English women tricking Royal household surgeon that she gave birth to a rabbit
“As an 18th-century English peasant, circumstances dictated that when in 1726 Toft again became pregnant, she continue working in the fields. She complained of painful complications early in the pregnancy and in early August egested several pieces of flesh, one “as big as my arm”. This may have been the result of an abnormality of the developing placenta, which would have caused the embryo to stop developing and blood clots and flesh to be ejected.
Toft went into labour on 27 September. Her neighbour was called and watched as she produced several animal parts. This neighbour then showed the pieces to her mother and to her mother-in-law, Ann Toft, who by chance was a midwife. Ann Toft sent the flesh to John Howard, a Guildford-based man-midwife of thirty years experience.”.
Howard was sceptic at first but when he went to see Mary the next day she delivered some more animal pieces for him. A description of the things he delivered, “three legs of a Cat of a Tabby Colour, and one leg of a Rabbet: the guts were as a Cat’s and in them were three pieces of the Back-Bone of an Eel … The cat’s feet supposed were formed in her imagination from a cat she was fond of that slept on the bed at night.” Toft seemingly became ill once more and over the next few days delivered more pieces of rabbit”.
As the story spread Henry Davenant, a member of the court of King George I, went to see for himself what was happening. He examined the parts with Howard and collected them to head back to London.
Howard now convinced had Mary located to a hospital in Guildford were he would write letters to Davenant on the progress of Mary`s case.
One of those letters got to Nathaniel St. André, a Swiss surgeon to the Royal household. The british Royal family took an interest in the case and sent St. André and Nathaniel St. André, secretary to the Prince of Wales to investigate.
They weren`t disappointed Howard delivered animal parts for them St. André even took a lung and put it on water to see if it would float and it did. He then went and done a medical examionation on Mary and concluded that the rabbits were bred on her fallopian tubes.
The king now then sent Surgeon Cyriacus Ahlers to Guildford he arrived there and found Toft wasn`t exhibiting any signs of pregnancy and so started to doubt the case as a hoax.
He observed that Mary was holding her thighs together as if to prevent something falling. He also saw that some of the pieces looked as if they had been cut by an instrument.
Ahlers reported back to the King who sent St. André back top Guildford to bring Toft in for an examination.
In a pre-emptive move against Ahlers, St. André collected evidence from several witnesses, which in effect cast doubt on Ahlers’ honesty, and on 26 November gave an anatomical demonstration before the king to support Toft’s story.
The story became a naional sensation so under St. André’s strict control Toft was studied by a number of eminent physicians and surgeons, John Maubray. The Female Physician Maubray had proposed women could give birth to a creature he named a Sooterkin. He was a proponent of maternal impression, a widely held belief that conception and pregnancy could be influenced by what the mother dreamt, or saw, and warned pregnant women that over-familiarity with household pets could cause their children to resemble those pets.
The hoax was revaealed when a baron named Onslow done his own investigation and found out that Toft`s husband had beem buying young rabbits.
The medical establishment at the time was publicly mocked and St. André was publicly humiliated at court.
Toft finally confessed.Following her miscarriage and while her cervix permitted access, an accomplice had inserted into her womb the claws and body of a cat, and the head of a rabbit. They had also invented a story in which Toft claimed that during her pregnancy and while working in a field, she had been startled by a rabbit, and had since become obsessed with rabbits. For later parturitions, animal parts had been inserted into her vagina.
Mary was charged in court “for being an abominable cheat and imposter in pretending to be delivered of several monstrous births”
She was ultimately discharged on 8 April 1727, as it was unclear as to what charge should have been made against her.
The Toft family made no profit from the affair, and Mary Toft returned to Surrey.