The rebirth of fertility: the Trotula and her travelling companions c. 1200-1450

The rebirth of fertility: the Trotula and her travelling companions c. 1200-1450

The rebirth of fertility: the Trotula and her travelling companions c. 1200-1450

By Theresa Lorraine Tyers

PhD Dissertation, University of Nottingham, 2012

Abstract: This thesis examines to what extent women were involved in their own healthcare and that of others, in the late medieval period. It starts from the observation that modem text editing practices often exclude from discussion other widely disseminated texts that formed the ‘travelling companions’ of a manuscript – in this case particularly the ensemble known as the Trotula. By focusing on one specific text within the manuscript compilations, the diverse and widespread dissemination of women’s knowledge of healthcare and the use of vernacular texts have been marginalised. The thesis argues that the consideration of these ‘travelling companions’ can offer an alternative view of women’s involvement in healthcare, despite the seeming female exclusion from the culture of book-learning and the development of professional licensing in the later Middle Ages. The corpus of manuscripts examined is taken from a range of vernacular compilations produced in England, Flanders and Italy, with some discussion of ownership and transmission of these into the Early Modem period. A number of transcriptions and close readings of the contents are used to identify the discrete characteristics of each copy and to track changes that took place during the transmission process. Detailed comparisons demonstrate that conscious, active choices were made in both the adaptation and interpretation of the material being copied. Analysis of these manipulations reveals that the production of vernacular texts enabled easier consultation and use. The manuscripts point to women’s continuing engagement with both the texts and the practice of self-care and that, despite the increase in the number of professional male practitioners over the period, women continued to offer advice to others well into the sixteenth century.

Introduction: This is a study of the practice of medieval medicine. It particularly looks at the role that vernacular texts played in the availability of treatments for infertility, and enters into the debate of whether a simple picture of lay versus professional healthcare in the High Middle Ages is tenable. It questions whether the claim of the lack of evidence of a ‘particularly feminine medical culture’, in the French textual tradition, is sufficient to conclude that female readers ‘did not have the obligation to inform themselves thoroughly about the nature of disease or the vast fund of therapeutic knowledge’. It has been argued that, as women had been excluded from university learning, the major contest over the practice of medicine in the High Middle Ages was not one between men and women per se

But rather between empiricism and book learning and to the extent that this process was gendered, it was because book learning itself was a highly gendered practice…Women’s vernacular literacy increased in this period, but it was not used for medical reading with any regularity until after the medieval period had passed.

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