partu Hominis. The intended audience for the book was trainee midwives, since the …

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