Featured image: a mother murdering her infants with the help of Satan. (http://psychohistory.com/books/the-origins-of-war-in-child-abuse/chapter-9-bipolar-christianity-how-torturing-sinful-children-produced-holy-wars/,accessed 29/11/16)
[mass noun] The crime of a mother killing her child within a year of birth
Origin: mid-17th century: via French from late Latin infanticidium, from Latin infant- (see infant) + -cidium (see -cide).
Two young prostitutes were found guilty of having committed infanticide in September 1674 and were sentenced to death. One threw her infant into a House of Office (an old English term for a toilet), and the other buried hers in a cellar. Both crimes were as horrible and barbarous as each other, but the most important question is why exactly these women chose to commit infanticide.
In the early modern period, infanticide was considered one of the most horrible sins a woman could commit, and it isn’t difficult to see why as how could a woman even consider wanting to kill her small bundle of joy that God has bestowed upon her? Well, the reason for this was because apparently murdering your own new-born child was considered less embarrassing than having your village know that you, an unwed woman, gave birth to a bastard. In the case of these two women, their situation was made worse as they were both young prostitutes.
Organised prostitution in early modern England was well established by the mid-sixteenth century (mainly in the London area) and whilst it was technically a legal act, it was prosecuted in practise. Prostitution was considered as a gateway into a criminal lifestyle, accompanied by the idea that “whoring is succeeded by robbery”. Now, if we return to our two guilty women, we can see quite plainly from the trial account that they were both ‘Young Wenches’, who chose to ‘cover one great sin with another’. Apparently, many women who committed infanticide were prostitutes, due to the issue that contraception was not fully understood and of course this meant that accidents were bound to happen.
Early modern literature about prostitution and pregnancy often gave the impression that it was difficult for prostitutes to fall pregnant due to having sex so frequently and thus their wombs became unsuitable for carrying a child. So, perhaps our two young prostitutes were shocked to learn that not only they had fallen pregnant, but the birth of the infants would surely hinder their profession and the only solution to the problem was to murder the infants.
 Definition of infanticide. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/infanticide
 Houston-Goudge, Sydney, Common Woman to Commodity: Changing Perceptions of Prostitution in Early Modern England, c.1450-1750. Thesis from Dalhousie University. http://dalspace.library.dal.ca/bitstream/handle/10222/14359/Houston-Goudge%2c%20Sydney%2c%20MA%2c%20HIST%2c%20December%202011.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed 03/12/16)
 Sharpe, J.A., Early Modern England: A Social History 1550-1760, (Arnold, second edition, 1997). pp.45
 Sharp, J. The Compleat Midwife’s Companion: or the art of Midwifry Improv’d (exact publishing date unknown) http://earlymodernmedicine.com/pregnancy-and-prostitution/ (accessed 03/12/16)