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Elizabethan England Medicine
Elizabethan Social Classes
Elizabethan Sports & Leisure
Life and Death; Weddings and Funerals in Elizabethan Times
Medicine in Elizabethan Times
Queen Elizabeth 1
Women in Elizabethan Times
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Medicine in Elizabethan Times
In the 21st century, we have a large variety of medicines from panadol to penicillin and even nanotechnology.
In Elizabethan england (1558 - 1603) people were using herbs, vinegar and toads!
Back then they hadn't discystem, let alone infectious micro-organisms (bacteria).
Due to their minimal knowledge, horridious sanitary conditions of London and the ridiculous remedies; people didn't live very long.
It didn't matter if you were rich or poor; male or female, these diseases found and victimised everyone and there was no cure.
There were heaps of illnesses during the Elizabethan times and because of this not many people lived past to see 25 years.
Their 40-year-old is the equivalent to a 100-year-old - like ancient. The average life expectancy 35.
Some of the diseases which took countless lives were:
The Black Plague
Also known as the Bubonic Plague (name given because of the buboes that appeared),
it was carried by the fleas living in the fur of rats. It took London several times: 1563,
1578-9, 1582, 1592-3 and 1603. The first and last wiped out a quarter of the city’s small population.
red, inflamed, swollen lymph nodes; high fever; delirium and convulsions. If the bacteria
spread to the lungs or bloodstream, the victim would die within a couple of hours instead of the usual couple of days.
The worst outbreak was in 1562. Even Queen Elizabeth, at age 29, contracted the virus.
Although she recovered,
she was completely bold and had to wear an extra thick layer of make-up as side-effects.
high fever; vomiting; excessive bleeding and pus-filled scabs that leave pitted scars.
Going by many names - the French pox, the Spanish sickness, the great pox or just plain ‘the pox’ - syphilis supposedly
came with the Spaniards on their trip home from the Americas in 1493.It took so many people that London hospitals ran out of room.
very high fever; body aches; blindness; full body pustules; meningitis; insanity and leaking heart valves.
It swept through London numerous times during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It was a huge problem among prisoners;
usually they died before they could finish their sentence. Shakespeare, himself, supposedly died from typhus too.
Crowded and filthy conditions and pretty much a total lack of bathing allowed for body lice. When people scratched
they broke the skin which in turn allowed for typhus to affect the bloodstream.
high fever, delirium and gangrenous sores would develop.
It’s a common illness spread by mosquitoes in the marshy Thames.
fever, chills, vomiting, enlarged liver, low blood pressure, seizures and comas.
In the Elizabethan times there were a lot of deadly diseases that killed off hundreds,
maybe thousands of people and hardly any of them had a curable remedy.
Medical knowledge was extremely limited. Although medical practitioners and public/religious institutions tried to set up health regulations, medieval London never had an adequate health care system. Some people thought that disease was spread by bad odours but a common belief was that illness was due to ‘sins of the souls’. Because of this, people looked for cures in meditation, prayer, pilgrimages and other non-medical methods.
Medicine was a very dangerous game. Some of the potions given to patients,as well as relieving them of pain or to put to sleep while doing surgery, had the potential to kill the patient as well. Leeches were considered good for purifying the blood if a person was sick. Bloodletting was a popular mode of restoring the patient’s health. It was supposed to regain the balance between the fluids in the body. Surgery was considered as a last resort. During the very early times, barbers did the surgery...without anaesthesia. Ouch!
Mainly only the wealthy had availability to professional medical treatment. Villagers had to make their own with herbs, ground earthworms, urine and animal excrement. Different types of plants were used to make medicines, such as tobacco, arsenic, lily root. For example, the Bubonic plague was taken care of by piercing the buboes and then applying a
warm poultice of butter and garlic. Headaches were treated with rose, lavender, sage and bay which are all sweet-smelling herbs; while stomach pains were cured using
wormwood, mint and balm.
Liquorice and comfrey were used on lung problems.
Painfully enough, vinegar was thought to kill disease and so was used as a cleansing agent on wounds.
Much of the medicine was administered by non-medical people. Poor people seeking the aid of a doctor depended on their class and whether they could pay the fee.
The best way of maintaining health was thought to be natural functions such as sneezing. If there was too much of one fluid, then it could be expelled through sweat, tears, urine or faeces.
Medieval doctors were always hassling about prevention, exercise, a good diet and a good environment. This was quite impossible because of the simple fact of when and where they were living. One of the best ways to diagnose a disease was to examine the colour of the patient’s urine. There was also taking the pulse and collecting blood samples.
There were many treatments including administering laxatives and diuretics, fumigation, cauterization and taking hot baths or herbs.
If a merchant comes down with a fever, he will first speak to the physician about diagnosing him. Next, he’ll ask his wife whether she knows of a particular herb that will bring his fever down. If she doesn’t, she will contact the apothecary. The apothecary will then make a medicine prescribed by the physician. If that doesn’t work either, the merchant will then go to the local wise-woman or witch. She will then concoct a potion for the merchant and perhaps attach a leech to suck out the bad blood.
wormwood used for stomach pains
collection of the dead
lavender; for headaches
amputation of leg
liquorice; for lung problems
Elizabethan physicians were extremely well educated, with degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge, yet they had no a clue of what had initially caused terrible illnesses and diseases. Elizabethan physicians paid most of their attention on patient’s bodily fluids, called the Humours. This would’ve explained why patients were subjected to bleeding. ‘The Humours’ was a Hippocratic idea that suggested that the human body ran on blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black with the liver as the centre of the body.
Just the sight of an Elizabethan physician, in his unusual clothing was enough to frighten a patient ‘
. Although this might have been, the physicians clothing probably would’ve saved their lives. There long black robes, boots and beaked masks, not only kept their body clean, but also protected their body from contracting infirmities.
The Elizabethan era failed to give a high standard of wellbeing. With streets pilled up with garbage, faeces and stray animals; people were falling like dominoes when it came to being plagued with sicknesses. To top it all off cities were over crowed, making mess in every corner, this probably being the ground cause of diseases spreading form one person to another. Many ate pigs and cows, which would eat trash as their diet. Rivers were contaminated and there was no such thing as running water to wash the germs away. Many bathed only a couple of times a year! Diseases like the Bubonic Plague would kill almost one third of the total population.
To conclude, Elizabethan Medicine was extremely basic in an era when terrible illnesses (such as the Black Death) were killing one third of the country. The underlying basis from caused by lack of sanitation, especially in crowded suburbs. It didn’t help with ‘doctors’ that mostly focused on the flow of fluid within the body. With no running water or no sophisticated medication; diseases and sicknesses raided the meaning of health.
a physician of the Elizabethan era .
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