The woman who gave birth to a cat (really!!) has to be one of my favorite stories from the archives.
Poor Agnes Bowker--a young woman who did not want to admit what had happened to her child--claimed in 1569 that a monster (actually an ordinary feline) had emerged from her womb.
None of the six women present at the birth could say for sure what had happened. Although a silly tale, the case was investigated thoroughly, as the Tudor government had a vested interest in maintaining order. And widespread gossiping about the supernatural was decidedly disorderly.
As I've mentioned before,such cases ("true accounts," "strange newes"; "wonderful happenings") have done much to inspire my own writing.
But what's the truth of them?
We can't completely know.
We do know such stories shed light on how early modern villagers and townspeople understood the world around them, often revealing thinly disguised wrongs, moral tales, and political allegories.
Some simply targeted people different from them, such as the "wonderful old woman" who had "a pair of horns growing upon her head."
_Others disguised everyday criminal events. The "Strange and Wonderful News from Kensington" (1674), for example tells of a maid "carryed away by an evil spirit" convinced to steal heartily from her master. (The Devil made her do it, anyone?)
Whether anyone actually believed this servant is another question altogether.
But of course, booksellers were looking to make a penny. And that tradition has kept many a tabloid in business.
Some classics are apparently worth keeping.
Just as the seventeenth-century bookseller once warned that a "True and Wonderful serpent (or dragon)" had been lately discovered in Horsam,the National Enquirer duly informs us that the Loch Ness Monster has been found by GoogleEarth!
Compare the 17th century discovery of a murderous serpent with GoogleEarth locating the Loch Ness monster!
_Are we really so different today? We may feel more rational, less credulous--but are we really more "truthful?" Have we just found new, re-imagined, more scientific ways to explain the inexplicable? What do you think?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.