Cold and Wet, Hot and Dry: The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing, a Fourteenth Century Vernacular Obstetrical and Genealogical Treatise
By Karen D.L. Smith
Master’s Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 2013
Abstract: This thesis presents a single witness edition of The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing, which is a 14th century vernacular obstetrical and gynaecological treatise found in British Library MS Additional 12195. Purported to be emulating medical texts of French and Latin origin, The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing is “a novel fusing of several different texts and theoretical traditions into a single work”. The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing is an important and significant medieval medical text because it has a self-identified female audience and a female-orientated medical focus.
Accompanying notes and emendations from the four other extant witnesses are also presented: Oxford Bodley MS Douce 37 (SC 21611), Oxford MS Bodley 483 (SC 2062), Cambridge University Library MS Ii. 6. 33, and British Library MS Sloane 421A. This thesis explores the folklore of the traditional herbs, medicinals, and compounds used in the treatise. A comparison of the material appended to all five of the extant witnesses is presented in Appendix A; Appendix B lists the incidence of rubrication found in this edition; originating source material for the Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing is presented in Appendix C; and an alphabetical catalogue of medicinals, in four tables, can be found in Appendix D.
Excerpt: While many examples of Middle English medical texts of the late 14th century survive today, the Knowing is the only treatise that identifies and distinguishes itself as being written for a female audience: “Many Middle English texts and translations were made explicitly for a female audience, but these were usually mystical and devotional texts composed for women religious or devout laywomen. Texts written specifically for secular women are extremely rare”. For example, in The Idea of the Vernacular, edited by Wogan-Browne et al., there is only one work listed as being both secular and written for a female audience and that is the Knowing. In surveying Middle English obstetrical and gynecological works, Monica Green states the following about the Knowing: “most notable of all … is the text’s address to women”. The Knowing encourages “every woman redet vnto oþer þat cannot so do and helpe hem and concell theme in her maladis withowt schewyng her desses vnto man”. In addition to the Knowing, Green has “compiled a list of thirty different manuscripts containing eleven different obstetrical and gynecological texts or collections of recipes in Middle English”, but has distilled this list into three broad categories: 1) “translations made from the Latin Trotula” 2) material identified as originating from The Sickness of Women, and 3) other material “that derives from neither Trotula nor ‘The Sekenesse of Wymmen’”