(And not for the squeamish.)
Can anyone direct me to studies that discuss the use of purging in early modern medicine? Or if you can suggest any contemporary medical works that would be likely to cover this, I could check whether they’re in Early English Books Online.
Here’s the story: I have a late 17th-century murder case on my books, where a wife defended herself against charges of poisoning her husband with arsenic by saying that she had been advised to administer it to him as a purging medicine. Her explanation must have been at least superficially plausible at the time, since she was acquitted. I certainly seem to remember having read that early modern people were heavily into purging [note to the uninitiated: stuff that makes you vomit, or has a laxative effect] and did often use pretty nasty substances for the purpose (and they liked their enemas too… no, let’s really not go there). But I don’t really recall where I would have read this, and I don’t seem to have anything helpful on the shelves here at home. So, anyone got any reading suggestions?
For those of you who might find it interesting, I’ll put an extract from the letter that the wife wrote from prison, which was presumably her line of defence at her trial, below the fold. I should add that the woman who had given her this ‘advice’ was herself convicted and hanged for poisoning her own son-in-law at about the same time. (There’s little doubt about her guilt, I think. It’s a really fascinating case.) I am personally a little sceptical about the wife’s protestations of innocence, but who knows after all this time?
I mete with hir one Munday in ye chourtch yard & after renewing of our ould aquantanc shee asked mee how my husband did … shee hard yt [that] hee was very wicked & rude & I said yt hee was not soe but yt hee was as ceevell [civil] as most men but onely when hee had dranke too mutch strong drink … shee asked mee if hee were in good health & if hee had noe distemper with in him self & I said hee had none but only hee did comeplain yt hee had mutch paine in his head & in his bones & limbes & could take littel rest in ye night… but I tould her yt hee was harty & could eat his meat well & shee said yt was nothing & yt hee would grow wors & wors in his distempers unless hee were purdged & vomitted & I said hee would take noe fizike [physic: ie, medicine] then shee said yt shee had a freind yt had directed hir to a way with out mutch cost & yt it would doe him mutch good & make him more temprat and fare better in health & conditiones & I asked hir what it was shee said it was but a small matter & yt I might buy for one penie as mutch as hee had need of then shee named it & I said I shall not remember yt name & shee bad mee aske for a whit[e] thing which was wont to bee put in yt which thay doe yus to give to rats… I said I ame afraid it will doe my huband harme & shee said yt it would not but would doe him mutch good & yt shee had made triall of it one hir former husband & yt it had done him mutch good as long as hee lived…