Monday, January 7, 2013

Falling in Love with an Older Woman (350 years Older)

“I Bridget Hodgson of the City of York, Midwife”
Though I could not have known it at the time, these words – found in a 1683 will – changed my life. I first read these words while a graduate student digging through the archives in York, England, and on that spring day I fell in love with an older woman. Even to this day, I struggle to explain my devotion, but I want to try again.

In truth, Bridget had me at “midwife” because in 1683, women were widows, wives, or spinsters. They were identified by who they married not what they did. Yet here she was, saying “I’m a midwife! Get over it!” What kind of woman does this? I wondered. And while the hook was set, Bridget had only just begun to win my heart.

When she wrote her will, Bridget’s first concern was that her funeral reflected her status, and once again, she amazed: “I do direct that Sir John Hewley, Sir Henry Thompson, Sir Stephen Thompson, George Pricket Esq., Edward Thompson, Alderman, Robert Waller, Alderman, William Breary Doctor of Laws, and Thomas Fairfax Esq., be invited to carry me to my grave.” Wait, I thought. She wants knights, lawyers and aldermen (and Lord-Mayors and Members of Parliament, I later learned) to serve as her pallbearers? Who is this woman?

“And I give unto the heralds painter who shall order my funeral and make my escutcheons a mourning ring, and I desire Christopher Harrison may do the work.” Wait, what? Herald’s painter? Escutcheons? (Runs to dictionary.) She’s having someone paint her coat of arms, which means she’s a Gentlewoman. I love her, but will I have to call her “Lady Bridget” from now on?

I’d only known this woman for a few paragraphs, but already I knew that she was a midwife, politically well-connected, and a member of England’s hereditary gentry. This was an unusual woman, but there was much more to come. It turns out that she was quite rich, for at a time when a laborer might earn fifteen pounds per year, she had loaned hundreds of pounds to her friends, and given her daughter “my coral necklace and bracelets, my large ring with two and twenty stones… and also a sealed ring of gold with my late husband’s coat of arms and my own engraven on the same.”

I know what you are thinking. I only loved Bridget for her money. And I can’t say that it didn’t intrigue me, but I really did love her for her personality, and this became clear when she listed her godchildren, who – as godmother – she had the privilege of naming: “I give unto the several persons…for whom I was Godmother ten shillings apiece, to wit: Bridget Swain, Bridget Ascough, Bridget Morris, Bridget Wilberfoss, Thomas Robinson, Edward Watson, and Thomas Horsley.” It’s one thing to give your name to your own child, but who gives their name to other people’s kids? Bridget Hodgson, the most awesome midwife ever, that’s who. Oh, she also named her daughter Bridget, so by the end of her life, she could have fielded an All-Bridget basketball team.

So when I sat down to write a novel about a crime-solving, butt-kicking midwife, could there be any question who my model would be? I made a few changes, of course, cutting out a few of her children (who has time to solve crimes and raise a family?), but throughout The Midwife’s Tale I have tried to remain true to the woman I love, and I can only hope the historical Bridget would see something of herself in the portrait I have painted. 

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You can order The Midwife's Tale from major vendors, from Amazon to Walrmart by going to my publisher's website . If you'd rather purchase a signed copy, or would like to support a great independent bookstore, you can order a copy from Mac's Backs on Coventry.