The wars of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries provided numerous positions for surgical practitioners. From the English Civil War (1642-1651) to the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), surgeons consistently had the opportunity for state service. These positions were, of course, fraught with danger with little by way of monetary compensation.
Upon leaving service or attempting to set up civilian practices, surgeons were left adrift and many failed to gain meaningful employment or incorporate themselves successfully into civilian life. Many tended to be in desperate financial straits and were forced to resort to petitioning for funds in or jobs in order to feed themselves and their family.
At the Restoration, surgeon Walter Ross found himself at a loss. He had served as a Royalist surgeon, was taken prisoner at Worcester by the Parliamentarians, and forced to care for wounded prisoners.
Ross’s petition, transcribed below, was accompanied by a similar statement witnessed by three men to prove its veracity. Ross sought recompense for lost funds, claiming that he had spent all of his wealth caring for wounded soldiers. The tale is one of loss and loyalty; Ross emphasized that it was only his faithful service to the royal cause that led to both his current condition and his request for financial aid. The letter is formulated as an appeal for deserved charity and payment for his loyalty.
The impact of Ross’ letter and signed testimony is unknown:
To the Kings most Excellt Matie The humble Petition of Walter Rosse Chirurgion
Sheweth That whereas your Pats. Peticoner hath beene constantly Loyall (ever since the beginning of the late Rebellion) unto your sacred Mats Interst which hath occasioned his frequent sufferings, but more particularly with your Mates at Worcester, where your pet. was taken prisoner, and the Rebells finding him to be a Chirurgion appointed him to take care of the wounded prisoners, who were in a most sad and suffering Condicon, had not your petr ingaged his whole creditt and fortune (having then his subsistance and ffamely in England) for procuring of Medicines and other necessaries for their Recovery, which reduced your pet. his Wife and Children to a most necessitous Condicon.
May it therefore please your Royall Maties to take consideration of the petisson, and...the low Condition of your poore Petr., and grant him…of the ffinds of Scotland, as may in some measure repaire his sad losses, Soo that hee his wife and children may have a subsistence to live.
And as in duty bound your petr shall pray.