Monstrosity, monument and multiplication: The lamenting Lady Margaret of Henneberg (and her 365 children) in Early Modern England
Reid, Lindsay Ann
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Reid, Lindsay Ann. Monstrosity, Monument and Multiplication: ‘The Lamenting Lady’ Margaret of Henneberg (and her 365 Children) in Early Modern England. In Andrea Wood & Brandy Schillace (Eds.), Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film, and Media. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.
Extraordinary and fantastical stories about Margaret of Henneberg, a cursed thirteenth-century Countess who had allegedly birthed 365 infants in one day, were popular with early modern English audiences. A range of printed sources from the early seventeenth century elaborate on the retributive nature of the haughty Dutch Countess’ reproductive destiny and indicate that the medieval woman’s supposed resting place in Loosduinen had even become a real life tourist attraction for curious British travelers of the era. As numerous early modern eyewitness accounts attest, in this village just outside The Hague one could find material evidence supposedly confirming the various tales about Countess Margaret and her monstrous brood of multiples. As it was developed and embellished in various early modern English versions, Countess Margaret’s story consistently displayed an ambivalence towards multiples and multiplication and also gave prominence to the idea that monumentality could serve as an indicator of credibility. A sustained exploration of how these issues of multiplication and monument inform a relevant c. 1620 ballad entitled “The Lamenting Lady” reveal a potent convergence of form and content: the broadside’s first-person lyrics about Countess Margaret’s hyperfertile reproductive plight simultaneously speak to the conditions under which “The Lamenting Lady” and other early modern ballads were historically disseminated and consumed.
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