Alice Thornton (1627-1707): on childbirth and Providence

For Women’s History Month 2017: Alice Thornton was a seventeenth-century Yorkshire gentlewoman who wrote extensive memoirs of her life and travails.

On the birth and illness of Alice’s eldest daughter Alice (‘Naly’), 1654-55

It was the pleasure of God to give me but a weak time affter my daughter Alice her birth, and she had many preservations from death in the first yeare, beeing one night delivered from beeing overlaide by her nurse, who laid in my deare mother’s chamber a good while. One night my mother was writing pretty late, and she heard my deare child make a groneing troublsomly, and steping immeadiatly to nurrse’s bed side she saw the nurse fallen asleepe, with her breast in the childe’s mouth, and lyeing over the childe ; at which she, beeing affrighted, pulled the nurse sudainly of from her, and soe preserved my deare childe from beeing smothered.

Affter I was delivered, and in my weary bed and very weake, it fell out that my little daughter Alice, beeing then newly weaned, and about a yeare old, beeing asleepe in one cradle and the young infant in annother, she fell into a most desperate fitt, of the convultions as suposed to be, her breath stoped, grew blacke in her face, which sore frighted her maide Jane Flouer. She tooke her up immeadiatly, and with the helpe of the midwife, Jane Rimer, to open her teeth and to bring her to life againe. Butt still, affterwards, noe sooner that she was out of one fitt but fell into annother fitt, and the remidies could be by my deare mother and aunt Norton could scarce keepe her alive, she having at least twenty fitts; all freinds expecting when she should have died. … These extreamitys did soe lessen my milke, that tho’ I began to recrute strength, yet I must be subject to the changes of my condittion. Affter my deare Naly was in most miraculous mercy restored to me the next day, and recruted my strength; within a fortnight I recovred my milke, and was overjoyed to give my sweete Betty suck, which I did, and began to recover to a miracle, blessed be my great and gracious Lord God, Who remembred mercy towards me. [pp. 91-92]

On the birth of Alice’s first son in 1657

It pleased God, in much mercy, to restore me to strength to goe to my full time, my labour begining three daies; but upon the Wednesday, the ninth of December, I fell into exceeding sharpe travill in great extreamity, so that the midwife did beleive I should be delivered soone. But loe! it fell out contrary, for the childe staied in the birth, and came crosse with his feete first, and in this condition contineued till Thursday morning betweene two and three a clocke, at which time I was upon the racke in bearing my childe with such exquisitt torment, as if each lime weare divided from other, for the space of two houers; when att length, beeing speechlesse and breathlesse, I was, by the infinitt providence of God, in great mercy delivered. But I having had such sore travell in danger of my life soe long, and the childe comeing into the world with his feete first, caused the childe to be allmost strangled in the birth, only liveing about halfe an houer, so died before we could gett a minister to baptize him, although he was sent for. [p.95]

Internet Archive: The Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton, of East Newton, Co. York, ed. by C.Jackson (1875)
See also the recent modern edition of Alice’s autobiography, My First Booke of My Life, edited by Raymond Anselment (£, but much fuller than the 19th-century edition).


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