Special circumstances could have resulted in first successful C-section in medieval Prague


The first ever Caesarean section in Europe in which both mother and child survived might have taken place in Prague at the court of Jan of Luxembourg already in the 14th century. Czech historians and doctors have come to the conclusion after examining various written accounts from the era. The results of their research have been published in the magazine Czech gynaecology.

To this date, the first C-section was believed to have taken place in the year 1500 in Switzerland. However, a team of Czech scientists have recently come up with a surprising theory. After examining accounts relating to the birth of a son to Jan’s second wife, Beatrix of Bourbon, they concluded that Václav was born as a result of a C-section in 1337.

Antonín Pařízek, an obstetrician and gynaecologist from Charles University, who was part of the team, says their conclusion is based on indirect pieces of evidence:

“Our conclusion is based on five indirect pieces of evidence. Two letters that were sent in the Bohemian Kingdom, claiming that princess Beatrix gave birth under very special circumstances. And then there were three references from the 16th and 17th centuries which also said the birth was exceptional and that the baby was taken out from the mother’s womb and both the child and the mother miraculously survived.”

Antonín Pařízek,  photo: Czech Television
Mr Pařízek was approached by historians from Charles University, and admits that initially he was very sceptical about a possibility of a successful C-section, given the lack of basic surgical procedures that would enable such an operation back then:

“At that time people didn’t understand the anatomy of the human body. They didn’t know anything about blood circulation. They couldn’t stop bleeding but most of all, they didn’t have anaesthesia. They could deal with all sorts of problems, but they couldn’t perform surgery in the abdominal cavity.”

The first account of a Caesarean section dates from the year 1500 and there are several dozen accounts of C-sections during that century. Despite the discovery of anaesthesia, however, successful caesareans were rare even as late as in the 18th century with death likely in around 90 percent of cases. So how is it possible that Beatrix had survived the procedure? Antonín Pařízek again:

Beatrix of Bourbon
“In this case we think that the C-section was carried out not so much to save the child but to baptize the child to ensure its salvation. According to our theory, the doctors must have thought that the mother was dying or was dead already. They cut out the child and, by happy coincidence, it stayed alive and so did the mother, who came around and, again by a coincidence, did not bleed to death or die of blood poisoning.”

In spite of the earlier discovery of anaesthesia, C-sections have become regular part of obstetrics only in the past 50 years.