Mary Toft Convinced Doctors She Was Giving Birth to Rabbits
Mary Toft Convinced Doctors She Was Giving Birth to Rabbits

Mary Toft Convinced Doctors She Was Giving Birth to Rabbits

Stephanie Schoppert - October 30, 2016

Mary Denyer was born in 1703 and in 1720 she married Joshua Toft. She was had three children already when she became pregnant in 1726. She suffered numerous painful complications early in her pregnancy and she claimed to have forced out numerous large pieces of flesh. On the 27th of September she went into labor.
A neighbor came to help through the labor and it was discovered that what was birthed was not a baby but several pieces of some sort of animal. Ann Toft, a local midwife, viewed the pieces and in shock sent the pieces to John Howard. John Howard was a man-midwife that was located in Guildford and had thirty years of experience.
John Howard refused to believe that a woman could give birth to an animal but still decided to see Mary. Ann Toft showed him the parts and he still did not believe the story, especially after doing an examination of Mary. However, after he left Mary once again went into labor and more animal parts were birthed. So, Howard returned and this time he not only saw animal parts but saw Mary go into labor to deliver even more parts. He gave an account on November 9th, which revealed that over the past several days Mary had birthed three cat legs, a rabbit leg, and cat entrails, with eel backbones inside them. Over the next few days more pieces of rabbit were birthed.
By this time the story gained attention and people all over were kept in rapt attention to learn of the circumstances surrounding a woman giving birth to several rabbit and even cat parts. A member of the court of King George I got wind of the story and had to investigate for himself. In November, John Howard had Mary Toft moved to Guidford where he offered to deliver rabbits in the presence of any doubters. Eventually news of the mysterious births reached Nathaniel St. Andre who was a Swiss surgeon to the Royal Household. St Andre watched as rabbit parts were delivered and then checked the organs to see that they had in fact breathed air, which led him to believe the rabbits had been bred in the Fallopian tubes.
The King became fascinated by the letters he received from the member of his court and from the reports of St. Andre, so he sent surgeon Cyriacus Ahlers to investigate further. And when Ahlers arrived he learned the truth about what was really going on with Mary Toft. The revelation of which ruined the careers of numerous doctors and had many people believing the medical profession was nothing more than a farce.
Read on to see what Ahlers uncovered.

Mary Toft Convinced Doctors She Was Giving Birth to Rabbits

When Cyriacus Ahlers arrived he may have already suspected that there was something amiss about what was going on, but he played the part of a believer. He found it suspicious when John Howard would not let him help deliver the rabbits but he did convince Howard to let him take some of the rabbit pieces with him. Ahlers examined the parts to see that they had been cut with a man-made tool and that there were even bits of straw and grain embedded in the feces of the rabbits that were birthed.
An investigation began and suspicious grew higher when Ahlers reported his findings to the King. In response St. Andre secured several affidavits from a number of physicians who swore that they had witnessed Mary Toft birth rabbits. The story grew in prominence as more and more physicians travelled to study Mary Toft for themselves. John Maubray believed that a woman’s pregnancy could be influenced by what she saw and believed and therefore thought of Mary as evidence of that belief. James Douglas another man-midwife believed the entire thing was a hoax and insisted that Mary Toft be put under constant watch. Then despite having gone into labor several times, Mary Toft never delivered a rabbit.
So it came on the 4th of December, another skeptic Thomas Onslow revealed that Joshua Toft had been buying young rabbits. When he came forward with that information others came forward to tell that they had helped to sneak rabbits to the seemingly pregnant Mary Toft. St. Andre remained convinced and even published a 40-page pamphlet on December 3rd which revealed all of his observations. However, the skeptical doctors that were becoming ever more suspicious started to question Mary and when they threatened her with a painful operation to find out the truth…she confessed.
Mary told them that when she miscarried, her cervix was open enough that she was able to shove into her womb the claws and body of a cat and the head of a rabbit. She claimed a midwife had shown her how to do it and that she was told that she would never want for the rest of her life if she succeeded in the hoax. Mary Toft was arrested but the courts could not figure out what to charge her with and so she was set free.
Fate was not as kind to the doctors who believed her story. Many of them were laughed out of their careers and had to publish embarrassing recants of their written work on the subject. People also started to question the expertise of doctors and of men-midwives due to the failures of St. Andre and John Howard to see the truth. Faith in doctors declined for a period and both the doctors involved and Mary Toft were satirized in papers for years to come.
For her part Mary went home and continued her life as normal. She had a daughter in 1727, was caught stealing in 1740 and died in 1763. Her long ploy damaged the lives of the doctors who believed her much more than it did her own.