The Popish Midwife

A tale of high treason, prejudice and betrayal

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
420 Pages
Reviewed on 10/31/2016
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Author Biography

Annelisa Christensen has been writing stories for herself since aged 8, but it wasn't until she won an auction for a section of a 300 year-old book of trial records (just to hold a piece of book that old) that she was kick-started into writing The Popish Midwife for publication

When she read the libel trial of Elizabeth Cellier, she immediately fell in love with the bold and sassy seventeenth century Catholic Midwife defending herself. Researching her, Christensen discovered Cellier was famous in three different fields:

(1) as part of The Popish Plot (a false plot created by Titus Oates against the Catholics).

(2) as an author of books and publications at a time it was frowned upon for women to do such things.

(3) As a royal midwife, who proposed the first midwife college in England.

The outspoken and high profile midwife regularly visited Newgate Prison to distribute alms to the prisoners, and petitioned the king about awful conditions there, writing a book about her experiences entitled 'Malice Defeated'.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

It's a bold task to take on writing a 400-page plus book based on the life of an obscure English midwife who lived in the 1600s. But that is the challenge Annelisa Christensen gave herself with The Popish Midwife, after studying court transcripts about the trial and conviction of the courageous Elizabeth Cellier, who dared to write a book disclosing the brutality and inhumane treatment of those imprisoned for even minor offences in Newgate Prison.

The Popish Midwife takes place at the end of the puritanical, strict era of Oliver Cromwell, when King Charles II was returned to the throne. While people celebrated the new freedom, the country was far from safe or healthy, especially for Catholics. As a Catholic, Elizabeth was ever exposed to danger as she went about her work of helping mothers give birth. She also spent much of her time taking food to prison inmates and, as she did so, she saw and heard first hand so much of man's inhumanity to man. She felt compelled to bring these brutal practices to the attention of those she believed would care as much as she did. The reward for the efforts of this aging, unwell but brave woman was incarceration in the very place she fought to expose: Newgate.

Historical fiction buffs will love The Popish Midwife, but it is written in first person, as if it were a memoir. That, for me, makes what Annelisa Christensen has achieved in this book even more impressive: it has all the requirements of great historical fiction, including an adherence to the language of the 1600s, but it is touching and real the way a well-written memoir should be. The author spent years researching her story and her attention to detail and fact, the historical period, customs, and dialects give The Popish Midwife authenticity. But it is Annelisa Christensen's considerable writing talent that makes this an absorbing, worthwhile read even for those who, like me, aren't fans of historical fiction, but love a well-written story that keeps one turning the pages and wondering what will happen next. Highly recommended.

Sefina Hawke

The Popish Midwife: A Tale of High Treason, Prejudice, and Betrayal by Annelisa Christensen is a historical fiction novel that will appeal most to an audience made up of a mix of young adults and adults who enjoy historical fiction, specifically focused on seventeenth century London. The Popish Midwife follows midwife Elizabeth Cellier as she fights prejudice in order to get justice for the prisoners of Newgate Prison. Elizabeth Cellier has only her wits, her sense of right, and Captain Willoughby to help her on her path for justice.

The Popish Midwife by Annelisa Christensen was an extremely well written novel. I have to say that I really enjoyed reading about Elizabeth Cellier; she was a strong female character who could take care of herself and went out of her way to help others. I think my favorite part of The Popish Midwife was when I got to the end and figured out that it was only book one in the Seventeenth Century Midwives series. I finished The Popish Midwife in one day, all at once, and I am excited to get my hands on the second book in the series!

Trudi LoPreto

The Popish Midwife is a very interesting story about a real life person – Elizabeth Cellier. Lizzie lived in London, England in the late 1600s. She is a famous midwife in her village, helping many women give birth to babies they might have otherwise lost. She is also often found visiting the prisoners to bring them food and tend to their health needs. Times are hard; there is much religious havoc and unrest. Lizzie befriends Captain Willoughby, who is being held in debtors’ prison, and soon convinces him to get her information on the horrendous treatment of all of the poor, sick and beat-up prisoners. She uses this information to try to change conditions; by talking to anyone she believes can help and even writing a book which gets her into all sorts of trouble. She is soon accused of being deeper and deeper involved in the Popish Plot. Lizzie is taken from her home, her husband Pierre and her children, and placed in prison for several years because of her outspoken ways. Her trial has her guilty before it even begins and she faces stoning and possible death.

Annelisa Christensen has told the story of Elizabeth Cellier in very direct and heartfelt detail. The Popish Midwife will take you along on the journey of a very difficult time for Christians. I found this book to be a real history lesson while still being an enjoyable story and, though at times the reading was slow, it was very never boring. I think this is a must-read for all fans of stories of historical people and events.

Gisela Dixon

The Popish Midwife by Annelisa Christensen is an exciting historical fiction novel on the life and trials of Elizabeth Cellier, also widely known as the Popish Midwife. The story is based on true events and is told in the first person voice of Elizabeth Cellier herself. Elizabeth was a midwife who lived in seventeenth-century England. As the feud between the Catholic and the Protestant population of England at that time escalated, many innocent people found themselves in prison as a result of this religious intolerance and persecution. Elizabeth was married to a Frenchman and often visited these prisoners in jail. As a result, charges were leveled against her for treason and she was accused of being involved in the infamous “Meal-Tub Plot.” Although eventually acquitted of all charges, hers was a thrilling, heroic, and sometimes dangerous life.

The Popish Midwife is a very engaging story and kept me reading to the end in one go. The life of Elizabeth Cellier has been brought alive through these pages and I could actually feel myself being present in seventeenth-century England. The plight of women in general, as second class citizens with fewer rights, has been well portrayed. The dangers and high mortality rate of women during childbirth is something that is easily forgotten, but this book reminds us of that as Elizabeth is a midwife. Indeed, reading this book is like taking a walk into history. This was a fascinating and inspiring read for me into a bygone era and one that I would definitely recommend.

Lit Amri

“I had been a bringer of life, yet also a plotter of death. I had lived with different religions, yet my faith in truth had been constant and I always had God at my side.” The Popish Midwife by Annelisa Christensen takes place in 17th century England, years after the plague and the Great Fire, when Oliver Cromwell’s strict Puritan rule ends with the restoration to the throne of the second King Charles.

Catholic witch hunts led by Titus Oates cause the gaols to be overcrowded with the unjustly accused. Elizabeth Cellier, once midwife to the barren first Duchess of York, is one of the women who regularly visits Newgate Prison to distribute alms to victims of religious persecution. She’s the heroine armed with compassion and determination for righteousness, and bravely faces the cruelty and prejudice of the time. The solid first person POV narrative, plot and pace will ensure that readers find it very difficult to put the book down. Christensen brings a great sense of detail to the settings. One could be easily transported to the muddy and dangerous streets of London, and feel the fear that the Catholics have to bear. The characters, both the protagonists and antagonists, are also well-drawn.

Simply put, The Popish Midwife is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It’s highly immersive, offering readers a look at an important period of England history, serving as a great reminder of the dark times in the past, where injustice is an arduous beast to contain even until today.