In Loving Memory: Widowhood

The loss of a wife rarely altered a man’s status, but the loss of a husband changed a woman’s life forever. Becoming a widow brought risks, but there was opportunity there as well. Unlike a married woman, in the 1600s and 1700s a widow could inherit land, sign contracts and join professional bodies like trade guilds. Women often took over the trade of their deceased husbands and wielded signi­ficant economic power.

Mourning Cape (c.1890s)

Rest in Peace: Mourning Rituals

Mourning is the outward display of grief. It can make the personal, societal. It is loss shared. For much of history the formal rituals surrounding mourning were widely understood. You knew what was expected of you, depending on your class, gender and relationship with the deceased.

In the 1500s and 1600s grief was believed to manifest as physical diseases and could be treated by physicians using leeches, laxatives and vomits. According to one physician, Jeremiah Wainwright, writing in 1707, ‘Diarrhoeas from immoderate Grief, are incurable’.

Post Mortem on Napoleon Bonaparte

This surprising find was amongst the correspondence of John Abercrombie.  Abercrombie was a popular doctor in early 19th century Edinburgh. His private means gave him the opportunity to pursue his academic interests and in 1828 he published 'Diseases of the Stomach, Intestinal Canal, the Liver and the other Viscera of the Abdomen'. It was probably because of his known interest in diseases of the stomach that an unknown friend or associate sent Abercrombie a copy of the post mortem.