Abortion in the Early Middle Ages, c.500-900

September 2015
356 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Library eBook
York Medieval Press
BISAC HIS037010, REL067000, PHI022000

Abortion in the Early Middle Ages, c.500-900

Zubin Mistry

First full-length study of attitudes to abortion in the early medieval west.
When a Spanish monk struggled to find the right words to convey his unjust expulsion from a monastery in a desperate petition to a sixth-century king, he likened himself to an aborted fetus. Centuries later, a ninth-century queen found herself accused of abortion in an altogether more fleshly sense. Abortion haunts the written record across the early middle ages. Yet, the centuries after the fall of Rome remain very much the "dark ages" in the broader history of abortion.
This book, the first to treat the subject in this period, tells the story of how individuals and communities, ecclesiastical and secular authorities, construed abortion as a social and moral problem across a number of post-Roman societies, including Visigothic Spain, Merovingian Gaul, early Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England and the Carolingian empire. It argues early medieval authors and readers actively deliberated on abortion and a cluster of related questions, and that church tradition on abortion was an evolving practice. It sheds light on the neglected variety of responses to abortion generated by different social and intellectual practices, including church discipline, dispute settlement and strategies of political legitimation, and brings the history of abortion into conversation with key questions about gender, sexuality, Christianization, penance and law. Ranging across abortion miracles in hagiography, polemical letters in which churchmen likened rivals to fetuses flung from the womb of the church and uncomfortable imaginings of resurrected fetuses in theological speculation, this volume also illuminates the complex cultural significance of abortion in early medieval societies.

Zubin Mistry is Lecturer in Early Medieval European History, University of Edinburgh.

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Table of Contents

From Hope of Children to Object of God's Care: Abortion in Classical and Late Antique Society
The Word of God: Abortion and Christian Communities in sixth-century Gaul
Church and State: Politicizing Abortion in Visigothic Spain
Medicine for Sin: Reading Abortion in Early Medieval Penitentials
Tradition in Practice: Handling Abortion under the Carolingians
Legislative Energies: Disputing Abortion in Law-Codes
Interior Wound: The Rumour of Abortion in the Divorce of Lothar II and Theutberga
Unnatural Symbol: Imagining Abortivi in the Early Middle Ages


Makes a valuable contribution to the field that offers some important correctives....[Mistry's] study should be warmly welcomed by all interested in the medieval European history of abortion. EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE

A detailed and even-handed treatment of difficult sources that offers a valuable correction to previous scholarship and a new window into early medieval religious thought. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

Mistry's analysis is characterized by careful and adroit readings of an unusually wide variety of sources. . . . This book is both learned and thought-provoking. JOURNAL OF INTERDISCIPLINARY HISTORY

[A] brilliant cultural history of abortion. FRANCIA

Mistry's relentless focus on early medieval sources reveals their varied attitudes to abortion, complicating the picture provided by such scholars as John Noonan, who wanted to see Catholic teaching as unchanging on the matter. His book will therefore prove valuable to early medievalists interested in marriage, sexuality, and religion. H-NET

In this learned and wide-ranging study, historian Mistry examines the institutions and communities that construed abortion as a social problem c. 500-900. Recommended. CHOICE

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