The Body, Medicine and Sexual Difference

  • Tim Hitchcock
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


In 1677 a young apprentice iron-smith from Staffordshire found that gangrene had attacked his extremities. His arms, legs and penis began to rot away, and to be eaten slowly by maggots. The author of the published account of these events saw the young man’s fate as a result of a rash curse he had made some time earlier. After having stolen a Bible, the apprentice swore his innocence, praying that his arms and legs should fall off if he was lying. But many of his fellow villagers saw his case in a rather different light. They believed that the young man’s fate was the result of his past sexual behaviour. Whoring, buggery and bestiality were all adduced as possible causes for his condition.1 In either case, an ill-considered word or action resulted in a horrific change in his body, a change which physically and naturally punished his sin in this world.


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  1. 1.
    F.A. Illingworth, A just Narrative or Account of the Man whose Hands and Legs Rotted Off: in the Parish of Swinford, in Staffordshire, Where He Died, June 21, 1677 (London, 1678).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    P. Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, Calif., 1992).Google Scholar
  3. 31.
    M. Thale, ed., The Autobiography of Francis Place (Cambridge, 1972) p. 45.Google Scholar
  4. 44.
    E.H. Hare, ‘Masturbatory Insanity: The History of an Idea’, Journal of Mental Science, 108 (1962) 12.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tim Hitchcock 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Hitchcock
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North LondonUK

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