Course:Course:History 344 Nasty Families/Professions/Medicine

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To be a physician in Stuart England meant you were entitled a gentleman status. “The physician, as a student of the liberal sciences and a member of an ancient and venerable profession, was ac-corded gentle status, unlike the great majority of gentlemen, because of his intellectual qualifications, his mastery of the art and science of healing the sick-and much else.”(1) Being a member of the College of Physicians offered much prestige as well. There were three levels of membership and as a physician climbed the ladder of this membership, he would climb higher in the social order and get to the top of his profession. “The most prestigious position was a full fellowship, of which there were only forty at the Restoration and eighty in 1687. One rung lower was twelve candidates, fully qualified graduates of the English medical faculties who were eligible to become fellows after four years of practice or upon the death or retirement of an incumbent.” The last level was those who had come from a university or were otherwise qualified to honestly practice medicine. (3) Not all physicians were formally trained. They all did not run their practices like consult-like physicians whose practice was carried out by surgeons and apothecaries, rather, “this new type of physician kept his apothecary’s or surgeon’s shop, run by apprentices, and did all the treatment himself.” (4) This is a group which did not go to University, so with little record of them, do not have a lot of information on them. Although there had been an attempt to regulate medical practices by the Universities in 1421, it did not cover apothecaries because they were difficult to differentiate form grocers and mercers of small wares. (5) Barber surgeons and apothecaries still had to be apprenticed but there was nothing stopping anyone from practicing medicine so this attempted regulation did not really affect anyone in the Stuart age unless of course something went wrong with treatment and then they could be held responsible. Back in 1512, there had been and act that had said that surgery and medicine should be kept separate. (6) This was not easy to enforce however, and after some prosecutions shortly after it was said that “the implication behind them was that surgery comprehended all forms of medical treatment and that the university physician therefore was to be regarded as a consultant for the rich, rather than as a practitioner with an exclusive right to practice medicine as an arbitrarily distinct branch of the healing art.”(7) This is an example of how those in the medical field, both untrained and trained were at odds with each other. Another Act passed in 1542 again petitioning that surgery and medicine should remain separate. (8) However, this was not to last. “In I627 at a time when it seemed that the surgeons might obtain new charter rights the College began to grant licenses to surgeons to practice medicine as far as was required in surgical cases." (9) The art of practicing medicine was indeed a constantly changing profession.


1) James L. Axtell, Education and Status in Stuart England: The London Physician History of Education Quarterly , Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer, 1970), 142.

2) Ibid, 142. 3) Ibid, 143. 4) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part I. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3): 365 5) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part I. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3): 365 6) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part II. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3): 220 7) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part II. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3): 221 8) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part II. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3):223 9) S. Roberts , “The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England” Part I. Med Hist. 1964 July; 8(3): 226.