Tudor Medicine was
extremely basic during a period when terrible illnesses such as
the Bubonic Plague were killing nearly one
third of the population of England. The underlying cause of many of
the Tudor illnesses was the lack of hygiene and sanitation,
especially in large towns such as London but knowledge of
Tudor medicine was so limited that this was an unknown cause of
Tudor Medicine and
Illnesses - Lack of Sanitation
During the Tudor period there
were open sewers in the streets which were also filled with
garbage which was occasionally removed and the waste was dumped
into the nearest river. The houses were built close to each
other and diseases were
easily spread in this unsanitary environment where fleas,
lice and rats all flourished. There was no running water,
this was obtained from water pumps which was the main cause of the
spread of typhoid. London was particularly vulnerable to
diseases and the Bubonic Plague was transmitted by the fleas that lived
on rodents and animals, especially the rats which came to London on the
ships carrying products from distant lands. The knowledge of Tudor
medicine was not able to combat such terrible illnesses.
Tudor Medicine - Beliefs of the Tudor Physician
The above picture is of a
Tudor Physician. The
strange clothes and mask worn by the Tudor Physician probably saved his life and prevented him
contracting the illnesses of his patients such
as the Bubonic Plague and Typhoid. Tudor
Medicine was basic, Physicians had no idea what caused the terrible
illnesses and diseases. The beliefs about the causes of illnesses were
based on the ancient teachings of Aristotle and Hippocrates. The
Tudor Physicians paid attention to a patients bodily fluids, called Humours,
which explains the reason why patients where subjected to 'bleeding'.
Other beliefs of the Tudor Physicians centred around Astrology.
The Tudor medical profession had no idea what caused the plague -
the best medicine they could offer was to bled the patient or administer a
concoction of herbs, as we said Tudor Medicine was extremely basic.
Tudor Medicine - The Clothes of the
The Bubonic Plague (also called the Black Death) was carried by fleas and transmitted normally by rats.
clothes of the Tudor Physician completely covered him from
head to foot, even his face was covered by the ghastly mask. Strong boots and gloves
covered his hands and feet. The bizarre masks, featuring long beaks
which contained begamot oil, would have acted as protection against
contracting the disease through breathing the same air as the victim.
The clothes and coverings of the doctors would have certainly provided
protection from flea bites and therefore reduced the possibility of
contacting the plague. Amulets of
dried blood and ground-up toads were worn around the waists of the
Tudor Physicians. It was their custom to douse themselves with
vinegar and chew angelica before approaching a victim. Although this
might sound pointless today, these precautions would have protected the
Tudor Physician and had they realised the benefits would have increased
the effectiveness of Tudor medicine.
Tudor Medicine - Tudor Doctors
Tudor Medicine was
administered by different people. The doctor depended on your class and
whether you had money to pay the fee of the doctor.
- Only the wealthy would receive the ministrations of an
Tudor Physician who would have received an education at one of
the Universities and the College of Physicians. The usual fee would
be a gold coin worth 10 shillings - well beyond the means of most
- Tudor Surgeons were inferior to Physicians
and had a similar reputation to the
barbers with whom they associated. The surgeons belonged to the Company of
- Barbers were inferior to the Surgeons and were
only allowed to pull teeth or bleed patients
- The Tudor Apothecary was dispenser of drugs and
Tudor medicine. The Apothecaries belonged to the Grocer's Guild and
sold sweets, cosmetics and perfumes as well as medicine
- The Church provided some comfort for the poor and
medicine was concocted from herb gardens
- The local 'Wise Woman' was often the first person contacted by poor
people who would administer basic medicine derived from their
knowledge of plants and herbs
Tudor Medicine - Treatments
Tudor medicine and treatments were basic, to say the least. Letting blood
was conducted by cupping or applying leeches. The Tudor Medicine used to treat various
illnesses were as follows:
- Bubonic Plague
was treated by lancing the buboes and applying a warm poultice of
butter, onion and garlic. Various other remedies were tried
including tobacco, arsenic, lily root and dried toad to produce an
- Head Pains were treated
with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay.
- Stomach pains
and sickness were treated with wormwood, mint, and balm.
- Lung problems given the
medical treatment of liquorice and comfrey.
- Vinegar was widely used
as a cleansing agent as it was believed that it would kill disease.
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