Louise Bourgeois Boursier

Louise (Bourgeois) Boursier (1563–1636) was a French midwife. Called "The Scholar" by her contemporaries, she was midwife to King Henry IV of France and his wife Marie de Médicis.[1] Through her prodigious writings and common-sense-based methods, she helped raise midwifery from folklore to science.

Louise Bourgeois Boursier
Louise Boursier.jpg
Born1563 (1563)
Died1636 (aged 72–73)
EducationDiploma and license to practice midwifery
Known forScholarly writings on midwifery, midwife to French royal family
Spouse(s)Martin Boursier
Scientific career
Institutionscourt of King Henry IV of France
PatronsKing Henry IV of France and his wife, Marie de Médicis

Early lifeEdit

Bourgeois was born in 1563 in what was then a rural area just outside Paris called, the Faubourg Saint-Germain.[2][3] Her family was wealthy, and she was taught to read and write [4] They lived near the master surgeon Martin Boursier, who for years was a pupil-assistant of Ambroise Pare.[2]

Bourgeois married Martin Boursier in 1584 at the parish of Saint Sulpice.[3] The following is what the register of this parish register reads: The 30 December 1584, married Martin Boursier, barber-surgeon and Loyse Bourgeois.[5] They started living at Faubourg Saint-Germain probably by 1586 and definitely by 1588.[3]

King Henri IV attacked Paris in 1589; Bourgeois had three children at the time.[3] Bourgeois fled behind the city walls of Paris with her children for protection, since her husband was away in the army. She had to abandon most of their valuable possessions because there was no way to bring them within the city walls.[3]

For an income then Bourgeois took up needlework, which however did not bring in enough money to live on. Her husband returned, but his practice did not make enough money to support his family. While Louise had her last child, the woman attending her suggested she go into midwifery [4] She took up midwifery as a profession. It is possible that she learned this medical skill from her husband, or instead by going to a recently established school for midwives at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris.[2]


Bourgeois obtained a diploma and license to legally practice midwifery in 1598 when she passed the examination for that profession. The examining panel consisted of a physician, 2 surgeons, and 2 experienced midwives.[6] She then moved to the rue Saint-Andre´des-Arts with her family, and quickly built up a large practice in the Latin Quarter. As a skilled midwife, she enjoyed an excellent reputation as a professional and was well liked.[2]

Henri IV married Marie de' Medici in 1600. Their first child was due in 1601. The King wanted to employ Madame Dupuis to be the royal midwife. Marie de' Medici chose Bourgeois instead, as she had successfully assisted the childbirths of several young ladies of the Royal Court and had an excellent reputation as a professional midwife.[7] Between 1601 and 1610 (when Henri IV was killed) six children were born to Marie de' Medici, all assisted by Bourgeois. They were Louis XIII, future King of France (1601), Elizabeth, Queen of Spain (1602), Christine Marie, Duchess of Savoy (1607), Nicolas Henri, Duke of Orléans (1607), Gaston, Duke of Orléans (1608), and Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, Queen of Scots and Queen of Ireland (1609). Bourgeois received 500 livres (crowns) for each son delivered and 300 livres for each daughter.[2] The average income for a midwife at the time was 50 livres.[8]

Later lifeEdit

Bourgeois was ultimately awarded in 1608 a lump sum of 6,000 livres for her services as royal midwife. After the birth of Henrietta Maria, the last child, Bourgeois asked for a pension of 600 livres per year. King Henry IV agreed to 300 livres, which was considered a reasonable retirement income.[8]

In her "retirement" Bourgeois wrote a great deal and made important contributions to obstetrics. She wrote a book on childbirth practices in 1609 and was the first woman to write such a book.[9][10] The last section of this book, titled "Advice to my Daughter," displays Bourgeois' opinions on various topics. She tells her daughter to fear God, to attend the poor with charity, and to never let unmarried women into her house for confinement or to assist in abortions. She also criticizes the women of her time for preferring male physicians to midwives [4] Additional techniques and information were added in 1759 by her descendant, Angelique le Boursier du Courdray, who was also a royal French midwife. She in turn passed this knowledge down to poor women of her time.[9]

Although she was technically retired as a royal midwife, Bourgeois still delivered children. In 1627, she delivered the child of the Duchess of Orleans. Unfortunately, the duchess died from fever after her labor. Male physicians (many of whom were enemies of Bourgeois) wrote the autopsy report, and said that a piece of afterbirth was left on the womb, implying that Bourgeois had left it there and was at fault for the duchess' death. In response to this, Bourgeois wrote the "Apology of Louise Bourgeois," in which she questions the validity, saying "By your report [...] you expose your utter ignorance of what constitutes a woman's afterbirth, whether before or after labor" [4] In her 'apology', Bourgeois also highlights her many qualifications,

"I have practiced my profession now for fully thirty-four years, faithfully, diligently, and honourably, and acquired not only a good certificate, after various examinations, but have also written books treating on this subject, which have been printed and published in several editions and were translated into foreign languages, for which trouble many noted physicians have rendered me thanks and have gladly confessed that they were of great use to humanity" [2]

Bourgeois described herself as The first woman practicing my art to take up the pen.[2] She was the grandmother of Louis-Théandre Chartier de Lotbinière.


  • 1609 - Diverse Observations on Sterility; Loss of the Ovum after Fecundation, Fecundity and Childbirth; Diseases of Women and of Newborn Infants, sometimes also known as Various Observations on the Sterility, fruit loss, fertility, childbirth and diseases of women and newborn infants. It was the first book on midwifery and childbirth written by a woman.[9] It had practical information on obstetrics. Few texts of this type existed at the time. Her book, which contained references to some 2000 childbirths,[11] was translated into Latin, German, Dutch, and English and used until the 1700s.[1]
  • 1617 - Diverse Observations, expanded edition of above obstetrical theory. It also contained a collection of Advice to my daughter.
  • 1626 - Diverse Observations, expanded edition of above obstetrical theory with treatments like doses of iron to treat anemia.
  • 1634 - Collection of Secrets, treatments like podalic version (turning the baby around in certain situations so that it will be delivered feet first), which knowledge became widely assimilated among European midwives and physicians.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of World Biography | 2005 | Louise Bourgeois (French midwfe)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dunn, PM (2004). "Louise Bourgeois (1563-1636): royal midwife of France". Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 89 (2): F185-7. doi:10.1136/adc.2003.037929. PMC 1756029. PMID 14977911.
  3. ^ a b c d e Perkins, p. 15
  4. ^ a b c d Goodell, William (5 June 1876). A sketch of the life and writings of Louyse Bourgeois, midwife to Marie de' Medicine, the queen of Henry IV. of France. The annual address of the retiring president before the Philadelphia County Medical Society. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Collins, printer. pp. 1–52. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  5. ^ Chereau, p. 5
  6. ^ Perkins, p. 17
  7. ^ Perkins, p. 18
  8. ^ a b Perkins, pp. 23
  9. ^ a b c Anzovin, p. 115 The first woman to write a book on childbirth was Louise Boursier (1563-1636), teacher, author, and midwife to the French court for 27 years. In 1609, she wrote a book on midwifery and childbirth practices that was expanded in 1759 by her descendant, Angelique le Boursier du Courdray, who was also a midwife.
  10. ^ Proffitt, p. 53
  11. ^ Perkins, p. 24


  • Anzovin, Steven, Famous First Facts 2000, item # 2338, H. W. Wilson Company, ISBN 0-8242-0958-3
  • Chereau, Achille, The six deliveries of Marie de Medici Queen of France and Navarre, Willem, 1875
  • Perkins, Wendy, Midwifery and Medicine in Early Modern France, University of Exeter Press (UK) 1996, ISBN 0-85989-471-1
  • Goodell, Williams, "A sketch of the life and writings of Louyse Bourgeois, midwife to Marie de' Medici, the queen of Henry IV. of France. The annual address of the retiring president before the Philadelphia County Medical Society," Collins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1876.
  • Proffitt, Pamela, Notable women scientists, Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan 1999, ISBN 0-7876-3900-1

Further readingEdit

  • Notable women scientists by Pamela Proffitt, biography of 500 women, "Louyse Bourgeois (1563-1636) French obstetrician", pp. 53–54
  • A Sketch of the Life and Writings of Louyse Bourgeois: Midwife to Marie De Medici, the Queen of Henry IV of France. Philadelphia: Collins, 1876