chapter  3
32 Pages

‘Excellent recipes to keep from bearing children’: restricting fertility, 1500–1800

WithAngus McLaren

There is a belief that even if earlier generations wanted to limit their fertility they could not have done so because they lacked the necessary technology. To demonstrate that this was not the case in early modern England, this chapter first reviews the discussion of family limitation prior to the nineteenth century and then turns to the actual methods employed in the past to limit births. A close examination reveals that it was not just how many children were born that concerned earlier communities but who had them, when, how far apart and up to what age. The chapter demonstrates that conscious restriction of fertility in early modern England was not only ‘thinkable’ but possible. The contemporary literature lends support to the argument that it was not any technological or moral revolution but new social pressures that underlay the dramatic decline in nineteenth-century fertility.