Overview

seventh son, daughter


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

From the 16th century onwards, a seventh son (or, more rarely, seventh daughter) was widely thought to have psychic powers, usually as a healer, but sometimes as a dowser or fortune-teller; even more powerful was one whose father (or mother) was also a seventh son (or daughter) (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 146–7; Roud, 2003: 398–400). The first English record is in Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1579), and like many others refers to the king's evil: ‘It is manifest by experience that the seuenth Male Chyld by iust order (neuer a Gyrle or Wench being borne betweene) doth heele onely with touching through a naturall gyft, the Kings Euyll’ (ii, § 2). Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries there are instances of male and female healers claiming this gift, and extending it to many other types of ailment; the Post Man of 6–9 October 1711 announced:There is lately come to town Martha Sneath, a gentlewoman who is the seventh daughter, who has cured the evil for this twenty years, both in town and country; she useth medicines, but toucheth seven mornings; likewise a diet drink that cures the dropsy; she is to be spoken with any time of the day at Mrs. Smith's, at Black Horse Yard, in Nightingale Lane, East Smithfield. (Quoted in N&Q 7s:1 (1886), 6)A related idea was that a seventh son was destined to become a doctor, for he would have a natural aptitude for the profession; some said he would have a birthmark like seven stars (Denham Tracts, 1895: ii, 273).

There is lately come to town Martha Sneath, a gentlewoman who is the seventh daughter, who has cured the evil for this twenty years, both in town and country; she useth medicines, but toucheth seven mornings; likewise a diet drink that cures the dropsy; she is to be spoken with any time of the day at Mrs. Smith's, at Black Horse Yard, in Nightingale Lane, East Smithfield. (Quoted in N&Q 7s:1 (1886), 6)

A related idea was that a seventh son was destined to become a doctor, for he would have a natural aptitude for the profession; some said he would have a birthmark like seven stars (Denham Tracts, 1895: ii, 273).


Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.