Popular medicine

Healy, Margaret (2014) Popular medicine. In: Hadfield, Andrew, Dimmock, Matthew and Shinn, Abigail (eds.) The Ashgate research companion to popular culture in early modern England. Routledge, Farnham, pp. 309-322. ISBN 9781409436843

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Abstract

Employing a lexicon of pronounced binaries, Herring’s tract evokes a picture of the early modern medical marketplace in which the services of the professional, university-educated, ‘compleat’ and ‘True Physition’ were continuously passed over in favour of ‘Counterfeit Mountebanks’: a motley line-up of dubious types including criminals, debtors, the unemployed and – according to his tract’s suggestive title – exotic foreigners (hence ‘Orient Colours’). By the early seventeenth century such complaints were familiar: in 1566 the eminent physician John Securis railed in print against the ‘unlearned surgeons, meddling empirics, and “presumptuous” women’ who offended his sense of proper medical order and in 1565 the surgeon John Hall lamented the way ‘true’ practitioners had to compete against ‘smiths, cutlers, carters … and a great rabble of women’.2 Dedicating his tract to the Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham, Herring was ostensibly seeking judicial help to save sick people from their own ‘folly and madnesse’ by restricting medical practice to professionals; in reality, as revisionist historiography has compellingly argued, Herring and his colleagues in the College of Physicians and Barber Surgeon’s Hall were waging war against unlicensed practitioners, with the aim of increasing their share of a lucrative commercial sphere.3 It was a tough challenge; recent scholarship has revealed that licensed physicians, surgeons and apothecaries were, indeed, probably vastly outnumbered by a wide range of other health care workers. In an important study of community health work in London between 1560 and 1610, Deborah Harkness has identified just over 1,400 men and women who did medical work ‘including apothecaries, midwives, carers for the sick in hospitals and private settings, surgeons and physicians’. She calculates that 70 per cent of these were unlicensed, and approximately 30 per cent of the unlicensed practitioners were women.4

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature
R Medicine > R Medicine (General) > R131 History of medicine
Depositing User: Margaret Healy
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2014 09:36
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2020 10:19
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/50840

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