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This book tells the extraordinary story of three sixteenth-century sisters who, along with their father and brothers, were afflicted with an extremely rare genetic condition that made them unusually hairy. Amazingly, the Gonzales sisters were not mocked or shunned, but were welcomed in the courts of Europe, spending much of their lives among nobles, musicians, and artists. Their double identity as humans and beasts made them intriguing, and the girls and their father were the subjects not only of medical investigations but also of a considerable number of portraits, some of which still hang in European castles today.
Using the Gonzales family as a lens, historian Merry Wiesner-Hanks examines their varied and wondrous times. The story of this family connects with every important change of their era—political and religious violence, colonial conquest, new forms of scholarship and science—and also provides insights into the complex relationships between beastliness, monstrosity, and gender in early modern life.
List of Illustrations
Cast of Characters
Map of Europe and North Africa
Preface: The Gonzales Sisters and their Worlds 3
1 Wonders, Beasts, and Wild Folk: Inner and Outer Worlds in Renaissance Europe 13
2 Myths and Histories: The New Worlds of the West 49
3 Massacring Beasts, Monstrous Women, and Educated Gentlemen: The World of the Court 77
4 The Sanctity of Marriage, the Marvel of Birth: The World of the Family 113
5 God's Miraculous Creation: The World of Religion 149
6 Medical Marvels and Cabinets of Curiosities: The World of Scientists and Collectors 183
Afterword: The Many Stories of the Gonzales Sisters 223
Acknowledgments and Further Reading 234