Lying-in scene showing bath and cradle for a new-born child, frontispiece to Jacobus Rueff, De conceptu et generatione hominis. Zurich, 1554. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

During childbirth, the bedroom became an entirely female space for most of this period: men were strictly excluded from direct knowledge of the female mysteries that would transpire. Light and cold air were not considered conducive to a healthy birth, and so windows were blocked up, turning the room into a warm, dark, and womb-like place. A midwife, as well as female relatives, friends and neighbours, would attend the birth: commonly known as ‘gossips’. ‘Gossips’ in this original sense - derived from the Old English ‘goddsib’- were ‘godparents’; the modern meaning, associated with women’s idle talk, only began to emerge in the sixteenth century.