Saturday, June 21, 2014

Disease and Medicine in Elizabethan Times

You may want to re-think going back to Elizabethan England after you hear some of the medical treatments for diseases you've never known existed.  Doctors of those days relied on Galen's teachings (he lived in the second century.)

Galen believed in the four "humors" of the human body.  Yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood.  These "humors" wee attached to moods.  Yellow bile affected the liver, so one became "liverish" which still exists today as the universal French obsession with that organ. 

The plague was deadly.  1563 - 17,404 dead.  1603 - 32,257 dead.  The official advice of the College of Physicians was to perfume the bedroom and keep a fire burning.  The physicians, incidentally, didn't make house calls. 

Funerals, during plague times, were held at dusk (no electricity) to discourage mourners from attending. 

People were so devastatingly poor then that if you did fall ill with the plague you could hire a poor woman to  be boarded up with you - yes, windows were covered and nailed shut - to do the cooking and cleaning.  The odds were very good that it would be the poor woman's last job. 

One man who had the plague didn't fight.  Instead, he had his grave dug not far from his house, had a bunch of straw laid in the hole for a bed,, climbed down, asked for a blanket and "so departed out of this world."

Modesty was in short supply.  If you were pregnant and didn't invite your best girlfriends to the delivery, it was considered something of a slight to them.

There is a reason people got sick - plates, tankards and pots were washed, but no soap was used. 

Contrary to popular belief today, the Elizabethans did not accept nor ignore noxious smells from the outdoor privies or indoor chamber pots.  Sir John Harington, Elizabeth's godson, built a water closet with running water.  She had the design copied for use in her Richmond home.  Royalty always gets the good stuff...

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