Friday, 30 May 2014

"Things Beyond Their Ken"?: 17th Century Female Surgical Practitioners


Female medical practice was not limited to the home or practicing on family members and neighbours.  Official recognition and appreciation of female lay practice was tied often to practice on behalf of the poor.  Diane Willen has found that women provided medical poor relief in Norwich, York, and London hospitals by performing nursing duties and curing skin diseases thought often to be under the aegis of surgery.[1] 

Women’s surgical practices were put to the test during the English Civil War as wounded and sick soldiers outnumbered the surgeons attached to their regiments.  Thomas Harrison petitioned Parliament for £5 “for 50 Menes dyett being wounded at Naseby fight yt Came to my wife for Cure.”[2]  Dorothy Painter of Richmond was recorded as relieving “maimed soldiers” while another woman named Mary Searle was “active in looking after the sick and wounded Parliament soldiers.”[3] 

Lady Anne Halkett treated wounded Royalist soldiers at Dunbar in 1650.  Halkett treated, dressed, and bandaged at least sixty men and 
“besides the plaisters or balsam I aplied, I gave every one of them as much with them as might drese them 3 or 4 times, for I had provided myselfe very well of things nesesary for that imploymentt, expecting they might bee usefull.”   
Several of the wounds she treated were quite severe, one man’s “head was cutt so that the [blank space] was very visibly seene, and the watter came bubbling up.”[4]  One can only assume that this head wound had exposed the man’s skull or even brain tissue.     

There are numerous accounts of upper class women who practiced physick and surgery.  Lady Margaret Hoby acted as both physician and surgeon, in 1601 attempting to cut the imperforated anus of an infant brought to her by a local tailor.[5]  Lady Anne Fanshawe’s mother and Robert Burton’s mother were both renowned for their charitable medical and surgical practices.[6]  

A page from Lady Anne Fanshawe's receipt book.
Barred from medical school and only infrequently found in surgical guilds, women gained initially their medical knowledge through oral means.  In some cases, such as those of Lady Anne Clifford and Alice Thornton, women were taught the healing craft by their own mothers.[7]  Other women were taught by their husbands and continued practicing once widowed, while others learned from other male family members: Nicholas Ferrar taught his nieces some surgical skills.[8] 

With growing literacy rates, manuscript and printed texts joined the oral tradition as a mechanism through which women learned to practice physick and surgery.  Manuscript receipt books reveal that women collected and wrote down information and recipes related to household management, cookery, physick, and surgery.[9]

Overall, these receipt manuscripts are strikingly similar to the popular general health treatises published throughout the period.  Both manuscript and printed text were part of a movement to collect and organize household knowledge in an accessible way. 

Treatises were reprinted frequently over the period and, like John Partridge’s The Widdowe’s Treasure (1595) and Gervase Markham’s The English House-Wife (1637), contained a mixture of medico-surgical, cookery, and veterinary information along with corresponding recipes.  Receipts were typically indexed for ease of reference and grouped in general sections that separated physick and surgical receipts from those of cookery, perfuming, dyes, artificial gems and the like.  Again emphasizing their similarity, authors of popular health treatises aped the structure of receipt books in order to suggest the authority of the good housewife.  

Markham was especially known for this work.
By the Restoration, Hannah Woolley had begun publishing her treatises, including The Ladies Directory (1662) which, as she assured her audience, contained “very choice Receipts…from…[her] own Practice.”[10]  As she expounded over a decade later, her authority stemmed from her own personal practice, having “been Physician and Chirurgion in my own House to many and also to many of my Neigbours, eight or ten Miles round.”[11] 

Woolley’s training came from both her female family members and from her onetime employer who, along with books, “procured such knowledge for me from her Physicians and Chirurgions (who were the best that all England could afford).”[12]  Even so, Woolley was careful to include only simple cures with which she had experience and avoided giving advice regarding complicated cases because “there is in those cases a good Judgment required.” [13]  


Here, it seems, she sought consciously to keep to the knowledge and expertise expected of her gender and avoid any potential problems with the reigning medical authorities.  This may have been a particular worry as Woolley advertised her sale of “several remedies for several distempers” and seemed, not too subtlety, to be advertising her services as a physician and surgeon.[14]  Indeed, she noted quite early in the text that she had cured a “young maid” who had “cut her Leg sorely,” a “man having a Pitch-fork run into the Corner of his Eye,” a boy with a head injury, and a woman with a cut lip.[15] 

Despite this veritable plethora of surgical experiences, Woolley’s surgical advice lacks distinctly incisions, extirpations, and stitching – the manual parts of surgery that marked it as a craft in the eyes of the early modern people.  Rather, for wounds, she recommended washing with brandy, applying red rose conserves, along with a receipt for a application of oil and brimstone.[16] 

17-18thC English jar for syrup of roses
Many of the ingredients Woolley recommended – rose syrups, honey, hare’s skin, eggs, brandy, various spics and local herbs – were easily accessible and affordable to many.  Even the frankincense recommended to staunch wounds could have been found at an apothecary shop.  Woolley’s directions and receipts were simple, easily performed by her female audience, and non-threatening to London surgical practitioners. 

Indeed, the only moment where A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet suggests Woolley or her advice as a replacement for a surgical practitioner was a note that her plaister for gout cured a man “after all the Chirurgions had given him over.”[17]  Even so, while highlighting the efficacy of the treatment, Woolley was careful to point out that she treated the man only after his surgeons had given up on his case. 

Didn't know early modern women could be surgical practitioners too?  Let me know what you think here or on Twitter - I'm @medhistorian.


[1] Diane Willen, “Women in the Public Sphere in Early Modern England: The Case of the Urban Working Poor,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 19,4 (1988), 569-571.  See also Nagy, 58-59.
[2] SP 28/171, fol. 391.
[3] “Cases brought before the committee: July 1644,” Calendar, Committee for the Advance of Money: Part 1: 1642-45 (1888),  406-436; “Cases brought before the committee: August 1646,” Calendar, Committee for the Advance of Money: Part 2: 1645-50 (1888), 713-727.
[4] John Loftis, The Memoirs of Anne, Lady Halkett and Ann, Lady Fanshawe, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 55.
[5] Lady Margaret Hoby, Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby 1599-1605 ed. Dorothy M. Meads, London: Routledge (1930), 184.
[6] A. L. Wyman, “The Surgeoness: The Female Practitioner of Surgery 1400-1800,” Medical History 28 (1984), 32.
[7] Nagy, 60.
[8] Nicholas W. S. Cranfield, ‘Ferrar, Nicholas (1593–1637)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
[9] The Wellcome Library of the History and Understanding of Medicine holds a remarkable collection of early modern receipt books.  For more on these manuscripts and their relation to the medical marketplace see: Elaine Leong and Sara Pennell, “Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern ‘Medical Marketplace,’” in Jenner and Wallis, Medicine and the Marketplace in England and Its Colonies c. 1450-1850, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan ( 2007), 133-152.
[10] Hannah Woolley, The Ladies Directory, London: printed by T.M for Peter Ding (1662), A2v.  T.M is likely T. Milbourne who also printed Woolley’s The Ladies Delight (1672).
[11] Woolley, A Supplement to The Queen-like Closet, London: printed by  T.R. for Richard Lownds (1674), A2v.
[12] Ibid., 10-11.
[13] Ibid., A2v.
[14] Ibid., “An Advertisement,” unpaginated.
[15] Ibid., 12-15.
[16] Ibid., 20.
[17] Woolley, A Supplement, 28.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Hare and the Tortoise (plus some Oil of Fox)



The human-animal relationship is incredibly complex.  Animals are, at turns, companions and friends, a threat, a tool, and food supply.  The relationship between man and beast in early modern England was no less multifaceted.[1] 

 
The horse, for example, was invaluable for both labour and transport.  They could be associated strongly with military valour and the upper echelons of society, but were also mistreated and viewed with some contempt.[2] Thomas Hamill noted that cockfighting was portrayed as both a sport and as a mere extension of animal husbandry.[3]  Bears and bulls were acknowledged as fearsome, yet bear and bull-baiting were common enough London spectacles. 
I did go to Shoe Lane to see a cocke-fighting at a new pit there, a sport I was never at in my life; but, Lord! to see the strange variety of people, from Parliament-man (by name Wildes, that was Deputy Governor of the Tower when Robinson was Lord Mayor) to the poorest ‘prentices, bakers, brewers, butchers, draymen, and what not; and all these fellows one with another in swearing, cursing, and betting. I soon had enough of it, and yet I would not but have seen it once, it being strange to observe the nature of these poor creatures, how they will fight till they drop down dead upon the table, and strike after they are ready to give up the ghost, not offering to run away when they are weary or wounded past doing further, whereas where a dunghill brood comes he will, after a sharp stroke that pricks him, run off the stage, and then they wring off his neck without more ado, whereas the other they preserve, though their eyes be both out, for breed only of a true cock of the game. - Samuel Pepys, Diary, Monday 21 December 1663.
Setting aside these interactions and the use of animal flesh as food, the early moderns also used animals/animal parts in medical treatments involving both ingestion and external application.  

The former is especially understandable given the humoural understanding of disease.  Dating back to Hippocrates and Galen, humoural theory conceived of diseases as an imbalance of the four humours – blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.  Animals, too, were composed of these humours in varying amounts and consuming them would, thus, affect one’s own humoural balance.  Then, as now, there was a clear understanding that one’s food determined one’s health.

Robert Lovell, for example, wrote that older deer (buck) flesh was cold and dry “and full of grosse humours” that could be corrected for eating by the addition of “Butter, Pepper and Salt.”[4]  In contrast, when young, deer was a “wholesome Meat, Having no bad juice of themselves.”[5]      

In addition to dietetical advice, Lovell consistently included medicinal uses for these animals as well.  For instance, of the pig – which he deemed “the best of all fleshes” – he wrote that warm young pigs (one assumes a section of flesh?) applied to a bite draws out venom and decreases pain while the brain of sow applied to breasts encourages their growth.[6]

These medicinal uses are strange, fascinating, and horrifying at turns.  The use of boiled, newly whelped puppies to cure gunshot wounds are among the latter.[7]  Today, though, I’m going to stick to the medicinal uses of the hare, the tortoise, and the fox.

For those of you who didn’t get that reference right away, the Hare and the Tortoise is one of Aesop’s fables.  The fox was the judge and organizer, the hare was the arrogant one who lost, and the tortoise taught us all to plug steadily along to win the race.

The Fox

Foxes are handsome creatures, supposedly the embodiment of slyness and cunning.    
   
Lovell wrote that fox flesh was hot, difficult to digest “of exceeding bad aliment, being unlike mans nature, and stinking.”[8]  These traits, however, did not discourage the early modern English from using them in medicines.

In the tradition of “like curing like,” dried fox lungs were thought to be good “against the diseases of the lungs” while the liver “helps the Hepatick and Splenetick.”[9]  Dried fox blood was thought to heal urinary or bladder diseases while imbibing or anointing with fresh blood was though to be more potent.[10]
 
“Oil of fox” pops up on numerous occasions in both medical and surgical treatises and seems to have been something of a panacea.

A 1651 recipe for oil of fox states thus:
 
The fattest Fox you can get of a middle age. and well hunted, and newly kild, and garbish him quickly, and fley him, and cut him in small pieces, and break all his bones well, then boyle him in White wine and Spring water, six pound.

Let him boyle thus untill halfe the liquor bee wasted, very well scumming it at the first boyling, then put into the vessell.

Olei antiqui dulcissimi, four pounds.
Salis communis, three ounces.
Florum salviæ,
Thymi, of each one pound.

Then boyle it againe untill almost all the water be consumed, and then powre into it eight pound of water wherein hath beene well boyled one good handful of Dill, and another of Time, then boyle them altogether with an easie fire untill all the water be wasted, then straine it, and separate the oyle from the moysture, and keep it for thy use.[11]

Oil of fox was, in particular, though to heal “the diseases of the sinews, Convulsions, and aches of the joints” by external application.[12]  In treating the palsy, one physician recommended especially anointing with oil of fox after bathing in spa waters of brimstone or nitre.[13]

The Hare
 
Lovell wrote that hares were hot and dry, to be eaten with many spices and especially by old men and those of a cold temper.[14]  Physician John Archer concurred that hare was a melancholic meat, that was in fact, best served boiled.[15]


Johann Schroder’s Zoologia lists 17 separate parts of the hare that were thought to have a medicinal use.  These included everything from testicles, to dung, to blood, and even ashes.

Uses ranged widely – from the magical to the medical.  The fat of a hare “put upon the breast of one sleeping, causeth them to tell whatsoever shall be asked them.”[16]  Medical uses included rubbing hare’s brains on the gums of children help with teething to anointing pimples with its blood.

Let the gums be often rubbed with the finger wet with Hony, or with Hony and Butter mixed together, or with the brains of a Hare; or the brains of a Hare mixed with Capons grease and Hony. If you cannot get a Hares brains, take Conies brains.[17]

The animal’s had the practical usage of stopping the flow of blood.  Martin Browne, a 17th century surgeon, used small balls of the hare’s hair dipped in egg whites and sugar to stop nosebleeds.[18]
For the most part, however, hare seems to have been used to cure the stone and related urinary or bladder issues.  Schroder, for example, wrote that: “the ashes is made of a whole Hare burnt (that is best which is taken in the spring) or of the whole skin incinerated.  It is most excellent medicine in the Stone.”[19]  In addition to the ashes, he noted that the dung, kidneys, and testicles also helped those suffering from the stone.

This hare powder, for example, was touted as good for the stone and strangulation.

Arthur Corbett - Wellcome MS 212/86

The Tortoise

Tortoises were a bit of a mystery to the early modern English.  A 1668 article in the Transactions of the Royal Society reveals that one Dr. Stubbes vivisected a tortoise to test one Mr. Lygons’s assertion that a tortoise had three hearts.  Stubbes, of course, found it to be false.  The Transacations describes Stubbes as “that Learn'd and Inquisitive Physitian,” but his vivisection observations make the Caymans sound more like the island of Dr. Moreau. 

I repeat only one of the mildest of his comments: If you hurt them on shore, as they lie on their backs, the teares will trickle from their Eyes.”[20]

A cheerful and unvivisected tortoise.
Because they are not native to England, Lovell focused primarily on how other cultures used the animal.  In the “Indies” as Lovell put it, tortoises were eaten dressed with saffron and other spices.  While in Africa, he noted that the head and feet were boiled and eaten to help the “spleen and epilepsy.”[21]
Schroder recorded that the shank of a male tortoise, cut under the waning moon, and sowed into bags of goat skin should be tied to a patient’s “members, so that the right shank of the Tortoyse answer to the right thigh of the patient, nad the left to the left, and in the like manner, the right shank of the former leg be applied to the right arm, and the left to the left” in order to cure one’s gout.

John Durant (1697) also noted a medico-magical use for the shell of a tortoise egg – when worn, he wrote, “you shall never have desire for Venery.”[22]

Shocking, that.

Alright, that’s it for the medhistorian version of Aesop’s classic fable.  I’m off to go cuddle my cat and reassure him that we won’t be using his blood to cure the falling sickness or shingles.[23]  

Let me know what you think here or on Twitter – I’m @medhistorian.


[1] For more on this, see Erica Fudge, “The Animal Dace of Early Modern England,” Theory Culture & Society 30,7/8 (2013), 177-198; Fudge, Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality and Humanity in Early Modern England. Ithica: Cornell University Press (2006); Fudge, Perceiving Animals, Chicago: University of Illinois Press (2002); Dorothy Brantz, Beastly Natures. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press (2010).
[2] Peter Edwards, Horse and Man in Early Modern England. London: Hambledon Continuum (2007).  See also Kevin de Ornellas, The Horse in Early Modern English Culture. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield (2014).
[3] Thomas Hamill, “Cockfighting as Cultural Allegory in Early Modern England,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39,2 (2009), 375-406.
[4] Robert Lovell, Panzooryktologia, London: (1661), 18-19.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 117-118.  And no, I have no idea how that latter idea came to be.  If you want more on pigs though, be sure to check out my article for Modern Farmer here.
[7] Will return to the medicinal use of dogs for Modern Farmer next month.
[8] Lovell, 49.
[9] Schroder, 85.  See also: Elyot, Castel of Helth (1541), f22r.
[10] Ibid., 86.  See also: Hawes, PooreMans Plasterbox (1634), 27.
[11] Brugis, Vade Mecum (1651), 51-52.
[12] Schroder, 86.
[13] Bruele, Praxis Medicinae (1632), 18.
[14] Lovell, 62.
[15] John Archer, Every Man His Own Doctor (1671).
[16] Thomas Johnson, Conucopiae (1595), fA4v.
[17] Pemell, De Morbis Puerorum (1653).
[18] BL MS 785.
[19] Johann Schroder, Zoologia (1659), 62.
[20] Stubbes, “An Enlargement of the Observations,” Phil Trans. 3, 36 (June, 1668), 702.
[21] Lovell, 125.
[22] Durant, Art and Nature (1697), 3.
[23] Schroder, 26.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Drinking Bath Water – No, Not That Kind!


“Lady Russell's composed mind and polite manners were put to some trial on this point, in her intercourse in Camden Place. The sight of Mrs Clay in such favour, and of Anne so overlooked, was a perpetual provocation to her there; and vexed her as much when she was away, as a person in Bath who drinks the water, gets all the new publications, and has a very large acquaintance, has time to be vexed.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

I’ve wanted to write something on medicinal waters since my MA year.[1]  I, in fact, proposed it to my environmental history prof as my research paper topic for his course.  Alas, we were walking and talking in a crowded space and he misheard me.  His face lit up, I ran with it, and soon we were discussing my project on municipal water. 

All’s well that ends well and all that, I suppose.  While early modern ideas of potable water will make an appearance today, I’m going to focus on the medicinal use of mineral water.

Almost everyone has heard the phrase “taking the waters,” but what does it mean?  What “waters” were these people “taking” and how were they “taking” it?  As the excerpt from Persuasion hints, by Austen’s time, this involved relatively wealthy or fashionable people imbibing mineral water from spa towns such as Bath.

Long before Austen and her Lady Russell, ancient Greeks identified and made use of mineral waters medicinally.  As Roy Porter noted, “the bodily humors could be heated, cooled, moistened, or dried by a combination of hot and cold baths; thermal baths soothed chest and back pains in pneumonia, and promoted the secretion of urine; cold douches relieved swellings and painful joints; and aromatic vapor bathes were advised for female disorders…The waters were also drunk, substituting for wine and meat at the sign of impending illness, as one of Asclepiades’ ‘common aids’; cold water was recommended for those with fever.”[2]

The Roman discovery of Bath, then, led to some excitement.  The modern exhibit of the baths quotes the 3rd century writer Gaius Julius Solinus’s The Wonders of the World in stating “in Britain are hot springs adorned with sumptuous splendour for the use of mortals.  Minerva is a patron goddess of these.”[3]  Then known as Aquae Sulis, and now known as Bath, the town is home to a plethora of Roman artefacts in addition to the baths themselves.

The original bathing complex was huge and even included a temple to Minerva.  Later additions include the medieval King’s Bath and the 18th century Pump Room (which accompanied other restoration projects).  Further modifications were made throughout the Victorian era.


Despite a millennia of changes, one thing remained the same – the people’s obsession with, and reverence for, the mineral water available.  Take a look at the water.  Not particularly potable-looking is it? 

It's so shiny!
Bath water overflow
In general, the early moderns used a few sensory tests to determine whether water was potable.  It needed to be clear to the sight and lacking in visible sediment, lack a strong scent, not flavourful to the taste, and thin enough that, when pouring, it made a pleasing splashing sound to the ear.[4]

Medicinal waters never met the sensory standards for water as a general beverage. Rather, they were selected especially for their mineral content and purported medicinal virtues – which meant, generally, a very unpleasant flavour.  Indeed, the physician William Turner wrote that the Bath water’s “chefe vertue and streingth after my iudgement is brimstone.”[5]

Mmmm…tasty tasty brimstone.[6]

Early modern Bath allowed visitors to bathe in the warm water and even procure bottles of the mineral water for drinking.  This latter water was, of course/supposedly, collected from an area where visitors did not soak.

Bath water was not to be imbibed with reckless abandon.  Understood as a medicine, its properties were the subject of many 17th century treatises and guides.  Authors noted repeatedly that using the bath water required some sort of dietetic regime and supervision by a medical practitioner.

One such physician wrote “that none should wantonly, and with contempt of all Dietetical Rules, make use of those Mineral Drinks; but that all Circumstances relating thereto, should be conformable to Moderation and Temperance.”[7]

Likewise, Thomas Guidott’s A Quaere Concerning Drinking Bath-water (1673) discouraged immoderate consumption of mineral water.  Not all mineral waters were created equal and some contained “noxious Ingredient[s]” such as mercury, lead, and gypsum that were not meant for internal use.[8]

Of Bath’s sulphurous or brimstone-filled waters, Guidott suggested that “with some Cautions in the use thereof, they may be potable, though not so adviseable as some other Mineral Waters are.  And this is the most moderate Decision I can give of that part of the Question that concerns the Security of the using the Bath-Water as a Drink.”[9]

Guidott’s caution was due, primarily to the balance of minerals in Bath water.  It contained primarily sulphur (not great for you),  bitumen (not good for you), and nitre (good for you). 

Naturally, Guidott concluded that drinking the Bath waters was something to be done only upon and under the advice of a physician.  Moreover, he continued, not just any physician, but one who knew well the content of the mineral water and about the patient’s ailment.[10]

This hinted toward, of course, the sort of physician who lived and worked near the mineral waters they prescribed.  Someone (not shockingly) like Guidott who had set up a successful practice at Bath.

The popularity of mineral waters did mean some interesting marketing practices.

John Halhed, a self-proclaimed vintner and victualler argued that his London Spa was superior to the Tunbridge waters.  Both iron-filled, the London Spa, had apparently been declared by Robert Boyle to be the “strongest and very best of these late found-out Medicinal Iron Waters.”  Indeed, Halhed continued, the Royal Society and even many members of the College of Physicians believed in the water as “the more speedy and more effectual way of curing…many Distempers and Diseases.”[11]

Halhed's London Spaw (1685)
Others dealt with mineral waters from a variety of sites.  Henry Eyres’s 1725 advertisement makes no mention of specific medical or scientific authorities, but rather gave an interesting description of the soil at the Holt mineral water well.  Perhaps his description of the “chymical experiments” made was convincing enough?


In any case, the Holt mineral water was presented as a sort of panacea, curing everything from the King’s Evil (scrofula) to cancer to poor appetite. 

Eyres, who apparently run some sort of business called the Golden Tea-Cannister, sold rum, brandy, chocolate, and also Bath, Bristol, Holt, and Pyrmont mineral waters.  A true pharmacy of medicinal waters, Eyres guaranteed that his water would be both “fresh” and “genuine.”


So how were these waters used by physicians? 

Thomas Sydenham’s Compleat Method of Curing (1695) recommended two types of mineral waters as the last resort when treating hysterical women or men with hypochondria.  After trying and failing various other milder medicines, Sydenham suggested first waters full of iron, and if that too failed, to use “those sulphureous, such as are the Bath-Waters.”[12] 

Sydenham here suggested a combination of bathing and imbibing the waters – along with other medicines – and being aware at all times of its effects.



 What would drinking mineral water do?

Sometimes very little.

A very ill Henrietta Maria wrote to Charles I that her course of waters had little effect on alleviating her symptoms: 

“I arrived in this place three weeks ago, much harassed by the long journey I had taken, having been an entire month always travelling, in very violent heats; since my arrival, I have had a pain in my breast, which was obliged to be lanced, but of which I am now cured, as I hope, and have already drunk the waters ten days, and shall continue five more, and then I shall bathe, and take the douche bath, which is in English, "pump." I begin to hope that I shall not die, for I am already a little better, though this numbness still continues, and a redness like the measles, which has covered my whole body for three months, does not diminish. Still my head is a little relieved, and my body is not so large as it was.”[13]

Sometimes a bit more.
 
Mary and Edward Clarke were close friends with John Locke and Mary was being advised medically by him.  In a letter to her husband Edward that was forwarded to Locke, Mary advised that her ailment was involved severe pains, menstruation, and her emotions and that her emotions were hindering her recovery.
As she wrote:
“I find when any thinge doss afectt and disturbe my mind, it doss thuss refenge it selfe upon my body, beyond the common rate that it dose att other times, and by thiss meanes keeps me very leane and low sperrited, and hindred me as I beleve from Gathering that stranth by the bath waters as mr lock expected.”[14]
Mary described her physical reaction to the bath water thusly:
“Gave me a stoole or 2 in the drinking of them [that is Bath water], According as I mannaged them, which was thuss, the warmer and quicker I dranke them the more they wraght that way, for when I dranke them Coole, and leasurely, which mr Locke advised If you remember to keepe them from fleying up in my head, then I observed they wrought alltogether by uring, but when I filled my selfe soe full as I was redy to burst, but was sure to Give off without Vomitting, then they Certainly Gave me a stoole or 2, and some times three, but that was not Common, which is all I can say as to the bath waters.”[15]

Mary’s letters to her husband Edward from August to October 1694 give a bit more detail about her – frequently hesitant and unhappy – experience of taking the waters at Bath. 

On 20 August, Mary wrote that she had drunk the bath waters  “and they pass very well.”[16]

The  next month, however, Mary noted that she had stopped drinking the waters for some time – the mineral water causing her to feel almost drunk when consumed in the morning and after a poor night’s rest.
“I have drunke noe bath waters since the first barell that was brought the day before you went, but now I have gott another, but have not drunke any ye morning for I found the last when I did not sleepe well anights was very apt to fly up to my head and made me just like one drunke all confusion, and the roome would seeme to run round so that I was forst to catch hold of anything neare or fall.”[17]

In October, Mary wrote to Edward that her kidney pains continued and that she had now developed stomach pains as well.  In fear of her worsening symptoms, she wrote that she was beginning again her course of waters even though the taste was terrible!
“I have my bottle and glas brought and set in the gallery window by my chamber wheare I walk and drink them with a great deal of plesure though all heare will have they have a nasty tast and do stinke.”[18]

Locke’s letter to Mary  in November of the 1694 highlights the importance he placed on continuing the practice. 
“I know not what you intend by the remainder of the waters you have by you which you intended to drink, as if you did it that those might not be lost. I measure not your drinking of them by the number of your bottles but by the good I conclude they will doe you. And being of an opinion noe thing can be better than they are for you I would have them continued without any interruption for six weeks or two months togeather, soe that what went before you left them off goes with me for noething.”[19]

Mary’s reaction to the Bath waters seem quite dreadful.  Dizziness aside, however, the water’s purging quality was likely its most important function. 

Unfortunately, Mary continued to be plagued by ill health.  While her pains subsided, her legs soon swelled excessively and she was once again seeking medical treatments. This time, however, Locke did not suggest the waters at Bath.

Is this pigeon making a wise life choice?
Would you drink the Bath waters?  You still can at the Pump Room in Bath!  Let me know what you think here or on Twitter – I’m @medhistorian.


[1] A long time ago.
[2] Roy Porter, “The Medical History of Waters and Spas,” Medical History (1990), vii-xii.
[3] Projected text from a Roman Baths walkthrough exhibit.
[4] Currently editing that paper/article on potable water in 17th century England. If you have questions about water consumption, I would be happy to answer them!
[5] William Turner, A Book of the Natures and Properties As Well of the Bathes in England. London: Arnold Birckman (1562).
[6] Said no one ever.
[7] H.S. & Sir Alexander Frasier, “Directions for such as drink the Bath-Water,” in John Hall, Select Observations, London: printed by J.D.for Benjamin Shirley (1679), 338. n.b. John Hall was Shakespeare’s son-in-law!
[8] Thomas Guidott, A Quaere Concerning Drinking Bath-water, London: printed for George Sawbridge (1673), 1-5.
[9] Ibid., 12-13.
[10] Ibid., 14.
[11] Anon. The London-Spaw. London: (1685).
[12] Thomas Sydenham, Compleat Method of Curing. London: printed for H. Newman (1694), 9.
[13] Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I, King of England, 1609-1669, Letter from Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I, King of England to Charles I, King of England, October 4, 1644, in Letters of Queen Henrietta Maria, Including Her Private Correspondence with Charles the First. London, England: Richard Bentley, 1857, pp. 439.
[14] BL MS. Locke c. 6, ff.106-7, 175-6.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Clarke, Mary Jepp, 1656(?)-1705(?), Letter from Mary Jepp Clarke to Edward Clarke, August 20, 1694, in Clarke Family Letters. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2002, pp. 472.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] BL MS. Locke b. 8, no. 75.