The Birth of Mankind

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By | Early Medicine

Title Page of 'The byrth of mankynde, otherwyse named The womans booke...' 1545  Wellcome Images L0041826

Title Page of ‘The byrth of mankynde, otherwyse named The womans booke…’
1545 Wellcome Images L0041826

The Birth of Mankind, otherwise named the Woman’s book was the most important English language work on midwifery in the 16th century. The text was a translation and adaptation of Der schwangern Frauwen und Hebammen Rosengarten, written by Eucharius Rösslin. The first English translation, by Richard Jonas, was published in 1540. A second translation, by Thomas Raynalde, was first published in 1545 and it is this version which was reprinted many times in the next 100 years. Not only did it provide information on fertility, pregnancy, birth, and infant care, but it also included up to date anatomical descriptions. Its illustrations were copied from Vesalius via Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa totius anatomiae delineatio which was also first published in 1545.


Page with hand-written notes from 'The Birth of Mankynde' 1565 Wellcome Images L0047994

Page with hand-written notes from ‘The Birth of Mankynde’
Wellcome Images L0047994

The Wellcome Library has 11 editions of the Birth of Mankind, all of which you can find in the library catalogue. We purchased a copy of the 1545 edition at the sale of the Haskell Norman medical and scientific collection at Christie’s New York in 1998. In 2006 we added a later edition, with interesting annotations by two different readers, one from the 16th century and another in the 19th century. The title page is signed by Sir Edward Burrowes Sinclair (1824-1882) who was Professor of Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin from 1867. We have a copy of one of Sinclair’s publications entitled Practical midwifery : comprising an account of 13,748 deliveries which occurred in the Dublin lying-in hospital, during a period of seven years, commencing November, 1847 / by Edward B. Sinclair … and George Johnston (London, 1858). He had obviously gained a lot of practical experience.

A modern annotated edition of The Birth of Mankind, based on the 1560 edition, has recently been published by Elaine Hobby.

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