The Miracle Cure

I’ve been reading about medieval medicine because there’s nothing like knowing what other people had to take to make you feel better about today’s privations.

What I’m not really managing to get my head round how people then decided what was a genuinely useful medicine and what was quackery.

For example, in 1382, Roger Clerk of Wandsworth was put in the pillory for pretending to be a physician. He was dragged before the Mayor and aldermen by one Roger atte Hache and accused of trying to cure Roger’s wife Johanna of ‘bodily infirmities’ by making her wear a piece of old book parchment wrapped up in a piece of cloth of gold.

Strangely this had no effect on her condition whatsoever, Clerk was dragged before the beak and led through the streets of London bareback on some old nag to the sound of pipes and trumpets, wearing said parchment and a whetstone (representing his lies) for all to see.

Fair dos. Clearly the guy had no idea. But when John de Gaddesden made a ‘plaster’ of dung, headless crickets and beetles, to be rubbed over sundry sick parts, someone not only actually did it but after three days claimed the pain had disappeared.

Frankly I’m not sure I’d have lasted three days before I decided that the pain was better than the cure, but nevertheless the plaster was deemed a success. Maybe Roger Clerk just wasn’t bold enough in the yuck-factor…

Trouble is that suddenly plasters became all the rage. Everyone got in on the act – there was even a book of recipes by Henry VIII and his physicians with a top ten unguents including’ a black plastre devised by the Kinges Highness,’ ‘ a cataplasme made ungtment-lyke of the Kinge’s Majesties device’ and, top of the bill, ‘ a plastre devised by the Kinges Majestie at Grenewich and made at Westminstre, to take away inflammacions and cease payne and heale exorations, which is my excuse for writing about it today.

Henry may have spent time writing poety and love songs at Greenwich but in those later, gout-ridden years, he also found time to write a book on medicine. Amazingly he was never accused of quackery…

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One Comment to “The Miracle Cure”

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting post. In America, where I live, private health care “providers” would charge you a million dollars for the “plaster of dung” treatment.