“Floreta d’Ays” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My biographical essay, “Floreta d’Ays:  The Trial of a Medieval Jewish Midwife of Marseille, France” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 46-48.


Floreta d’Ays was a 15th c. Jewish midwife who lived in Marseille, France. After a maternal death caused by a massive post-partum hemorrhage (PPH), at which Floreta had been present, an anti-Semitic prosecutor accused Floreta of deliberately killing the mother. This is the first known case of “medical malpractice” brought against a midwife. However, careful study of the extant trial record suggests that Floreta was actually attempting the manual extraction of a retained placenta, after which she tried to stop the PPH with bi-manual compression of the uterus. Rather than trying to kill the mother, Floreta was actually trying to save her. However, because the court showed virtually no understanding of the art and science of midwifery, and because the attempt to save the mother had not been successful, Floreta was forced to defend herself by simply denying the charges rather than by explaining the science behind her actions. While the final outcome is unknown, it is clear that Floreta d’Ays actively resisted the accusations brought against her with the help of six lawyers, three Jews and three Christians, and objected to the court’s plan to torture her bodily in order to elicit a confession.