© 2017

Infertility in Early Modern England

Part of the Early Modern History: Society and Culture book series (EMH)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xv
  2. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 1-12
  3. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 13-48
  4. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 49-84
  5. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 85-119
  6. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 121-162
  7. Daphna Oren-Magidor
    Pages 163-166
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 167-196

About this book


This book explores the experiences of people who struggled with fertility problems in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. Motherhood was central to early modern women’s identity and was even seen as their path to salvation. To a lesser extent, fatherhood played an important role in constructing proper masculinity. When childbearing failed this was seen not only as a medical problem but as a personal emotional crisis. Infertility in Early Modern England highlights the experiences of early modern infertile couples: their desire for children, the social stigmas they faced, and the ways that social structures and religious beliefs gave meaning to infertility. It also describes the methods of treating fertility problems, from home-remedies to water cures. Offering a multi-faceted view, the book demonstrates the centrality of religion to every aspect of early modern infertility, from understanding to treatment. It also highlights the ways in which infertility unsettled the social order by placing into question the gendered categories of femininity and masculinity.


reproduction sexuality gender family history medicine

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Buber Society of FellowsHebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

About the authors

Daphna Oren-Magidor is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, where she is working on the histories of gender, sexuality, medicine and the family in Early Modern England.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Infertility in Early Modern England
  • Authors Daphna Oren-Magidor
  • Series Title Early Modern History: Society and Culture
  • Series Abbreviated Title Early Modern History: Society and Culture
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, London
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-137-47667-8
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-349-69311-5
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-137-47668-5
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XV, 196
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 5 illustrations in colour
  • Topics History of Early Modern Europe
    Social History
    Gender and Sexuality
    History of Britain and Ireland
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“Oren-Magidor’s book offers fascinating insights into the experiences of couples who yearned to have children. … This is an important social and cultural history of infertility. It shows how the religious ideas about the causes of infertility had negative consequences for attitudes towards childless men and women. The argument that religious and medical ideas acted in tandem is convincing … .” (Elizabeth Foyster, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 93 (1), 2019)

“Infertility in Early Modern England explores the ways in which religion, medicine and gender interacted to define the experiences of childlessness for both men and women and holds that the presence of widespread negative attitudes surrounding infertility reflected contemporary fears of an upended social order. … Infertility in Early Modern England convincingly establishes that infertility deserves more thoughtful treatment than it currently receives from scholars, and this book is an important step in that direction.” (Erin Johnson, Origins,, April 17, 2019)

“Oren-Magidor’s most important contribution may be that infertility upset the social order as much as sexual transgression or illegitimacy. … This study also illuminates the extent to which medicine and religion were intertwined in early modern society. … Oren-Magidor has produced a finely crafted study that provides a much needed re-centering of infertility and the struggles men and women confronted in order to have children in discussions of early modern reproductive practices.” (Jennifer F. Kosmin, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 73 (3), July, 2018)

“This book effectively demonstrates the duality of medical and religious ways of understanding and articulating infertility … Her work contributes to a growing body of literature that seeks to situate the social history of medicine within a social, cultural, and emotional narrative. … In offering a new perspective on infertility in early modern England, this book contributes to the rapidly expanding body of scholarship on (in)fertility, conception, and reproduction across early modern Europe.” (Sarah Fox, H-Histsex, H-Net Reviews, March 2018)

“Oren-Magidor has collected information from a wide range of sources which together provide a well-balanced picture of the impact of infertility in early modern society. … Infertility in Early Modern England is engaging and well written; it contains much interesting and useful detail and it will provide worthwhile reading for all students of early modern social history.” (Chris Galley, Local Population Studies, Issue 100, 2018)