History Medicine - The Middle Ages


The Four Humours

The Four Humours

· The body is made up of 4 humours: blood, phlegm, black bile, and choler.

· To be healthy all 4 humours need to be balanced.

· Illness is caused by an excess of one humour.

· The season can affect which humour is in excess.

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Supernatural Causes


· The bible tells stories of God sending disease as punishment

· Symptoms: painful skin, paralysis, fingers/toes fell off, hair fell out, ulcers developed inside and outside the body.

· There is no cure so lepers are banished.


· Illness can be caused by a bad alignment of the planets.


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Treatment Part 1


· Bad humours can be removed by taking blood. This can be done in three ways: cutting a vein, leeches and cupping.

· Cutting a vein: Cutting vein with lancet in the arm

· Leeches: Leeches placed on skin to draw out blood

· Cupping: heated cup placed over cuts to create a vacuum.



· It is believed that humours are created from the food you eat.

· Emetic, laxative and enemas can be prescribed to clear the digestive system.


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Treatment Part 2


· Herbal infusions to drink, sniff or bathe in.

· Warm bathes can clear blocks in the humours


· Prayers and incantations

· Paying for a special mass to be said

· Fasting

· pilgrimage


· Different types of  treatment all have to be done at the right time depending on the alignment of the planets and stars.


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Prevention Part 1

The Church

· Live a life free of sin

· Regular prayer, confessions, offering tithe


· Bathing—prevent miasma

· Wash hands before and after every meal

· Keep homes clean and smelling nice


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Prevention Part 2


· Eating a balanced diet, don’t over eat.

· Purging

Purifying the air

· Air is purified to keep it free from miasma.

· Keep streets clean.

· Carrying bunches of flowers—posies

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Consultation weren’t usually done face to face. They were done following three stages.

1– the physician would look at a sample of the patients urine, blood and faces

2– consult astrological charts for when they were born/ fell ill.

3– Based on this, and the humoural tendencies they will create a course of treatment

Physicians are well trained and did a medical degree taking between 7 and 10 years

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Apothecaries mainly mixed herbs due to having a good knowledge on them either from books or the knowledge being passed down in families.

They are not officially trained

They can be unethical, may prescribe poison which is against the Hippocratic oath ‘do no harm’.

A cheaper alternative to physicians.

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There are two types of surgeon.

The most common surgeons are barber surgeons, they are usually barbers but because of their steady hands they are good at performing small surgeries. They have no training.

Some physicians choose to study surgery at university. These surgeons can perform more complex surgery e.g. set broken limbs, remove arrows.

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Hospitals Part 1

There are 1,100 hospitals in England as of 1500.

30% are church owned, the rest are funded by endowments.

They are very good places to rest and recover as the space is very clean.

Most patients have to share a bed with another patient.

The nuns complete the routine nursing as well as cleaning. Some nurses perform small surgeries in emergencies.

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Hospitals Part 2

The monks take care of the spiritual well being of patients. They pray for and with the patients.

Many infectious and terminal patients are rejected as the hospital don’t want to risk infecting other patients and don’t want to waste beds for people who will likely not survive.

There are some specialised hospitals. One major example is psychiatric hospitals for insane patients.

Pregnant women are often rejected as they don’t often need treatment or supervised recovery after giving birth. Most of this can be done at home. In some circumstances, widows may be able to stay as they had no one to look after them at home.

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