©Wellcome Library, London

Woman on a birthing stool

This is an illustration from the first printed textbook for midwives, written by a German physician, Eucharius Rösslin (d. 1526), at the request of Catharina, Duchess of Brunswick, and published in 1513. The text was largely compiled from the writings of Soranus although Rösslin added his own woodcuts. The book went through at least 40 editions and, in 1540, was translated into English as The byrthe of mankynde. It maintained its place as a textbook of midwifery until the 18th century. In fact, Rösslin had scant regard for midwives, and summarised what he thought of their knowledge in just one verse:

I'm talking about the midwives all Whose heads are empty as a hall And through their dreadful negligence Cause babies' deaths devoid of sense'.

Source: Eucharius Rösslin. Der swangern frawen und hebammen roszgarten. H Steiner, Augsburg 1528.