Making 18th Century Chocolate Cream

We are a part of of Food and Literature class at the University of Texas at Arlington. transcribe recipes from an early eighteenth century cookbook (Folger W.a. 87); which means reading someone else’s handwriting (easier said than done).  And then we were tasked with making one of the recipes and writing about it for this blog. Figuring out this recipe proved to be an interesting endeavor, since there are no real modern measurements (1 cup, 2 teaspoons, etc.) provided, but it’s chocolate cream — nothing can be better than chocolate cream!

Transcription (in original spelling):

Boill a quart of cream till itt begins to be thick then putt

in 4 Sponfulls of sifted Chocolate and giv itt six boilings up

then strain itt through Tiffany, set itt open the fire a gain

an when ready to boill putt in the Yolks of 2 eggs beathen

with a Little orange flower water stir itt over the fire to thi…

ken butt boill itt not then take itt of and when almost

cold putt itt in a bason or glasses then take some cream with

a little white wine and sugar and whisk itt in a froth and

and put it on the Chocolate Cream and whith a little of the

Chocolate and putt th ffroth of it up and down amongst

the white froth and to serve itt up

Here is our modern translation and how we made the recipe;

  1. Boil 4 cups of heavy whipping cream in a pot on medium heat. Stir the cream every so often as it boils and begins to thicken.
  2. While the cream is boiling, finely grate about 4 teaspoons of milk chocolate onto a plate.
  3. Once the boiling cream thickens slightly, add the grated chocolate into the hot cream and stir slowly until it melts through.
  4. When all of the chocolate has melted into the cream, take the pot off of the heat until the cream is no longer bubbling. Stir the cream again, and put it back onto the heat until it boils. Repeat this process 5 more times, making sure to stir the chocolate cream every so often.
  5. Once the chocolate cream has been boiled 6 times, strain it through a metal strainer (although plastic is fine, as long as it won’t melt under the heat) and put it back into the pot.
  6. Add the pot back to the stove on medium-low heat and stir occasionally, making sure not to boil the chocolate cream.
  7. As the chocolate cream is rewarming on the stove, take the yolks of 2 eggs and beat them together in a separate bowl with a splash of vanilla extract.
  8. Once the chocolate cream is near boiling, slowly add the egg yolk mixture into the cream while stirring continuously. Continue to stir briefly after all of the yolks have been added to ensure that the egg does not cook inside the cream. Make sure that the chocolate cream does not boil.
  9. Take the pot off of the stove and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  10. As the chocolate cream is cooling, make the froth. In a bowl, add together ¼ cup of heavy whipping cream, 3 teaspoons of white wine, and ½ cup of granulated white sugar.
  11. Whisk them together until the mixture thickens slightly and reaches the ribbon stage, meaning that when the whisk is lifted over the mixture the froth falls slowly from the whisk and creates a ribbon on the surface which slowly dissipates.
  12. Once the chocolate cream has cooled and the froth has been made, divide the chocolate cream into separate glass jars (or whatever glass containers you wish to serve it in). Spoon the white froth in a thin layer on top of the chocolate cream, and either eat immediately or refrigerate for 2-8 hours. Enjoy!

The Recipe in Film:

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Part 2 of 8:–g4uXZDQ6s

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Even in the 18th century, chocolate was HUGE! The history of chocolate is a vast story that got its start when Spain first travelled to America. But the chocolate of that time was very different than what was used in this recipe.

A short history of chocolate :

From Cacao to Cocoa: A Short History of Chocolate in Britain by Finlay Greig

            Cocoa was first brought to Europe in the early 1500s when Christopher Columbus first  it back from the Americas to Spain; however it would be over a century later before it made its way to London. Britons first encountered cacao beans in 1579 when English pirates attacked a Spanish ship carrying goods; amongst these goods were cacao beans. The English pirates mistook the beans for “sheep droppings” and set fire to the ship. It would be nearly 80 years later until the New World product made its way back to Britain.

           In 1657, the first “Chocolate House” developed in London, operated by a Frenchman, where chocolate drinks were sold ready-made and available to drink in-house, or unmade and could be taken and prepared at home. Chocolate Houses caught on and became similar to pubs; however, the chocolatey drink was considered a luxury and the patrons of these establishments were rich and rowdy men. Francis White, owner of White’s Chocolate House, is credited as the first person to open a chocolate house in London.

“In Bishopgate St, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called Chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time and also unmade at reasonable rates.”

            As chocolate drinks caught on, plantations were developed in the West Indies to produce more cacao beans to be brought back to London and sold by the pound. Over the next few years, the English would incorporate the cocoa powder into different recipes, like sauces and creams, but it would not be until the 1900s when the first chocolate bar would be made. Like the Spanish merchant ship carrying “sheep droppings”, chocolate spread like fire throughout England, and remains a significant part of British diet.



In Review:


This proved to be an interesting endeavor. For one thing, the recipe actually came out well; despite not having modern measurements. Our project was also a learning experience, mainly reading and understanding someone’s handwriting from several hundred years ago. But the experience was and is for educational purposes. Thanks for joining us on this fun cooking adventure!

-The Chocolate Crew

Alethia Nason, Ariel Robinson, Calvin Johnson, Emily Rogers, & Hannah Su

University of Texas, Arlington, Students of Dr. Amy Tigner


My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Bigotry

by Jordan Costanza, UNC Charlotte

Flimsy tents erected against bitter winter winds; rubber skiffs parting through a sea of bloated corpses as rescuers attempt to find life among death; rats the size of footballs skittering through a legion of dirty mattresses and blankets; wives and sisters and mothers and daughters of rebel fighters raped by the opposition’s soldiers as a crowd looks on; burying the bones of the dead in a pile of red dust and dirt, marked by nothing but the shifting winds and rain.

This hellscape, a nightmare on paper, is a grim reality for nearly six million Syrian refugees, a majority of which are women and children according to a report conducted by Amnesty International. Being punished for a husband’s unwillingness to participate in mandatory military service or fight for ISIS, or going days without food or water in order to care for their children are not just examples; they are likelihoods, and for the millions of women, and the family members with which they are often charged, the journey from Syria to safety is one that is, in black irony, riddled with dangers, in both the natural and human form.

The natural in the quest for asylum is exemplified by its infamous name: “The Journey of Death,” a name adopted by Syrian refugees to signify the arduous voyage from Syria to Europe and America (Motaparthy). As the poverty-stricken, neighboring countries of Lebanon and Egypt are overwhelmed to the point of overfull, and the burden of asylum falls largely on the shoulders of the financially-crippled Greece and, to a lesser extent, Italy, the call for Europe to further relax its borders becomes increasingly fervent. In a calculated — and some might say manipulative — move to join the European Council, controversial Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has struck an alliance that agrees, on behalf of Turkey, to welcome more refugees into its haven as well as take back those who have entered Greece past a certain date in order to stanch the migration flow into Europe. However, as Turkey remains a place of persecution and danger for many people fleeing the Syrian conflict — and a cesspool of patriarchally-informed sexism — refugees (especially women who are expected by Erdoğan to embrace only motherhood and reject any other lifestyle) are left with few options and even dimmer future prospects (“Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”).

In the wake of the EU-Turkey deal, refugees are often forced into one of three scenarios: 1) detainment by the Greek or Turkish military, in which refugees are forced into prison or labor camps where suicide, abuse, and rape abound (Squires), detained for the crime of daring to reach for the luxuries of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” supposedly “unalienable rights” set forth by our own Declaration of Independence (ironically, a piece of history borne off the backs of our founding fathers fleeing persecution); or 2) refugees can be moved into the chaotic climate of Turkey where political dissenters are labeled “terrorists” by the president and approximately 400 women die a year from domestic violence encouraged by, and some might even say as a direct result of, governmental views on the “proper” relationship between women, society, and Islam (often resulting in female subservience, rape, unwilling child-bearing, and abuse); or 3) refugees can attempt to escape their refugee camp (if they are successful in avoiding capture and arrest by military guards) and try their luck in alien regions, such as on the treacherous range of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains where 15 people froze to death this year trying to cross (Sly and Haidamous), or the perilous waters of the Mediterranean where at least 8,400 refugees drowned in the last two years alone for the steep price of anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 (Motaparthy). If, by some divine miracle, refugees are rescued from the sea, many — a majority being women and young girls — are then subjected to forced prostitution, sexual slavery, abuse, and/or torture (Dehghan).

The east is, for refugees, overcrowded, headed by thugs, rampant with sexual violence, and/or generally opposed to the influx of asylum-seekers, the last of which is where the west finds itself today — or at least that was once the prevailing opinion. Anti-refugee, and more specifically anti-Muslim, rhetoric has long been divisive in western culture, most recently in the wake of the Trump Administration’s abominable Executive Order 13769, in which the president attempted to invoke the suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order was not only met with widespread contempt by the American people and a good percentage of Congressional members, it also sparked a trans-national force of unity in which citizens were called to action by their own empathy and the disapproval of varying world leaders, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former President Barack Obama, and Pope Francis. A country historically notorious for its bigotry was able to unite in a way that led to Washington v. Trump and the trend of “#MuslimBan,” as well as shedding light on the issues of Islamophobia and sexism, two issues that tend to exist in violent harmony in wartime and have long waged private battles against the bodies of Muslim women and girls (Wolfe).

Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. “Migrant Sea Route to Italy Is World’s Most Lethal.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Sept. 2017,

Motaparthy, Priyanka. “Why Syrian Refugees Risk the ‘Journey of Death’ to Europe.” The Nation, vol. 300, no. 9, 2015, Accessed 18 March 2018.

“Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: ‘Women Not Equal to Men’.” The Guardian, Agence France-Presse, 24 Nov. 2014,

Sly, Liz, and Suzan Haidamous. “Frozen To Death on a Mountain: How 7 Years Of War Ended For 15 Syrian Refugees.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Feb. 2018,

Squires, Nick. “A Year on from EU-Turkey Deal, Refugees and Migrants in Limbo Commit Suicide and Suffer from Trauma.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 14 Mar. 2017,

Wolfe, Lauren. “Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis.” The Atlantic, 3 Apr. 2013,

Michelle Obama versus Big Food

By Hayley Lawson, UNC Charlotte

In the United States, we have very little control over how we nourish our bodies, or at least less control than we believe. Most of us have grown up unaware of how our food system has manipulated our bodies into becoming part of a scientific project. Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine writer, openly discusses how “Big Agriculture” rules over our country’s food system and turned it entirely into a capitalist and scientific venture where the bottom-line “trumps” those of us at the bottom of the food chain: women, children, and small farmers. In the past decade, I have only seen small scale efforts through non-profit organizations and exemplary grass-roots operations be successful at shifting the agency. But there has been one prime example of an individual trying to tackle Big Food in a big way: Michelle Obama. She visibly stepped out against the monopolized food system after her husband campaigned on redressing this growing epidemic.

Michael Pollan’s 2016 piece “Big Food Strikes Back: Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture?” retrospectively explores why the former world’s most powerful couple “failed” to tackle “a food system organized around subsidized monocultures of corn and soy” and built on cheap oil contributing “more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector.” Such a calculated, controlled, and secretive system foreshadows a dark future of detrimental harm to our external environment and internal health. We are no longer in control of our bodies, and this affects the future development of our nation as we feed ourselves and our children genetically modified “food” experiments. The fact that we have little choice in our nourishment draws a comparison to the industrialization of agriculture and early modern science’s desire to manipulate, control, and “perfect” nature. The consistent patriarchal approach to science over the past centuries is strongly maintained by the United States’ ongoing scientific experiment in our nation’s $1.5 trillion agricultural industry. Unfortunately for us, their effects trickle down to each morsel of food we daily consume.

Who is fit to take them on? The David versus Goliath-sized battle of reclaiming some of our agency to nourish our bodies seems like a task beyond the reaches of those most affected: underpaid women, single-mothers, children, college students, and small farmers. The Obama administration was built on hope and change, and the first lady valiantly supported the movement away from Big Food. In 2009, she forged into the spotlight by one small, simple act of planting the White House’s very own organic vegetable garden. Pollan points out how Big Food “had a big problem with the first lady’s food talk, and especially with one modifier: organic.” Michelle persisted in her efforts to support farmers markets, publicly shop local produce, and refuse to use pesticides in the White House garden. The American Council on Science and Health tried intervening in her personal decision in not using pesticides, and in their frustration, labeled the Obamas as “organic limousine liberals.”

I have a suspicion that the backlash against the White House garden was especially driven because of the patriarchal nature of our modern food industry. Michelle Obama represented the power of an influential female who refused to let her “home” garden be controlled by the larger society. In my opinion, Michelle was given a difficult task by her husband’s administration because being an African-American female with “radical” ideas about the food industry made her an easy target for the highly-controlled agriculture programs and corporations. Barack conceded that his wife had special potential: “You [Michelle] can talk about these issues…. It’ll be a hell of a lot more effective than me.” Therefore, the double-edged sword women brandish still exists: they are still identified with nature by patriarchal society. In this case, powerful female voices, like Michelle Obama, used this to their advantage by winning small battles for “Little food” and the rest of us.

Pollan article:

Fool’s Gold: Carolyn Merchant and Discovery’s “Gold Rush”

by Melissa Lafrate, UNC Charlotte

“You’re all millionaires. The only thing is you gotta get it out of the ground.” This is a line that Jack Hoffman said on the Discovery Channel show “Gold Rush.” The show centers on a group of men who have traveled to Alaska in pursuit of gold. In order to get the gold out of the ground, however, they must use intricate machinery to cut into the natural landscape in search of what they call a “gloryhole.” These holes are developed over time by streams that end in waterfalls. The water erodes the land disrupting the gold that is located in the ground. The gold would then be carried by the water down the waterfalls and into those holes. When the streams and waterfalls dried up these holes would be covered over time by dirt and other natural debris and left to later be found by the miners.
It is interesting that the crew refers to the underground pockets of gold as “gloryholes.” When looked at in the context of the show, the gloryhole is a hole that the miner penetrates with their machinery in order to extract gold. However, Urban Dictionary defines gloryholes as holes in the wall through which a man can receive fellatio (Urban Dictionary). The term is sexual in nature but does not refer to a vagina in particular. It does, however, play into age old binaries that dictate what is masculine and what is feminine; for example, science as masculine vs. nature as feminine. The one penetrating the hole is the dominant male figure, putting the fellatio giver into a more submissive, feminine role. This slang term is something that a lot of young people are aware of and will not be as familiar with the original, mining context.
As previously mentioned, the show is populated entirely by male miners, this only serves to further the argument that men are dominant over nature. For example, one miner has been quoted saying that the better the land is, the more money you are likely to make. This commodifies the landscape much like how women’s bodies are commodified. In this context, it is very vaginal in nature and fits in with some of the theory discussed by Carolyn Merchant in “Dominion Over Nature.”
The show’s beliefs are reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s statement: “Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his whole object” (Merchant 69). Bacon’s philosophy “treats nature as a female to be tortured through mechanical inventions” (Merchant 69). According to Bacon men should not be tentative when searching for the secrets of nature and should go forth and search every nook and cranny. This is a philosophy that the “Gold Rush” crew follows in the show; they are not afraid to rip apart the landscape in search of the secret gold. In fact, one of the pieces of equipment that the miners use is called a sluice box. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word sluice has multiple violent connotations behind it. For example, during the Early Modern period it meant to drain the blood in order to kill. These miners are draining the earth of its resources in order to get at the blood, in this case gold. This sluicing holds deeper implications that can lead to the desolation of the land in favor of profit. The language here brings to mind imagery of penetration. For example, one thing that comes to mind is a stabbing, the knife penetrates the skin and releases blood. In this case the sluice box penetrates the ground in order for the miners to get a profit. This penetration can be seen as a rape of the land demonstrating the power man has over it.
The show has faced a lot of controversy in regard to the miners’ treatment of the land. Jack Queen, one of the residents of Park County Colorado, an area where the show takes place, claims that the miners have “wrecked a hillside landscape, ran afoul of its permits and shattered the quiet of their neighborhood all summer.” When the miners leave they do not do much to restore the area they have mined from. As seen on the show, often they just fill the hole up with rubble and call it a day. They do this to cover up the trauma they have inflicted upon the landscape, as if they are trying to obscure the rape they have committed. The miners leave the land desecrated but by covering it up they pretend it is okay. There have been many online articles calling the show out for the environmental damage they have committed in their quest for gold.
I wanted to talk about this show because it is one of my dad’s favorite television shows to watch. Whenever he turns it on I have to leave the room because the way these men rape the land turns my stomach. The way that they rip into the landscape in search of its secrets always reminds me of Carolyn Merchant’s critique of Francis Bacon. It also reminds me that this is not just happening on the Discovery Channel, but all over the world. The Dakota Access Pipeline and the deforestation of the world’s rainforests are other examples of how the world is being raped for man’s profit. At the end of the day these people destroy the natural landscape for their own monetary gain unless we do something about it.
Here is a clip of the show:

Additional Articles:
Save Park County accuses Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” of “mining for ratings”
Alaska officials hope Discovery Channel show doesn’t inspire another Gold Rush
“Gold Rush” reality TV series mine near Fairplay eyed by Colorado environmental regulators

Unruly Wombs: Modern Implications of Baconian Science

by Sarahann Moser, UNC Charlotte

In the United States, women are giving birth while shackled to the bed. This happens in 27 out of 50 states, and it is appalling. Mistreatment of women and their wombs can be traced back hundreds of years to Francis Bacon and his “champion” of Science. In terms of the Baconian and patriarchal approach to Science, incarcerated women are the epitome of the disorder that Francis Bacon and his advocates pin on women and nature. They are examples of nature gone wild; subjects that must be punished for their unruliness. In the modern world, controlling a woman’s womb finds its origins in the early modern world where the womb was believed to have occult properties. Bacon believed that, if not controlled, nature engendered as female could be dangerous. The notion that modern incarcerated women have broken a law or laws-ones put in place to maintain a stable justice system-is appalling to men and women who push patriarchal doctrines. To atone for this, their wombs must be punished and controlled.

Basis for the mistreatment of women in the judicial system can be traced to witch trials, as Carolyn Merchant observes in her article, “Dominion Over Nature.” Merchant connects the mechanical devices used to punish and torture women who were accused of witchcraft to the introduction of Baconian mechanical contraptions to sequester and interrogate nature (69). Similar contraptions- chains and handcuffs–are used today to punish women. Not only are imprisoned women forced to endure the pains of labor alone, without family, shackled by chains to the bed, but there are reports of women’s pregnant bellies being chained. This is an ultimate portrayal of control, chaining both the woman and the innocent life inside her. Mary Floyd-Wilson acknowledges early modern English perspectives of the womb in her book with the chapter titled “Women’s Secrets and the Status of Evidence in All’s Well That Ends Well.” Floyd-Wilson points out that the womb was believed to have occult properties (30). That premise of placing women in “belly chains” and handcuffs for their doctor’s appointments can be connected to the fear of the power which the womb commands. In early modern England, the womb was a highly fantasized feature of the female body which men would depict in problematic scientific diagrams.

The unknown woman and her ability to grow another life in her body intimidated Bacon and his contemporaries. As with feminized Nature, it was necessary for scientists to dissect, manipulate, and dominate the study of the womb. The interpretation of the womb and mother as dangerous and intimidating continues today in that pregnant mother’s bellies are chained. Profoundly, if this is done to protect the child from his or her mother, it is highly hypocritical. Once said woman’s child is born, she will only be allotted twenty-four hours to spend with her baby, forced to care for and breastfeed her child while in shackles and handcuffed. This greatly hinders the formation of a bond between mother and child at a severely critical developmental period in the child’s life. The connection between Baconian scientific practices and modern practices associated with ‘disorderly’ women, that is, incarcerated women, is clear. Had it not been for a fear and intimidation of the female’s ability to grow life, negative associations that the womb needed to be controlled would have never cultured. Today’s mistreatment of pregnant women is an explicit example of modern implications of Baconian Science. Men controlling women and their wombs is an age-old concept.

Floyd-Wilson, Mary. Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Merchant, Carolyn. “Dominion over Nature.” The Gender and Science Reader, edited by Mauriel Lederman and Ingrid Bartsch, Routledge, 2001, pp. 68-81.

Health Care for All

By Kassidy Imerman, UNC Charlotte

The current struggle to secure healthcare access for all is a multifaceted issue, one that is particularly high-stakes for women. The justifications for denying such access can be traced back to the founding of the scientific profession and the origination of modern scientific practice and theory. In particular, Francis Bacon’s aggressive and sexually violent metaphors contributed to the construction of a scientific institution that excludes, degrades, and denigrates women. Some might read this interpretation as overdramatic, and claim that Bacon’s metaphors are only metaphors. But are they?

Bacon’s work constructs a large base of the modern scientific field, and his rhetorical alignment of masculinity/science and femininity/nature is not unique. This alignment pervades early scientific writings, and it pervaded early scientific practice as well. And in looking at the current state of the healthcare system, which was professionalized and institutionalized as a result of the scientific “revolution,” it does not seem wholly unlikely that these problematic gendered notions might continue to pervade the system. Access to health services remains a gendered problem in that lack of adequate healthcare is particularly perilous for women, who are often in constant battle to control their own sexual and reproductive health. The justifications for control over women’s bodies are complex and myriad, but easily traced back to the work of Bacon and other early scientific thinkers who posited that nature, that life, needs to be removed from its natural environment and brought into a sterile space and under the control of the (masculine) scientist so that can be properly understood and managed. It is not unlikely, then, that the desire to control women’s health is inherited from this idea. After all, a woman’s body is essential to the support of human life creation, and controlling it means controlling life itself. By reinforcing the man/science vs. woman/nature binary, the patriarchy has a justification for maintaining such strict control over women’s bodies, since, by this logic, men/science possess the rationality, the preferred knowledge, that makes man/science qualified to control woman/nature and therefore life. By this logic, women and nature left to their own devices are dangerous, wanton, threatening. Left to roam free, to grow free, women and nature possess the potential to overpower men. Men, without much life giving or sustaining abilities in and of themselves, cannot survive without nature or women. Conquering nature and conquering women is about acquiring resources for patriarchal and capitalist gain, and squashing any potential threat to the existing system. It is imperialist and exploitative, and doubly detrimental in places where western colonization has made its ugly mark.

Examining contemporary healthcare issues from this lens, tracing back these inequalities to the formation of the modern field of science, is useful in linking systems of oppression to understand how the system of patriarchy functions on the whole, as well as how it promotes its preferred forms of knowledge to justify its exploitation. Perhaps Bacon’s metaphors were intended to be nothing more than metaphors, but they are the metaphors on which an entire system of oppression has been built and sustained.

Relevant links:

How Can We Explain Possession?


Possession was the act of the Devil or one of his demons inhabiting and controlling the actions and thoughts of a human. People who were possessed showed symptoms such as aggressive convulsions and fits, rigid limbs, inhuman strength, previously unattained ability to speak in old languages such as Latin, distain towards religious or holy symbols, blasphemy and certain people would foretell the future. In the case of Sarah Bower (1693), the possessed 14-year-old suffered symptoms such as ‘strange and unaccountable fits’(3), making a ‘most hedious noise’(6) and the ability to have ‘great force and violence, that scarce six men could hold her in’(6), among other symptoms.

Looking back on this phenomenon with a modern viewpoint the concept of possession is an unlikely. One might immediately conclude that the majority of these cases were the result of mental or medical illnesses that contemporary people were unaware of. Others might argue that a number of occurrences  would have been the due to fraudulence. The possessed, unlike witches, often received sympathy, as it was commonly believed that getting possessed was not a choice. As an outcome of this sympathy, people would often receive alms of money, food and other forms of charity. Furthermore, they would be given a voice in the community, as although possession was fairly common at the time, it was still a curiosity that the majority of people were interested in.

Despite the fact that these are both plausible explanations, and undoubtedly both are true, are they the only two explanations for possession in early-modern Europe? Sure, we can attribute the physical symptoms, such as the fits, to illness, but if we take note of people experiencing mental illness today it is not common behaviour to be averted towards religious symbols or unholily blaspheming. So what then, must be the cause of these symptoms?

It is argued by Brian Levak in his book, The Devil Within, that the symptoms could be a result of an unconscious script that was ingrained in the minds of religious people as they would have been exposed to possession through their community or communities near them, pamphlets and sermons. An example of something similar to this that we can understand today would be pseudocyesis, also known as false pregnancy, in which a woman would believe herself to be pregnant so firmly that she might experience all the symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant.

Levak discusses a selection of examples of possessions in a podcast about his book that could support this claim, including ‘epidemic’ (7:25)  like scenarios where whole towns, convents or orphanages would become possessed. Further more he points out that the symptoms of possession vary depending on which form of Christianity the possessed follows (8:30 – 12:30). For example, a catholic would react very strongly towards things that symbolised the body of Christ, however, a protestant would react strongly towards the Bible, the most significant thing in the Protestantism. Secondly, Catholics were more likely to have symptoms that were of a sexual nature due to the fact that sexual sin was considered a major sin in Catholicism. Protestants however, did not distinguish between major and minor sins and so the possessed would commit sins such as dancing or playing cards, and this would be considered equally as unholy. Thirdly, due to the nature of Protestantism, Protestant exorcisms would rely on praying to god to cure the inflicted person. Catholic exorcisms however, were considerably more dramatic, and so they tended to be more successful, as the possessed person would believe the demon to be cast out given the dramatic display. He also suggests the rise in possessions during this time was due to the upheaval in the church, and the common belief that the apocalypse was coming, resulting in higher awareness of the devil (15:50).

Wellcome Images – Scene of a Catholic possession

Going back to the case of Sarah Bower, the symptoms started after she was struck on the back and taken for dead. However, the only symptom she displayed for several months were fits. The source explains how several doctors came to examine the girl (3), and no one could figure out what ailed her. This could explain how the issue developed into what was believed to be a possession. After months of occasional fits and no seemingly obvious explanation as to why these fits were occurring, the girl could have come to some subconscious conclusion that she was possessed. Perhaps it was discussed around her as a possible cause of the fits, and thus she could have been subconsciously fulfilling these expectations, however that is speculation, as the source does not mention any such conversations, but it is not hard to imagine this scenario. If this was the case, then the other symptoms that followed the fits were a result of the girl believing she was possessed, rather than possession itself or the original illness that caused the fits. There are other symptoms in the source that are still a mystery, such as ‘the spirit [throwing] her from one end of the bed to the other’ (6), however, it is probable that some signs recorded are a consequence of exaggeration of the person recording the details.

In conclusion, non-fraudulent cases of possession can not be rationally explained by just illness alone, as many of the symptoms are too specific to religion and contemporary life, and have nothing related to how we understand mental and physical illness today. However, the concept that several symptoms of possession were due to a belief in possession could plausibly explain the symptoms that we do not understand. The example of Sarah Bower’s case shows clear delay in the initial onset of symptoms and the sudden change to symptoms of possession, making it very possible that this was a result of desperately trying to understand and explain the fits Bower was suffering from.

Fleeing the crime: Bestiality in Early Modern Europe.


Bestiality is something that today you are unlikely to hear occurring, in Early Modern Europe however it seems an act as disgusting as that took place far more regularly. People in Early Modern Europe lived far more intimately with animals than we do today as farming was a far more common job and peasants lived in very rural areas, this may account for its regular occurrence. Despite intercourse with an animal, or “buggery” as it was often called, being a crime punishable by death there are still numerous documents from Early Modern Europe that state it taking place, whether it be eye witness accounts or trial reports. In a statute in 1533 it was declared that bestiality was a crime punishable by death and beyond this it was seen as an ‘Abominable sin’ amongst Christians[1], how then did those accused of such a crime react?


It is easy to overlook the reactions of those who stand accuse of bestiality when looking at cases of it occurring, it is easy to assume that anyone who is guilty of the crime would be punished this was not however always the case. Erica Fudge wrote an article for ‘History Today’ entitled “MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND”,  this piece looked at the case of one William Clarke who stood accused of buggery with a mare in 1656 after being witnessed by John Sweedale of Easby [20]. Despite Sweedale claiming to have seen the incident of bestiality Clarke unsurprisingly, with death the punishment if he was to be found guilty, claimed to be innocent. Clarke stated he was checking the mare for an injury he believed it may have suffered. In Sweedale’s account he says that Clarke told him that he would leave England within two days, although he did not and later stood trial. It seems that leaving the area in which the incident took place was a common theme for those accused of bestiality, it would have been better for the accused to disappear rather than face potential death in a trial. In the town of Birdham in the 1670s a young man fled the country following accusations that he, like Clarke, had also committed buggery with a mare[2]. This desire to flee falls in line with the Early Modern European belief that to commit bestiality was to remove oneself from society and God, they were in essence lost[3]. People fleeing after committing the acts could lead to accusations surfacing years after the actual crime is committed. A man named Thomas MacHaffie was first accused in 1647 and then again later in 1655 after he returned from Ireland[4]. It is clear then that the most common reaction of people accused of bestiality in Early Modern Europe was to flee. To be caught committing bestiality meant that the accused would not only face criminal trial but would also face exile from society and from religion, it is unsurprising then that they would choose to leave. It would be very easy for someone in this period to simply disappear, without the aid of modern technology and policing a person could leave a town and never be seen again allowing them to live peacefully elsewhere despite their crimes.

The image below taken from the Welcome library depicts a man fornicating with a goat

L0033076 A man copulating with a goat or deer. Gouache painting by

These accusations would not be made lightly either, a statute passed in 1548 stated that no person who could benefit from the death of the accused were permitted to act as a witness in the case [21]. Those giving witness statements are likely then to be telling the truth as there is nothing for them to gain by doing so. Was fleeing then an admission of guilt? Or simply a reaction brought about by fear of death and exile? Whether guilty or not it is unsurprising that people would run from such a threat and so it was a very common feature of cases of bestiality in Early Modern Europe.

[1] E. Fudge, MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND History Today; Aug 1, 2000; 50, 8; Periodicals Archive Online, Page 21

[2] E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016) Pages 136 and 137

[3] E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016) Page 137

[4] T. Betteridge, Sodomy in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2002) Page 85


E. Fudge, MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND History Today; Aug 1, 2000; 50, 8; Periodicals Archive Online

E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016)

T. Betteridge, Sodomy in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2002)

The Infamous Physician

Early modern society in Europe was composed of many superstitions and beliefs formed around religious and magical views. There was strong faith in the medical society that magical and astrological powers were significant to treating the population. A man who can be seen as ‘striking from his grave’, the physician Simon Foreman (1552-1611) was an example of how the beliefs and principles lived by in the early modern period were very strange and calamitous at the same time.

Simon Foreman was a self-taught physician who believed in the powers of astrology, alchemy and the occult arts; he held the view that the natural world around him could be controlled and manipulated through astrology and cosmic medicine. In the medical community he was considered uneducated and uninformed, looked down upon by his peers and was never given a voice, albeit he formed around him a cult of followers who believed and practised his methods and medicine.

His grounded astrological beliefs derived from the Swiss German Paracelsus who was a radical thinker and again wanted certain understanding of the natural world around him through unorthodox methods. Like Paracelsus he shunned the College of Physicians, who believed in the Galenic model identifying the world to be divided into four separate humor’s composed of air, water, fire and earth; from this stemmed early modern medical belief and practise.  Simon Foreman believed his own lunacy in regards to reading the stars and providing health treatments like no other physician in Elizabethan England.

The current research on Foreman is incomparable to other physicians at the time, his casebooks record more than 8000 patients in which he consulted in great detail, he had data including the exact time, date of birth of patient, address’s, this further backed up by strong descriptions of astrological figures and therapies.  This unprecedented account of information, in many cases, would have legitimised his work on astrology and the occult arts. However up to 60% of his patients were understood to be women,  uncommon in many cases throughout medical history due to women believing their reproductive systems to relate to how astrology works.

As his followers gathered he created a greater understanding of how astrology works and condemned those at the College of Physicians for not allowing his view and title as practitioner. He was arrested and imprisoned many times while he worked at the college due to his unrelenting persistence in learning and attributing the dark arts to medical practise. His intrigue in the dark arts were very problematic, this is due to early modern society having grounded religious beliefs and ideologies that specifically argued and nullified any basis for argument regarding witchcraft or the dark arts as it was axiomatically related to the devil. Self admittedly Foreman quoted that he had created effigies of his patients for the purpose of medical research to consider their ailments and infirmity.  His over reliance on the dark arts made him a notorious character in the medical world.

Those at the College were all university educated, humanist medical practitioners who had all been awarded the title of physician through years of practise, learning and training; the idea that these occult practises could ever be understood and practised in the medical world was unquestionable. They argued that an unlicensed physician should not be prescribing medicine, usually jobs done by a licensed physician and apothecaries. The arguments and convictions put against him by the courts and college were such: ‘asking the name and place of habitation of clients, declaring himself a prophet stating when deaths and plagues will occur. A statement from a client read that he asked personal questions, created an effigy giving his own personal opinion regarding illness hence demanding money for the medication a total of nine shillings and ten pence’ . Forman was making a living by being a self-proclaimed physician. He backed up his methods by arguing his knowledge of medical practises came from God and believed those that did not support this view were committing a sin. In a society that was socially and educationally inept it would be down to those who individuals who believed him or went against his role as an astrological physician. Furthermore he believed that those who understood astrological medical theory must have total compliance from the patient. This can be divided into two arguments, one that he wants to obtain the necessary information to determine his opinion on the disease or ailment, or two to create a sense of trust between himself and the patient insofar that he can convince or alter the perception of the patient’s view of him and his work, this is so he builds up a group of trust worth clients that can spread the news of his medicine and his methods.

As mentioned early as ‘striking from the grave’ Simon Forman was embroiled in a murder case four years after his own death in 1611. His casebooks had recorded evidence of a mistress and recipe’s of love potions and poison’s, which had led to the untimely death of the poet Thomas Overbury, his credibility and status was tarnished by county lawyers from then on.

Simon Foreman was using arguably some of the most technical and fascinating remedies on his clients equally equipped with some of the best medical record keeping at the time, however his uneducated character and ignorance of those in positions above him strayed him upon a path of false hope and lies that he gave to many of his patients. One last interesting aspect to Simon Forman’s life was his prediction about his death which he accurately predicted four days prior.

Bestiality – Its impact on Social and religious order

Sexual deviance is crucial if one wants to understand how early modern Europe defined the boundries between human and animal interactions, and the sort of relationship both species could have with each other. Bestiality is a form of sexual taboo and deviance and does not only refer to having sex with animals, it is also a metaphor to sodomy, homosexuality and a whole host of other sexual deviances that were condemned religiously and socially. In todays society engaging in bestiality would be a huge taboo, and it has never once been deemed standard, like other sexual acts that were once condemned such as masturbation. However these attitudes were not always seen as such a big taboo. For example in the second century A.D, records show a significant amount of human- animal relationships. However as time progressed, so did attitudes and opinions, and by the 16th and 17th century it had become a much more monstrous crime, that could pollute the population. In the 17th century Priests of the Irish penitential of Columban, “if anyone practices masturbation or sins with a beast he shall do penance for 2 years”[1]. However we must note that it was less sinful for a single man than a married man. This barbaric behaviour may have been due to a range of reasons. One religious factor being that a married man, by performing bestiality in effect is committing adultery on his wife. But also during this period we must consider that masturbation was seen as a sin,  so a couple during would only have intercourse for the purpose of pro- creation, and for a man to have enjoyed sex would have been considered sinful. Thus bestiality was condemned as a major sin and was depicted as a religious taboo because in many works and illustrations it was portrayed as supernatural and that these creatures being created were a warning from god, to warn us about our evilness, human’s foolishness and recklessness.

Bestiality was not only a religious taboo, but it was also a social taboo. Earlier we mentioned that bestiality, did not only refer to having sex with animals but it also referred to homosexuality. However as much as homosexuality was seen as sinful and disgusting, bestiality on the other hand was seen as a particular threat to the natural order and the natural hierarchy, “Bestiality broke the law of the land, they also broke the law of god and the natural order”[2]. One reason why bestiality broke the law of the natural order is because many people thought that humans and animals could reproduce with each other. One could not blame people for thinking in such a manner, as animals could be cross breed with other animals, “a mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse”[3], thus this led to tales and beliefs of human and animal interactions, “Aelian recorded the strange union of a human groom and a mare that produced a foal”[4]. A strange prodigy like a foal could have threatened the natural order because such creatures were not intended to be created, and these creatures where extremely unfamiliar and alien to humans. This emphasised that in the early modern period, what humans could not comprehend was perceived as terrifying and as a threat to the unknown world. But these creatures also highlighted the anxieties of the natural world that were particularly prevalent during the early modern period.

L0033076 A man copulating with a goat or deer. Gouache painting by
wellcome Library London, A man copulating with a goat or a deer. Iconographic collection.

The reformation and the scientific revolution, which occurred during the 16th and 17th century, (which coincidently is when attitudes towards bestiality began to shift and it as a result was looked upon as a more heinous crime) Began to inspect the human status and what differentiated a human from an animal. One of the main differences apart from the obvious physical features such as, standing on two legs, communicating in a complex manner, etc. A Human had a conscience, but during the early modern period it was still unknown as to how the conscience operated. Thus this embodies the fact that if animals and humans crossbreed, a monstrous creature with no conscience or self-awareness would be created thus undermining the natural and social order, which links back to bestiality being a social taboo, because wanting to have sex with a creature that has no conscience is extremely dangerous and threatening to the natural order.

Bestiality also evoked an emotional response among people that being, disgust, disbelief, ridicule and it had a powerful cultural resonance. Tales of bestiality were especially evident in the bible, “and you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean” [5] and literary texts. Bestiality was closely linked to profanity and ungodly like behaviours such as prostitution, adultery, drunkenness, sodomy, all of these disobedient acts threatened the social order. This is because during the early modern period there were very clear set rules on what was acceptable in society. For example men needed to be macho but also at the same time graceful, thus to apprehend such qualities men were expected to spend time with women to learn theses characteristics as well as spend time with other men. Thus bestiality could potentially cause social and natural in balances and undermine the human race through species pollution. And these species could potentially undermine the human race through their erratic behaviour threatening social order and civilization.

[1] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric Fudge

[2] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric fudge

[3] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric fudge

[4] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric Fudge

[5] Bible, Leviticus 18:23