Monday, 12 November 2012
In keeping with the ethos of the Scouting movement, I went away with a challenge: did the word 'caul' (the snood-like net worn over the back of ladies' hair in Tudor times) have any connection with the caul which some babies have over their face at birth?
A Good Question. I Googled it.
And I found this lovely article by Imogen Crawford-Mowday
To paraphrase Imogen's article, the caul is indeed the name for a bit of amniotic sac which sometimes covers a baby's face at birth. It can usually be easily removed. Generally speaking, it seems that in mediaeval times a caul was removed with a piece of paper and said to be regarded as good luck. It could be sold for a sizeable fee, especially to sailors who believed it would prevent them from drowning (one assumes the watery associations were relevant here).
Charles Dickens' character David Copperfield was born a 'caulbearer'. He wrote, 'The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket...It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died, triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two"
In the brief bit of research I did I found no mention of a direct link between birth-cauls and hairnet-cauls, but it seems a likely connection to me.
Notable people born 'in the caul' include Edwin Booth, Lord Byron, Charlemagne, Sigmund Freud, Liberace and Napoleon!
The picture at the top shows my 'caul', which is a crocheted copy of the knotted 1570s originals. Crochet wasn't invented in Tudor times, but documents do mention 'cheine lace', which may have been an earlier version of crochet.