Fear the fairies

John Gallagher

  • Sleep in Early Modern England by Sasha Handley
    Yale, 280 pp, £25.00, August 2016, ISBN 978 0 300 22039 1

Of the thousands of people who visited the Buckinghamshire astrologer-physician and clergyman Richard Napier around the beginning of the 17th century, many were troubled by questions of sleep. The mother of 11-year-old Susan Blundell told Napier that her daughter was ‘now given mutch to sleeping’, and that two days before, she had slept ‘the space of 24 houres but that her sleepe was interrupted with her usuall fites & that very often.’ Margery Dayrell worried that her son Nathaniel could not sleep, though he was drowsy. John Windmill complained that he ‘cannot sleepe nor take any rest on his bed or up or Downe’. Hugh Thomson feared that his son, ‘who he supposeth to be taken or planet stroken’, had been unable to sleep the previous night. Broken and disrupted sleep could be a symptom of illness or a mark of being ill at ease: Thomas Bentley, of Turvey in Bedfordshire, consulted the astrologer because he found himself ‘Troubled in his sleepe with dreaming of Children’.

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