Review: ‘Maladies and Medicine: Exploring health & healing 1540 – 1740’, by Jennifer Evans & Sara Read

Maladies and MedicinePublication Date: 4th July 2017

Published By: Pen & Sword 

ISBN: 9781473875715

Format: Paperback

Price: £12.99



Maladies and Medicine offers a lively exploration of health and medical cures in early modern England. The introduction sets out the background in which the body was understood, covering the theory of the four humours and the ways that male and female bodies were conceptualised. It also explains the hierarchy of healers from university trained physicians, to the itinerant women healers who travelled the country offering cures based on inherited knowledge of homemade remedies. It covers the print explosion of medical health guides, which began to appear in the sixteenth century from more academic medical text books to cheap almanacs.

The book has twenty chapters covering attitudes towards, and explanations of some of, the most common diseases and medical conditions in the period and the ways people understood them, along with the steps people took to get better. It explores the body from head to toe, from migraines to gout. It was an era when tooth cavities were thought to be caused by tiny worms and smallpox by an inflammation of the blood, and cures ranged from herbal potions, cooling cordials, blistering the skin, and of course letting blood.

Case studies and personal anecdotes taken from doctors notes, personal journals, diaries, letters and even court records show the reactions of individuals to their illnesses and treatments, bringing the reader into close proximity with people who lived around 400 years ago. This fascinating and richly illustrated study will appeal to anyone curious about the history of the body and the way our ancestors lived.

My Review

Earthworms were used in an awful lot of remedies, if the recipes taken from early modern household and medical books are too be believed. There were some more palatable, less worm-based recipes, usually including expensive plants like saffron from crocuses, and, occasionally, sliced-up puppies.

Have I made you poorly yet?

There might be a recipe in this book for that. Nothing sensible like a peppermint tea though. It’d probably include rose water though.

The book covers a variety of maladies, using contemporary sources, from household books to the published works of eminent doctors. There’s some interesting thoughts on the diseases of women, and how they were entirely responsible for the pox. There’s some interesting details about eye surgery in the eighteenth century.

Okay, I’m being a bit flippant today, it’s the anxiety. I had a bad night and I’ve had to go to an advice centre today to arrange an appointment to get help to fill in my P.I.P form.

I enjoyed this book, it was interesting and would be useful for a writer of novels set in the period. The writing was clear and precise, doesn’t engage in speculation but does give you an idea of the possible modern diagnosis of early modern maladies.


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