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The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder

In October 1726, newspapers began reporting a remarkable event. In the town of Godalming in Surrey, a woman called Mary Toft had started to give birth to rabbits. Several leading doctors – some sent directly by King George I – travelled to examine the woman and she was moved to London to be closer to them. By December, she had been accused of fraud and taken into custody. Mary Toft’s unusual deliveries caused a media sensation. Her rabbit births were a test case for doctors trying to further their knowledge about the processes of reproduction and pregnancy. The rabbit births prompted not just public curiosity and scientific investigation, but also a vicious backlash.

Based on extensive new archival research, this book is the first in-depth re-telling of this extraordinary story. Professor Karen Harvey situates the rabbit-births within the troubled community of Godalming and the women who remained close to Mary Toft as the case unfolded, exploring the motivations of the medics who examined her, considering why the case attracted the attention of the King and powerful men in government, and following the case through the criminal justice system.

The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts took place online from Thursday 27 May to Sunday 6 June 2021.

The Festival brings together life-changing writers, fabulous stars of stage and screen, pioneers of science and technology, and future world leaders, for a party of ideas and stories.

The University of Birmingham’s College of Arts and Law hosted a series of talks, showcasing some of our top academics and the breadth of arts and humanities subjects studied by our students.

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