Monday, January 11, 2016

Is That You, Baby? Life as an Infant in Tudor England

When a bundle of joy arrived in the home of a family in Tudor-era England, its treatment depended on the circumstances surrounding the birth.
First: were the parents married?
Were they commoners? 
Did the new baby have all its fingers and toes?
Any birthmarks?
Any sixth fingers (lol Anne Boleyn)?
Did Mom survive childbirth?

. . . and Tudor-era babies were luckier than their more ancient-civilization, non-Judeo-Christian counterparts:
(Warning: harsh child treatment alert approaching.)

those kids got the thumbs-up or thumbs-down right after they were born.
If, when placed in front of the father, the father picked up the infant, YAY! 
If, on the other hand, the father examined the infant and the infant had any abnormalities and/or the family was poor and the thought of another mouth to feed was too much - the infant was left to die.
"Looks just like me! I vote we keep this one!"
"Oh, Dad, you ALWAYS say that."
They were rescued on occasion by a kind-hearted savior.
But not always. 
It was pretty much a case of abortion done post-delivery. 

Tudor-era infants had it easy compared to those kids; they were nursed by their mothers when the mother survived child birth.
Wet nurses stood in for new Mom in weathier households.
After all, Mom's job was to reproduce as often as possible and nursing a baby has the effect of suppressing the likelihood of her conceiving again. 
(Also - it was 'forbidden' for the husband to have sex with his wife while she was pregnant, or nursing an infant, or if it was a Tuesday, a Friday, a Saturday, or during the forty days Lent was observed. Jettisoning the infant onto the stout boobs of a sweet-natured wet nurse was a no-brainer.)
"Dude, I know, I know, but the Pope says it's 'no-sex Saturday'. You wanna go straight to Hell when you die?"

If new Mom was a commoner, her own boobs got to take on the job of feeding her infant, as well as Mom's other jobs of cooking, cleaning, weaving cloth, tending the garden, doing the laundry, brewing the ale, making soap, making candles, preserving foods for use during winter months, keeping up her Snapchat and editing selfies. 
(Okay. Kidding.)

To ensure straight, healthy limbs, infants were swaddled.
Not like today's weak-ass swaddling methods; no, Tudor infants were made of hardier stuff.
They experienced EXTREME SWADDLING.
Each limb was wrapped in cloth bands - with the limb straight.
Especial attention given to the stomach in the wrapping; a belly band of sorts - then the entire sausage was wrapped in an exterior swaddling cloth.
A kid guaranteed to never crawl into the fireplace! 

Swaddled children might be propped up in a cradle, tended by a dedicated rocker (if they were smart enough to have picked really, really rich parents.)
"Can't . . . move . . . my . . . . legs. . . frilly . . . .cap . . . itches . . . my . . . head."

They might be hung from a peg on the wall inside a home.
Yeah, it's 'take your Irish twins to work day' in the Shyre.
Possibly hung from the sturdy branch of a tree while new Mom worked outdoors.
There were all kinds of places to put one's swaddled infant.

If the impression here is one of an infant that was more or less ignored, you'd be correct.
Rather than spoiling the child by paying it attention, it was forced allowed to observe its world, free of annoying adults making faces at it and asking it inane questions. 
Those parents may have been onto something there; if the baby lived past swaddling age it already had a very solid awareness of its family and family home.
Infants were allowed to mature free of mothers who *really* needed a friend more than a baby.

Yes, the baby was changed regularly and fed.
Yes, the baby was allowed freedom and 'unswaddled moments.' 
Yes, the baby was loved.
No, the baby did not, by age twenty months or so, make the household decisions.
That's a parenting style that only came into vogue twenty years ago; imagine a time when toddlers didn't decide what it was fed, or had every direction from its parent followed by the wimp-ass word, "Okay?"
"Yeah, I meant this for YOU."

I digress.

Once the baby hit the crawling the stage, a bit of an uptick in childhood mortality rates was an unfortunate side effect. 
Use your imagination.
I don't like thinking about things like that.

were stigmatized, bless their little bastard hearts.
If the father weren't a complete dick, he acknowledged the kid by giving new Mom financial support.
Sometimes they got new Dad's name, but that was not a given.
The sad course of the life of the little bastards usually meant that at age seven or so, when their non-bastard peers were helping their parents (and by that I mean *actually* helping, doing chores by age ten that most kids today can't begin to fathom) or, in the case of the moneyed classes, placed in a household as prestigious as the parents could manage to learn how to behave as an adult, the little bastards went to the almshouse.
The almshouse - where every day was like going to the dentist for a root canal.
There was a reason it took a village of very nosy types to monitor the petting parties and would-be hookups of young people - the almshouses were supported by them.
So - the more little bastards, the more the local parish priest put the screws to his parishioners to pay for the upkeep of those little bastards.
People quickly figured out, fewer bastards, less dunning at collection basket time during Mass. 
If a woman had too many babydaddies, she went to a 'house of corrections.' 
Imagine the fun she had there.
Had she kept her knees together, life might have sucked less for her.
There's a lesson there. . . 


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