Picture of an Elizabethan Doctor
 

Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses

  • Interesting Facts and information about Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses and Elizabethan Life
  • People, events and Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses in Elizabethan Life
  • The Elizabethan medical profession
  • Elizabethan Illnesses - Bubonic Plague, dysentery, typhoid
  • Elizabethan Medicine - tobacco, arsenic, lily root and dried toad!
  • Physicians, Surgeons, barbers, apothecaries

Picture of an Elizabethan Doctor

 
 

Elizabethan Life - Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses

Elizabethan Medicine was extremely basic in an era when terrible illnesses such as the Bubonic Plague (Black Death ) were killing nearly one third of the population. The above picture is of an Elizabethan Physician. Just the sight of an Elizabethan Physician in his strange clothing, especially the weird mask, was enough to frighten anyone to death! But the Physicians clothes probably saved his life and prevented him contracting the illnesses and diseases of his patients such as the plague and typhoid.

 
 
 

The underlying cause of many of the Elizabethan illnesses was the lack of sanitation, especially in large towns or cities such as London. There were open sewers in the streets which were also filled with garbage. This was occasionally removed and waste was dumped into the nearest river such as the Thames. 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 ( a main cause of the spread of typhoid ).

The Beliefs of the Elizabethan Physician

 

The Beliefs of the Elizabethan Physician

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 Physicians paid attention to a patients bodily fluids, called Humours, which explains the reason why patients where subjected to 'bleeding'. Other beliefs of the Elizabethan Physicians centred around Astrology. The Elizabethan medical profession had no idea what caused the plague - the best they could offer was to bled the patient or administer a concoction of herbs.

The Clothes of the Physician

The Bubonic Plague was spread by the bacillus yersinia pestis (this is where the word pestilence is derived) carried by fleas and transmitted normally by rodents. Back to the clothes of our Elizabethan Physician in the above picture! Take a close look at what he is wearing.

 
 

All of his body is completely covered from head to foot, even his face by the ghastly mask. Stout boots and gloves covered his hands and feet. Elizabethan Physicians wore long dark robes with pointed hoods, leather gloves, boots, and the most bizarre masks featuring long beaks which were filled with begamot oil. Amulets of dried blood and ground-up toads were worn at the waists of the Elizabethan 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 Elizabethan Physician. The bizarre and gruesome Physician masks would have acted as protection against contracting the disease through breathing the same air as the victim. Neither rats nor fleas could easily penetrate these defences.

Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses

Elizabethan Doctors

Elizabethan Medicine was administered by different people. Your doctor depended on your class and whether you had money to pay the fee.

  • Elizabethan Physicians
    Only the very wealthy would receive the ministrations of an Elizabethan 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 Elizabethans
  • Elizabethan Surgeons
    Inferior  to Physicians these had a similar reputation to the barbers with whom they associated and belonged to the Company of Barber Surgeons
  • Barbers
    The Barbers were inferior to the Surgeons, although they also belonged to the Company of Barber Surgeons. They were only allowed to pull teeth or let blood
  • Elizabethan Apothocary
    The usual route that most people took was to visit the apothecary, or dispenser of drugs. The Apothocaries belonged to the Grocer's Guild and sold sweets, cosmetics and perfumes as well as drugs
  • The Church
    The Church provided some comfort for the poor
 
  • The local 'Wise Woman'
    The local 'wise woman' was often the first person contacted by poor people
  • The Elizabethan Housewife - The ordinary Elizabethan housewife used various herbs to produce home made medicines and potions

Elizabethan Illnesses

Elizabethan illnesses were similar to the illnesses of the Modern age - but before causes had been identified and cures identified. In addition to this there were outbreaks of terrible diseases such as the Bubonic Plague and Typhoid. Broken bones, wounds, abscesses and fractures were treated in unsanitary environments making the condition even worse. The only cure for toothache was having the tooth pulled - without anaesthetics! Amputations were performed by surgeons - the stump was cauterised with pitch. Poor living conditions and poor diet led to many illnesses suffered by both the wealthy and the poor.

 
 

Anaemia was common as was rheumatism, arthritis, tuberculosis and dysentery ( known as the flux ). Child bearing and possible childbed fever was dangerous - many Elizabethan woman made arrangement for the care of their children in case they themselves died during childbirth. The white make-up applied by the Upper Class women was lead based and therefore poisonous - Elizabethan women who applied this make-up were often ill and if it was used in sufficient quantities it would result in death. The Upper classes also suffered from gout. Influenza was common, referred to as the 'sweating sickness'. Sexually Transmitted diseases, such as Syphilis, were also prevalent.

Elizabethan Medicine

Elizabethan medicines were  basic, to say the least. Letting blood was conducted by cupping or leeches. The Medicine used to treat various illnesses were as follows:

  • Bubonic Plague ( the Black Death )
    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! 
  • Head Pains
    Head Pains were treated with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay.
  • Stomach Pains and Sickness
    Stomach pains and sickness were treated with wormwood, mint, and balm.
  • Lung Problems
    Lung problems given the medical treatment of liquorice and comfrey.
  • Wounds
    Vinegar was widely used as a cleansing agent as it was believed that it would kill disease.

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Life and Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses
Some interesting facts and information about Elizabethan Life and Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses.

Elizabethan Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses
Details, facts and information about other aspects of Elizabethan Life can be accessed via the Elizabethan Era Sitemap.

 

Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses

  • Interesting Facts and information about Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses and Elizabethan Life
  • People, events and Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses in Elizabethan Life
  • The Elizabethan medical profession
  • Elizabethan Illnesses - Bubonic Plague, dysentery, typhoid
  • Elizabethan Medicine - tobacco, arsenic, lily root and dried toad!
  • Physicians, Surgeons, barbers, apothecaries
 
 

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Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses

 

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By Linda Alchin