The Popish Midwife: A Tale of High Treason, Prejudice and Betrayal

Written by Annelisa Christensen
Review by Kate Braithwaite

The Popish Midwife is a fact-based historical novel about the life of Elizabeth Cellier, focusing on the years of the Popish Plot when Londoners were gripped by panic, believing in a Catholic plot to invade the country and murder Charles II. Cellier is certainly a remarkable character—a midwife, a writer, an activist for prison reform as well as a wife and mother. Initially intending to record and reveal the torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners in Newgate Prison, Cellier gradually becomes more involved in attempts to disprove the Popish Plot, as revealed to parliament by Titus Oates, and finds herself on trial as a result.

This is a complex period of English history, and the Plot involves many characters, acts of perjury, false accusations and the execution of innocents. Christensen does a fine job of re-imagining London in the 1670s, bringing the smells and filth of the streets to vivid life. She also captures the anti-Catholic hysteria and violence particularly well. Having read this as an e-book, I missed being able to flip back and forth to check on some of the names of plotters and accusers (of which there are many). A note on historical accuracy and sources would also be a great addition. Overall, this reads as a very authentic portrait of a complex era.