As Eli Hecksher noted, “an almost fanatical desire to increase population prevailed in all countries during the period when mercantilism was at its height, in the later of the 17,h century” (Heckscher 1 966: 158). Along with it, a new concept of human
beings also took hold, picturing them as just raw materials, workers and breeders for the state (Spengler 1965: 8). But even prior to the heyday of mercantile theory, in France and England the state adopted a set of pro-natalist measures that, combined with Public:
Relief, formed the embryo of a capitalist reproductive policy. Laws were passed that put a premium on marriage and penalized celibacy, modeled on those adopted by the Roman Empire for tills purpose. The family was given a new importance as the key institution providing for the transmission of property and the reproduction of the work-force. Simultaneously, we have the beginning of demographic recording and the intervention of the state in the supervision of sexuality, procreation, and family life.
But the main initiative that the state cook to restore the desired population was the launching of a true war against women clearly aimed at breaking the control they had exercised over their bodies and reproduction. As we will see later in this volume, this war was waged primarily through the witch-hunt that literally demonized
form of birth-control and non-procreative sexuality, while charging women with sacrificing children to the devil. But it also relied on the redefinition of what constitutes reproductive crime. Thus, starting in the mid-16th century. while Portuguese ships were
returning from Africa with their first human cargoes, all the European governments began to impose the severest penalties against contraception, abortion and infanticide.
This last practice had been treated with some leniency in the Middle Ages, at in the case of poor women; but now it was turned into a capital crime, and punished more harshly than the majority of male crimes.
« In sixteenth century Nuremberg, the penalty for maternal infanticide
was drowning; in 1 580, the year in which the severed heads of three
women convicted of maternal infanticide were nailed to the scaffold
for public contemplation, the penalty was changed to beheading (King 1 991: 10).60
New forms of surveillance were also adopted to ensure that pregnant women did not terminate their pregnancies. In France, a royal edict of1556 required women to register every pregnancy, and sentenced to death those whose infants died before after a concealed delivery, whether or not proven guilty of any wrongdoing. Statutes were passed in England and Scotland in 1624 and 1690. A system of spies also created to surveil unwed mothers and deprive them of any support. Even an unmarried pregnant woman was made illegal, for fear that she might escape the public scrutiny; while those who befriended her were exposed to public criticism
1993: 51-52; Ozment 1983: 43).