Category Archives: Medicine

Booze Dining Medicine

No maide shall drinke no wine

These snippets on the marvellous benefits of wine come from A compendious regiment or a dietary of healthe, by Andrew Boorde (1547).


All manner of wines be made of grapes. It must be fine, fayre & cleare to the eye. It muste be fragrante and redolent having a good odour and flavour in the nose. It muste sprinkle in the cup when it is drawne. It must be colde & pleasant in the mouth, and it must be stronge and subtle of substance. Moderately drunk it doth quicken a mans wittes. It doth comfort the heart, it doth scoure the liver, specially if it be white wine. It doth rejoice all the powers of man, it dothe engendre good bloode, it doth comforte and doth nurse the braine and all the body, and it resolueth flem, it engendreth heate, it doth cleanse woundes & sores.

Forthermore the better the wine is, the better humours it doth engender. And because wine is full of fumosie, it is good therefore to allay it with water. Wine high and hot of operation doth comfort olde men and women, but there is no wine good for children and maides. No maide shall drinke no wine, but still she shall drinke water unto she be married. The usual drinke for youth is fountaine water, for in every towne is a fountaine or a shallowe well, to the which all people that be young or servant hath a confluence and a recourse to drinke.

Meane wines, as wines of Gascony, and Frenche wines, are good with meate, specially claret wine. It is not good to drinke neither wine nor ale before a man dothe eate somewhat, although there be olde fantasticall sayings to the contrary. Also these hot wines [such] as malmesye, wine course [Corsican], wine Greeke, romanysk (Italian), secke (dry white Spanish) basterde (burgundy), muscadel, with other hot wines be not good to drinke with meate, but after meate, & with oysters, with salades, with fruit.

Furthermore all sweete wines doth make a man fatte.
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A severe pain in the great toe

According to the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society, Gout is ‘a disease which results from an imbalance between the production of uric acid (a break-down product of protein digestion), and the ability to excrete this substance, which is mainly a function of the kidneys. Why this imbalance and the resulting excess of uric acid in the blood, and often also in tissues, causes symptoms only intermittently is still being investigated.’

Evidence of gout has been found as far back as 4000 BC, in the skeletal remains of mummified Egyptians. Written evidence of the disease begins with the Hippocratic writings from about 400 BC. One such passage states: ‘Persons affected with the gout who are aged, have tophi in their joints, who have led a hard life, and whose bowels are constipated are beyond the power of medicine to cure.’ The notable reference to ‘a hard life’ is of some interest, since from at least the 1st century AD right through to the 20th century, Gout was thought to be a punishment for excesses of food, drink and debauchery.

A 1683 description of an acute attack of Gout by Dr. Thomas Sydenham is still referenced today:

The victim goes to bed and sleeps in good health. About two o’clock in the morning, he is awakened by a severe pain in the great toe; more rarely in the heel, ankle or instep. This pain is like that of a dislocation, and yet the parts feel as if cold water were poured over them. Then follows chills and shiver and a little fever. The pain which at first moderate becomes more intense. After a time this comes to full height, accommodating itself to the bones and ligaments of the tarsus and metatarsus. Now it is a violent stretching and tearing of the ligaments-now it is a gnawing pain and now a pressure and tightening. So exquisite and lively meanwhile is the feeling of the part affected, that it cannot bear the weight of bedclothes nor the jar of a person walking in the room.

According to the GUAES, Dr Sydenham

was one of the few medical writers who admitted to the lack of a reliable treatment. Indeed, while patients were blamed for contracting Gout, the inadequacy of medicine in general was symbolised by its inability to cure this particular disease. Despite the use of many mainly herbal medications, used internally or as poultices, the basic therapy of that time continued to be diet modification.

In 1596 ‘A. T’ a ‘practitioner in physicke’ published A rich store-house or treasury for the diseased Wherein, are many approued medicines for diuers and sundry diseases, which haue been long hidden, and not come to light before this time. Now set foorth for the great benefit and comfort of the poorer sort of people that are not of abilitie to go to the physitions. It contains the following remedies for relieving Gout:

TAKE stale Pisse, and seeth it, and scome it, and put thereto a good quantity of the juice of red Nettles, red Fenell, Mints, and Wormewood, and let the iuice of them be of as euen porcions as you can gesse them.  Mustard and Cummin, of each of them a little, and the juice of hearbe Benet as much as of all the rest, Seeth all these together, and make a Playster thereof, and so apply it often to the place grieued, and it will help. This hath been prooued.

Another good Medicine for the Gowt, or any other ache.  Take Rosen and Pitch, of each of them a quarter of a pound, and a quantity of Frankensence, as much as a beane, and as much of Turpentine, then take a quantity of Deare-suet, or Sheepes [illegible] and boyle them all together in a pot, and when it is well boyled, then take it foorth, and wash it as you do Birdlime in cleane water, and then take some of it, and spread it vpon a peece of Leather, and lay it to the sore, and so let it remaine there untill it fall off it selfe.  Use this two or three times, and you shall finde greate ease thereby.

Take Shoemakers pieces of leather, and fry out the grease, and lay some of it upon a browne paper, and warme it a little at the fire, then apply it to the place grieued, and it will take away the paine thereof in one night.

In 1630, The Newlanders cure Aswell of those violent sicknesses which distemper most minds in these latter dayes: as also by a cheape and newfound dyet, to preserue the body sound and free from all diseases, vntill the last date of life, through extreamity of age. Wherein are inserted generall and speciall remedies against the scuruy. Coughes. Feauers. Goute. Collicke. Sea-sicknesses, and other grieuous infirmities. Published for the weale of Great Brittaine, by Sir William Vaughan, Knight, recommends the following treatment for Gout:

First let him betake himselfe, if he can, to our Dyet.
Secondly, let him beware of all strong Drinkes and Wine.
Thirdly, let him purge himselfe with the Potion of [illegible] which I have before described against the Scurvy: Or else let him use PilluSingle illegible letterae Cochiae (?) which drawes awayes the causes from the Head. And these Purgations hee shall use once a moneth. And if there bee cause, let him bleede sometimes.
Fourthly, let him exercise.
Fiftly, let him annoynt for a locall Lenitive the place affected with Oyle of Frogs, or of Mirrh, eyther alone, or with a little Saffron, and if the paine bee violent with some Opium.
But indeede to mollifie and asswage the griefe, for the richer sort, I advise them never to bee without this precious Cataplasme: Take of dried Rose leaves one Ounce, of Masticke halfe an Ounce, of Saffron one dragme, of Campher sixteene graines, and of Barly meale two ounces.  Powre thereon as much white wine, as will make them boyle, which must bee gently, and by leasure, and often stirred.

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Medicine Poetry Shakespeare

The Bard & The Bath

John Wilmot having died of syphilis, I thought some snippets on the treatment of this disease in early modern England might prove interesting. The disease, contracted through sexual intercourse, was believed to have been transmitted by the French (although Columbus was often blamed for having brought it over from the newly-found America). Much more virulent than today, syphilis came to be widely-feared.  Fracastoro’s Syphilidis sive de Morbo Gallico (1525) graphically illustrates just how disfiguring the disease could be:

[U]nsightly sores broke out over all the body and made the face horrifyingly ugly, and disfigured the breast by their foul presence: the disease took on a new aspect: pustules with the shape of an acorn-cup and rotten with thick slime, which soon afterwards gaped wide open and flowed with a discharge like mucous and putrid blood.  Moreover the disease gnawed deep and burrowed into the inmost parts, feeding on its victims’ bodies with pitiable results: for on quite frequent occasions we ourselves have seen limbs stripped of their flesh and the bones rough with scales, and mouths eaten away yawn open in hideous gape while the throat produced feeble sounds.



In early modern Europe, the use of Mercury was a widespread method of treating Syphilis. It was administered to the patient in four different ways: orally, topically, by ointment, and by fumigation.  Mercury taken orally was absorbed internally. When used topically, mercury would be applied several times a day to different parts of the body and the metal absorbed into the skin. Mercury ointment adhered to the same principle, but the metal was kept in continuous close contact with the skin. Treatment by fumigation was the least effective and most gruelling mercury therapy. The unfortunate patient was placed in a closed box, or bath tub, with only the head visible. A fire was then lit underneath the cabinet, raising the temperature and causing the mercury to vaporize. This method was not popular since it was such an agonising ordeal and did little to treat the disease effectively. All processes were intended to accomplish the same goal; to increase the amount of saliva produced by the patient, since it was believed saliva carried away the venereal poison. Three pints of saliva a day was considered a good prognosis, and in the cases when the patient would not produce the required amount of saliva, more mercury was used.

The French doctor Ambroise Paré reports in his treatise on the Lues venera that sweating treatments involving mercury vapour

infect and corrupt their venomous contagion, the braine and lungs, by whom they are primarily and fully received, when the patients during the residue of their lives have stinking breaths. Yea many while they have beene thus handled, have beene taken hold of by a convulsion and trembling of their heads, hands & legges, with a deafenesse, apoplexie, and lastly miserable death.

Mercury caused sweating and salivation. Sores developed on the mouth, tongue and throat. Teeth and hair often fell out. In Book Two of Pantagruel (1532) Rabelais depicts a pox victim in the advanced stages of the disease, his face glistening with corrosive mercurial ointment, his teeth chattering, his mouth foaming.

The French Pox appeared widely on the London stage; it is referenced in numerous plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries and according to some scholarship, Shakespeare’s 154th Sonnet may in fact be an autobiographical reference to his own enforced agonies at the hands of the mercury quacks:

 Sonnet 154

The little love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
While many nymphs, that vowed chaste life to keep,
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;
And so the general of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove:
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Execution Medicine

Newes from the Dead

This snippet comes from Newes from the Dead, OR A TRUE AND EXACT Narration of the miraculous deliverance of ANNE GREENE (1651) by Richard Watkins, Scoller.  He published an account of the miraculous survival of a young Oxfordshire woman, who was hanged, taken off for dissection, and then wonderously sprang to life in her coffin.

There happened lately in this Citty [Oxford] a very rare and remarkable accident, which being variously and falsely reported amongst the vulgar, I have here faithfuly recorded it. At Duns-Tew in Oxford-shire there lived a maid named Anne Greene, being about 22 years of age, of a middle stature, strong, fleshie, and of an indifferent good feature, who being (as she said) often sollicited by the faire promises and other amorous enticements of Mr Jeffrey Read [aged 16/17]… at last consented to satisfy his unlawfull pleasure. By which act she conceived, and was delivered of a Man-child, which being never made known, and the Infant found dead, caused a suspition that she being the mother had murthered it, and throwne it there on purpose to conceale both it and her shame together.

According to Anne’s biographer, Laura Gowing, she had in fact fallen ill, and gone to the privy, where she was delivered of a stillborn foetus and then, terrified, had hidden it in a corner of the privy covered with dust and ashes. However, her employers discovered the child and she was accused of infanticide and imprisoned. Under the 1624 statute (21 James I c. 27) single women who concealed their infant’s death could be presumed guilty of infanticide.

She was immediately taken into examination, and carried before severall Justices of the peace in the Countrey, and soone after, in an extreame cold and rainy day, sent unto Oxford Gaole, where having passed about three weekes more in continuall affrights and terrours, she was at a Sessions held in Oxford, arraigned, condemned, and on Saturday the 14 December last, brought forth to the place of Execution: where, after singing a Psalme & something said in justification of her self, and touching the lewednesse of the Family wherein she lately lived, she was turn’d off the Ladder, and hanging by the neck for the space of almost halfe and houre, some of her friends in the mean time thumping her on the breast, others hanging with all their weight upon her leggs, sometimes lifting her up, and then pulling her downe againe with a suddaine jerke, thereby the sooner to dispatch her out of her paine.

At length, when everyone thought she was dead, the body being taken downe and out into a Coffin, was carried thence into a private house, where some Physitians had appointed to make a Dissection. The Coffin being opened, she was observed to breath, and in breathing, obscurely to rattle: which being perceived by a lusty fellow (thinking to doe an act of charity in ridding her out of the small reliques of a painfull life) stamped severall times on her breast & stomack with all the force he could.

At this point it appears several anatomy professors arrived, and seeing Anne still breathing in the coffin, quickly attempted to revive her:

Having caused her to be held up in the Coffin, they wrenched open her teeth, which were fast set, and powred into her mouth some hot cordiall spirits; whereupon she rattled more than before. Then they ordered some to rub and chafe the extreme parts of her body, which they continued about a quarter of an houre; oft, in the mean time, powring in a spoonfull or two of the cordiall waters; and besides tickling her throat with a feather, at which she opened her eyes, but shut them againe presently.

These ministrations went on for considerable time, and the poor woman was eventually moved from her coffin to a warm bed. The doctors bled her, and fed her cordials and rubbed her extremities until by the following day she was able to sit up and complain of a sore throat.

Thus, within the space of a Moneth, was she wholly recovered: and in the same Room where her Body was to have been dissected, she became a great wonder, being revived to the satisfaction of multitudes that flocked thither daily to see her.

After her recovery Anne went to recuperate with her friends in the country, taking the coffin she had been laid in as a souvenir; her father took a collection from the many visitors, which paid her medical bills and enabled her to sue for a free pardon, which was granted.

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