Georgian Style

I’ve decided to explore the Georgian era next as it’s another favourite of mine. Generally, we know it well thanks to the likes of Poldark and of course, Jane Austen and I’m sure many of us have imagined dancing with our very own Mr Darcy at some point.

This era in Britain coincided, unsurprisingly, with the reigns of the four King George’s and anyone who has watched the Horrible Histories song will know who I mean. Stretching from 1714 to 1837, this era witnessed the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), developments in science and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Alongside this, this time period wins the award for the most flouncy.

A large Georgian family – it’s like a whole community under one roof !!

Flowing Grecian gowns and high society balls, the Georgian era could be said to have been the most fashionable as high society ladies mingled with dandies, parading parasols, flirting with highly decorated fans and lace galore. Social status played an enormous role and to climb the ladder was a primary aim for much of the population. Idealised, romanticized, yes this era knew how to dress !!

So, where did pregnancy and childbirth sit in this beautiful world? How would Elizabeth Bennett or Demelza Poldark really have dealt with pregnancy and childbirth? And what kind of an upbringing could their children look forward to?

New Ways of Thinking

The Georgian era is one in which things begin to change for women. The role of religion still held strong, particularly in rural areas, but it was beginning to loosen with the rise of scientific development. The concept of Eve’s original sin had previously dominated the experience of childbirth. For generations the Church had taught that women were punished with increased pain in childbirth after Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. As a result, women should suffer their labour pains without relief or intervention.

Happily for Caroline however, this idea was being overtaken in her day, as we shall see. Religion no longer dictated how childbirth should be managed and instead, fashion began to influence how and where a couple chose to have their baby. 

The image of women changed as well within this more sophisticated society. With the fashion for long, goddess-like, empire-line dresses came the concept that the ideal woman should be feminine, delicate and full of tender emotions. Nothing more attractive to a posh Georgian gent than a dainty little thing prone to tears and fainting fits. And because females are so delicate, help is on the way in an attempt to make childbirth slightly more bearable for the poor creatures. Alongside this, the way pregnancy is discussed also changes with new terms arising to describe maternal issues. Instead of ‘breeding’, women are now ‘in the family way’. The outdated term ‘lying-in’ is now little heard, with women entering ‘confinement’ instead as they wait for labour – all far more demure.

In the midst of this, I’ll introduce our Georgian lady Caroline who can better guide us through the perils of Georgian pregnancy and child rearing. Caroline is a typical aristocrat, high in society and known throughout fashionable circles in London and Bath. She prides herself on keeping up with the latest trends and fashions and so she’s very reminiscent of our modern day celebrities.

Look at these happy Georgians for example. Imagine spending the day writing, sewing and dancing … quite pleasant I’m sure.

Recently married, Caroline and her husband look forward to embarking on their Georgian parenting journey and most likely will start trying to conceive immediately. As with Edith in the Medieval era, Caroline believes that her purpose in life is to produce children and she will likely have many, many children through her lifetime due to a high infant mortality rate. According to Elizabeth Foyster in her article ‘The Georgian Guide To Perfect Parenting’, it’s estimated that one in four infants died before reaching their first birthday. To ensure that at least some make it to adulthood, Caroline will probably have ten or more children during her lifetime.

While contraception is still very much frowned upon for religious reasons, many people and doctors now accept that it is not ideal for a woman to be nearly continuously pregnant and so various methods of contraception were used in order to space out pregnancies. Most common was probably the lactational amenorrhea method or as we might say, using breastfeeding as a way to delay periods and therefore fertility. Withdrawal before the man ejaculated was also fairly common and yes, condoms were also beginning to appear on the market although they were often made from sheep gut tied at the base with a ribbon (I’ll leave you to Google for images !!). These were mostly bought for use with prostitutes however given the number of venereal diseases in Georgian Britain but it does demonstrate the beginnings of mass produced condoms as we know them today … although thankfully they’re not made of sheep guts anymore obviously.

Caroline however has no need of such things while trying to conceive and so she seeks the latest guidance in this area. And who does she go to for advice? The midwife perhaps, or an older, experienced family member? No !! Caroline wants to keep up with the latest fashion and so she attends an accoucheur.

The Rise of the Male Midwife

Yes the accoucheur (or male midwife) first appeared around 1700 and where previous generations had maintained a strict ‘women only’ policy in the world of maternity, the Georgians felt that men were better qualified in this area with some practitioners focusing only on pregnancy and childbirth. And while the rewards of helping women to deliver their babies was clearly the primary goal of these men, there was also the chance to make a little money out of it too !!

Accouchers were not immediately welcomed. As Elizabeth Foyster describes, many midwives were suspicious of these men who made a career from contact with women when they were at their most vulnerable. In 1799, one pamphleteer decried the immorality in giving “the enemy direct access to the very citadel of female virtue”. Elite physicians also saw male midwifery as an ungentlemanly profession with many seeking any opportunity to discredit it.

According to Elena Greene in her article ‘An Interesting Condition, Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Regency Era’, the fashionable accoucheur was involved in “all aspects of childbearing from conception onwards. He was formally educated, gentlemanly and discreet, all qualities valued by the aristocrats he served.” The rise in scientific knowledge coupled with this man’s education encouraged the aristocracy to place a faith in him which many midwives could not compete with and so naturally Caroline would seek the services of such a man, as her social peers do. Only the best for Caroline, especially if it will help to demonstrate how trendy she is.

And what advice will this gentleman offer to help her conceive? Well obviously she will do what every upper class girl does … enjoy a nice trip to the seaside.

The idea was to “restore natural harmony to the woman’s constitution” as Elena Greene discusses. A change of scenery, taking the waters at a fashionable bath house and travel were often prescribed in an attempt to harmonise the lady in question. And once Caroline suspects that she is pregnant, it’s straight back to the accoucheur for a pregnancy test to confirm it. Diane H. Morris, in her blog ‘A Regency Labour: Are You Prepared to Take A Pain?‘, explains that the phrase ‘to take a pain’ referred to a vaginal examination, carefully performed by most accoucheurs while the woman was carefully positioned to protect her modesty.

One very happy mum-to-be ‘taking the pain’ with a vaginal examination

‘In the Family Way’

Once pregnant, Caroline would be advised to make certain lifestyle changes just as we might do today. We would definitely recognise the change in diet and activity. From now on she will follow the advice of her accoucheur and any other medical professionals closely and surprisingly, the guidance she receives isn’t too far removed from what we are told today.

In her book ‘In The Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860‘, Judith Schneid Lewis explains that ” human constitutions were diagnosed on a continuum from weakness to plethora; good health was the happy medium.” Pregnant women were considered to be suffering from the latter or ‘fullness’ and therefore a system of weakening was required (as if being pregnant wasn’t weakening enough !!). Weakening could be achieved through diet and the provision of ‘cooling’ foods such as fruit and vegetables. ‘Heating’ foods like meat, eggs and spices were largely discarded, as were beverages such as coffee, tea and alcohol. Doesn’t this sound familiar !? Thank heavens we’re not quite so strict today though – Lady Morley complained in 1810 that she was “now living like a horse on grass food and water”. 

As well as nourishing the baby, being seen to be on a diet also demonstrates Caroline’s devotion to her task. Remember that this is a society which places great importance on image and so Caroline will want people to see how dedicated she is to becoming the perfect mum. And if she were to suffer with morning sickness, that might also help her cause, showing the world what a martyr she is to her predicament. I don’t fancy the remedy though – Elena Greene describes Mrs Villiers concoction of cayenne pepper and laudanum. Needless to say that I am not prepared to try this for the purposes of research !!

You might expect Caroline to sit, rest and stay indoors during this exciting period too. We all know how exhausting pregnancy can be, especially in those early months. Many Georgian women seem to have slowed down during pregnancy with some taking it perhaps a little too far. Lady Jersey was criticised in 1807 for refusing to move from her couch, “nor will she risk the exertion of holding a glass up to her mouth, so that all this is done for her” commented Lady Harrowby.

For most, gentle walking was considered sufficient exercise although there are numerous accounts of ladies continuing to ride whilst pregnant. Caroline cannot afford not to be seen out and about during her pregnancy and there was nothing to prevent a lady from attending social events at this time. Continuing an active social life was common – Lady Churchill attended numerous parties during the ninth month of her third pregnancy in 1805. How else could a lady keep up with all the gossip !? 

Travelling was also popular at this time, again to enjoy the seaside or perhaps to sample the mineral waters at a spa town such as Bath. The key was not to over-exert the pregnant mother and to keep her constitution at a happy medium.

Breastfeeding gown courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre

As for dress, you’d be forgiven for thinking that those beautiful gowns allowed plenty of room to grow however the truth is that underneath, as with most time periods, there was plenty of corsetry going on to ensure the desired female figure. With few options in the way of maternity clothing, a Georgian lady would generally have to ‘make do and mend’ and so letting clothes out at the seams would have allowed her current wardrobe to be adapted for pregnancy. In this era, some gowns were also equipped with bibs at the bust line to make breastfeeding possible so I guess the Georgians were beginning to get some things right !! 

And so with all of this wonderful guidance and helpful modifications, Caroline can sail through her pregnancy and prepare herself for confinement. I’m sure she would welcome any constructive comments from friends and family too, as we all do, as well as some not so useful tidbits. Lady Morley once wrote that Lady Holland, “gave a little specimen of her kind-hearted considerate nature when we females were in the Drawing Room after dinner. Some one asked her when I was to be confined, which turned the conversation on the subject, & she went on I suppose for half an hour describing all the horrors, miseries, terrors, etc. which always assailed her on such occasions – how much worse the whole business was than any one could imagine, & some more of the same consolatory hint – I am not very apt to have fancies. But it really was enough to make any one feel not very agreeably –poor Lady Harriet (Granville) too is in the same predicament and it must have been equally pleasant to her.” Aahh, we’ve all been there.

The Fashionable Birth

How well do you remember packing your hospital bag? On my first pregnancy I made a huge effort, repacking it three times and following a long list amalgamated from several magazine articles. For my second I threw things at the bag and left poor hubby to bring along anything I’d forgotten afterwards. Please bear in mind that I was massive at that point and couldn’t be bothered !!

For Caroline of course though, it’s just not that simple. 

First and foremost, she has to employ all the professionals she will need for the birth including her trusted accoucheur who will deliver the baby and a monthly nurse who will take care of her afterwards. If she is going to use a wet nurse, she will also have to engage her a few months before the birth. 

Caroline also has to think about where to give birth. Generally, home births remained the most common with hospital births only really used for complicated deliveries and so one of Caroline’s many country houses might suit. It would certainly accommodate her birthing team and her visitors but it wouldn’t generate much interest so instead, being so very trendy, she and her husband move into their London residence where they can be seen and where news will spread quickly.

Her townhouse will also need a little modification. Aristocratic ladies don’t simply retire to their beds to give birth. No, a special suite of birthing chambers has to be created so that there’s plenty of room for everyone. The outer room is used by visitors and well-wishers. Some male guests might even enter this room, bringing messages of congratulations and love for the new mum and her baby. 

And the inner chamber? That of course is reserved for the birthing party. The accoucheur with his equipment, the monthly nurse, possibly Caroline’s husband and the ‘gossips’ – a group of female relatives and friends who would support the laboring mother. Together they would sit and drink caudle, chat and relax as Caroline waits for her labour pains to begin. 

Confinement was as prevalent at the start of the Georgian era as it had been in the Medieval, beginning a few weeks before the lady was due to give birth. An age long tradition, the aim was to keep the mother-to-be in an environment which reflected the womb – dark and warm. This also made the transition to the outside world easier for baby (in theory). All windows would be boarded up to keep fresh, disease ridden air out along with sunlight which might damage the eyes of the mother or the new born infant. 

Think this sounds nice? Reformist Doctor Charles White (1728-1813) once described these conditions. A large fire would be lit and “by the heat of the chamber, amid the breath of so many people, the whole air is rendered foul, and unfit for respiration.” He continues, explaining of the mother that “As soon as she is delivered, if she is a person in affluent circumstances, she is covered up so close in the bed with additional cloaths, the curtains are drawn around the bed, and pinned together, every crevice in the windows and door are stopped closed, not excepting the key hole, the windows are guarded not only with shutters and curtains, but even with blankets, the more effectually to exclude the fresh air, and the good woman is not suffered to put her arm, or even her nose out of bed, for fear of catching cold.”

Hhhmmm, stuffy then, to say the least !! However, as with many things in the Georgian era, those wonderful men of science began to think outside of the box and the Medieval concept of confinement began to change. Instead, doctors considered that sauna-like conditions might be responsible for spreading diseases such as puerpural fever and instead they began to recommend fresh air and light in the birthing chambers. In 1783, Doctor White recommended that the “‘room be brushed every day, and the carpets taken out to be cleaned and aired … The patient is to be often supplied with clean linen, and clean well-aired sheets are to be laid upon the bed … The windows are to be opened … No board or other contrivance to block up the chimney, the curtains not to be drawn …” And so, being a member of the upper class, Caroline’s lying-in chambers are decorated accordingly. As an additional benefit, this calming, stress-free environment might also have kept Caroline’s blood pressure low, thereby helping to ward off preeclampsia. 

So, between the cost of travel to London, rearranging the rooms, hiring professionals and hosting everybody, you can see how an aristocratic Georgian birth was quite a costly affair. Imagine the difficulties financially if baby decides to come early or too late. In her research, Judith Schneider Lewis found accounts of women giving birth up to four months after their suspected due date. I thought my two weeks overdue was enough but imagine paying to accommodate all of your relatives and midwifery staff during that waiting time too – as if late pregnancy wasn’t painful enough !!

Happily prepared and settled into her suite however, Caroline’s labour pains begin and the accoucheur is summoned. During the first stage of labour, just as today, she is encouraged to continue with normal activities, supported of course by her female entourage. The Georgians recognized that going to bed too early is not beneficial for progressing birth and according to the influential Dr. Thomas Denman, it “will always be found more comfortable and useful to leave the patient to her own choice in these matters and her inclination will be her best guide”.

And just like we do today, Caroline would also be encouraged to eat a little too. Suggested foods would be similar to that of her pregnancy diet including fruits, bread and barley-water with nothing too rich and no stimulating beverages. The problem with this however is that this diet often meant women were anaemic which could in turn lead to post-partum haemorrhaging and complications after delivery.

When it is time for Caroline to give birth, a number of positions will be encouraged including kneeling, standing up and sitting in another woman’s lap. Birth chairs were sometimes used but by the late Georgian period, aristocratic ladies like Caroline were more likely to give birth on a specially constructed bed which allowed the woman to adopt a position lying on her left hand side with her back towards the edge of the bed, knees bent and drawn up towards her stomach. Denman considered this position to be “by far the most convenient as well as decent”, likely as it denied eye contact between the accoucheur and his patient.

Not the position I would hope for !!

The accoucheur would continue to allow the birth to take place as naturally as possible from here on in including the delivery of the placenta. Physicians acknowledged the views of several generations of midwives – that birth generally went better for both mother and child with as little medical intervention as possible. For Caroline however, I’m sorry to say that things are not going well and her labour is not progressing as it should. 

In this situation, kindly Dr. Denman believed that the best thing the accoucheur could do was to keep the mother cheerful and soothe her. Some doctors would resort to bloodletting while lower class women might sip a caudle. Anesthesia was not an option either as it was not used before 1847 and so what hope is there for Caroline?

During the early Georgian period, a surgeon would be called in extreme circumstances to deliver the baby after days of labour and if the child was believed to be dead. Using a hook called a ‘crotchet’, the surgeon would perform a craniotomy to extract the poor infant in the hope of saving the mother. Similarly, as in previous eras, a Caesarian could be performed to save the child but this procedure was only performed if the mother had already passed away. Thankfully for Caroline, her condition is not this severe and her baby is simply struggling to come out. Breech babies and those in awkward positions  can often be turned by an experienced midwife or accoucheur but for those in Caroline’s situation, a new medical invention can be deployed to save both her and her baby … the forceps. 

The Latest Technology in Childbirth

When I began researching the history of the forceps for this article, I had no idea of their secretive origins and was amazed to discover the true origins of this ferocious looking gadget. 

It begins with a family named the Chamberlens who settled in England in the late Tudor era and who went on to produce numerous generations of male midwives, one of whom served Queen Anne (wife of James I) in the delivery of her baby in the 1600s. This man, Peter the Elder, is thought to have designed the first forceps. However, it seems that Peter was not happy to share his invention with other physicians at the time and it seems that he and his brother went to extreme lengths to hide their invention from the world.

Arriving at one delivery, the forceps were hidden in a large, engraved box to give the impression that some enormous machine was hidden inside. The poor laboring woman was then blindfolded to hide the contraption … just what you want when you’re in labour !! In 1813, these forceps were found beneath a trap door in the family home, hidden by Peter’s wife after his death.

The Chamberlen’s box of forceps were hidden away until 1813.

The family kept the secret for over 100 years despite attempts to sell the instrument to the French government which were declined. It was not until Hugh the Younger (1664-1728) died with no male heir that the design was released. They came into use in the 1730s after a little development from a man named William Smellie (1697-1763) who was possibly one of the most influential accoucheurs of the Georgian era.

And while this invention did undeniably save the lives of many women and babies, they were of course also viewed with a great deal of scepticism from some. Midwife Sarah Stone, author of ‘Complete Practice of Midwifery’ (1737) argued that they spread infection while some physicians believed that they were overused and did more harm than good. This included Dr. Denman who was eventually responsible for ‘Denman’s Law’. This guideline argued that forceps were not to be used unless contractions had entirely ceased for six hours and the fetus was low in the pelvis. 

Of course not all medical intervention was useful. One obstetrician, Dr. Hugh Chamberlain (1630-1700) attended a woman who was “taken ill of a paine in her right side under her short ribb together with a great difficulty of breathing having but 14 weeks to go with child.” Her treatment was “in the space of nine days four vomits, four purges, and caused her to be bled three times to the quantity of eight ounces each time, then gave her something to raise a spitting after which swellings and Ulcers in her mouth followed; about 3 or 4 days after her taking this, she miscarryed, and she continued languishing until she dyed.” For this Dr. Chamberlain was found ‘guilty of mal praxis’ and was fined “Ten pounds of lawfull money of England”.

‘A Lovely Full-Sized Infant, Fresh as the Morning Dew’

In 1802 a German physician named Christian Struve wrote, “Scarcely a minute has elapsed when, to her utmost astonishment and extacy (sic), [the new mother perceives that delivery is accomplished. She beholds in her lap a lovely full-sized infant, fresh as the morning dew.”

She may not be feeling quite so heavenly at this point, but having delivered her child, Caroline is now able to rest in her bed and rely upon her female helpers to bring her all she needs. It’s likely that Caroline would now stay here for a number of weeks, slowly getting out of bed when she’s ready and enjoying short walks which increase in distance each day. 

Her diet would also be reintroduced slowly, initially with simple broth and gruel. I ate a plate of fish and chips shortly after havnig Cora and it appears that some Georgian women preferred my way of thinking. Lord Morley once stated that an hour after giving birth, his wife was “‘quite stout and well, & going to eat some chicken.” A woman I can relate to !!

Of course baby needs feeding too and earlier in this era, a wet nurse would most likely have be hired to feed the baby her own milk, leaving Caroline free to continue socialising and to fall pregnant again. Once again though, later in this time period ideas were changing for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, medical opinion now suggested that breastfeeding was beneficial for the child. Alongside this, in true Georgian style, image also played a role here. Remember the view of the dainty little creature that Georgian men couldn’t resist? To support the image, many upper class women desired to be seen as the ideal mother – doting, maternal and loving. Breastfeeding helped to demonstrate the lady’s commitment to child-rearing along with a sense of duty, affection or both. This was not always in everyone’s best interests however. The Duchess of Devonshire breastfed her daughter Georgiana for over a year in defiance of family pressure to wean because of their “impatience for me having a son and their fancying I shan’t so soon if I suckle.”

And among all of this it might be easy to overlook the Georgian mum’s mental health after childbirth. While postpartum depression was of course not a recognised condition in the Georgian era, that’s not to say that it did not exist. Confinement in a dark, stuffy room would likely make anyone feel depressed, let alone a new mum. Georgian mothers like Caroline were also expected to care for and educate their children just as we are today and while Caroline mostly depends on her servants for day to day chores, I’m sure we can all understand the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that comes with this new level of responsilbility. And so far Caroline only has one child … imagine having ten to oversee.

There were also feelings of disappointment to contend with surrounding the gender of the child. As bonkers as this may sound today, don’t forget the need to produce a male heir within great families – someone to inherit the estate and carry the family name. For some mums, having eight sons might be lovely but a tad upsetting when what you really want is a daughter for a companion. 

Husbands could be just as much hard work as the children too. Elena Greene describes the tale of poor Lady Verulam whose husband, the day after she gave birth to their ninth child, went shooting with his friends, dined downstairs and spent the evening out before complaining that she was irritable when he got home !! On the other hand, some husbands actually rewarded their wives. In 1790 the Duke of Devonshire deposited £13,000 into his wife’s debt-ridden account after the birth of their son while in 1821, Lord Londonderry gave his wife a set of pearls worth £10,000 when their son was born. Take note hubby of mine !!

Shortly after the birth and once fully recovered, Caroline would attend church for a ceremony known as the “Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth”. During this ‘churching’, the lady could give thanks to God for her safe passage through childbirth and for her new baby. This service marked the end of a woman’s confinement. A few weeks later would be the child’s christening which was a much more elaborate event. One element of this service was the naming of godparents which was vitally important for an upper class family. Securing the right people with the right titles demonstrated the family’s status and connections of course.

‘The Christening’ by Francis Wheatley

The service would be followed by a lavish dinner party back at the family’s house. For Caroline, this means more spending and rightly so as she and her husband celebrate their new addition to the family (and show off their status once again). With no money spared in planning the occassion though, I have to wonder if baby number ten would be given the same treatment !!

And now that the celebration is over, the real work begins. The babymoon is over and Caroline faces the rollercoaster ride that we all know as parenting …

Georgian Parenting … With Style !! 

As mentioned, infant mortality rates in the Georgian era were not good. Caroline’s main goal for her baby’s first year or two is to keep baby alive, (isn’t it always !?) except that she lives in a world with no immunisations,  plenty of nasty dieases and infections andvery little understanding of baby-proofing. Caroline, like many Georgian mums, would likely keep detailed notes of her baby’s every ache, pain and change in temperature in an attempt to foresee and prevent any illness. 

And there seems to have been genuine affection between a mother and her children, partially thanks to new ideas on child-rearing. You might think that parenting in this era was much the same as previous time periods – harsh discipline and schooling. Parents had generally believed that children were born innately evil and that it was their role to sort this out by whatever means necessary. Children were usually seen as useless, needy little lumps too, until they reached an age when they could work and become useful to the family. Then they became miniature adults.

Caroline however would be quite the opposite. For various reasons, the Georgian era saw a change in views towards children, mostly thanks to Enlightenment thinkers of the time. Individuals such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau now saw children as “white paper, or wax, to be moulded and fashioned as one pleases” and therefore the latest idea was that a child’s upbringing solely influenced adult behaviour. Locke in particular believed in the influence of nuture, declaring that within “all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education”. With most children educated at home, the pressure was therefore on Caroline to raise her infant carefully so as to meet the social ideal.

The ideal Georgian children completely with unsupervised bow and arrow fun

Thankully, Caroline has some help in this department. As a gentile, delicate, Georgian lady, she naturally possesses every female quality required to form the ideal mother, or so Georgian society believes. Her patience, forbearance and inclination towards self-sacrifice will allow her to raise her child easily and because of this, society began to view motherhood as a full-time social responsibility. I will leave you to decide whether this is still the case in 2019 or not.

And Caroline will also work hard to demonstrate these positive behaviours to her offspring too as parents were beginning to understand that children copy the behaviour of those around them. Caroline would likely have read the new theories on remaining calm as a parent, as suggested by Quaker William Thompson. He wrote that “Some parents are greatly to blame, who when their children have committed a fault, presently fall into a passion … Like commonly begets its like, passion in parents, is apt either to generate the same in their children; or else to render them dumpish and melancholick.”

Rewarding good conduct supported this, along with teaching children how to exercise reason to achieve self-control, something I am still struggling to achieve with my Wilf !! 

And what better way to demonstrate love to your children than showering them with gifts? Yes during the Georgian era the concept of childhood arose as a special time in a human’s life, one which should be filled with fun, games and play. With the introduction of industrialisation, childhood also became commercialised with new toys such as dolls, rattles and toy soldiers being produced and marketed accordingly. Books written solely for children, something that earlier generations would have laughed at, became the latest trend with John Newbury paving the way in this field. His bestselling A Little Pretty Pocket Book, written in 1744, came with a ‘free’ gift – either a ball for boys or a pincushion for girls. Understanding a parent’s desire to educate as well as entertain, his title page declared his book to be not only for amusement but also for instruction.

Little Pretty Pocket Book by John Newbury
Courtesy of the British Library

Of course some of these affections might not always have been genuine with some aristocratic Georgian women putting on a strong show of affection to enhance their own image. I’m sure there are a few Jane Austen characters who might fit into this catagory. For the majority however, the deep love between a mother and her children seems to have lasted well into adulthood. Family records from this era demonstrate that parenting was a life long commitment and that Caroline would be expected to offer her children emotional and economic support well after their formative years. There is plenty of evidence for parents helping in times of financial crisis and if their child’s marriage broke down. Grandparents seem to have helped in raising their grandchildren too with an expectation that the younger generations would support them in their old age. Despite all of the work and the cost involved, it does seem that Georgian parents genuinely did form strong, loving relationships with their children.


And so there we have it. I guess it could be argued that the Georgian period was no better or worse than the medieval in terms of childbirth. Doubtless there were plenty of advances including forceps, changes in confinement and raising children but ultimately, the odds or survival remained the same in both mothers and babies. And no amount of money could spare Caroline from the pains and dangers of childbirth. 

What the Georgians did achieve however was a reimagining of pregnancy and childbirth, making the subject much more public than ever before and one which was more open to men as much as women. And I suppose you could say that in doing so, the Georgians also brought their own flare for style, pomp and show to the world of maternity too … whether we would welcome it in our day or not !!

A happy result for all … this time around.


Diane H. Morris

Elena Greene

Elizabeth Foyster

Judith Schneid Lewis

‘In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860’