Medicine in Medieval Britain

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Ideas about the causes of diease in the Middle Age

  • People in the Middle Ages still believed in the work of Hippocrates and the theory of the four humours, as this was what the Church believed. They still treated people by purging and bleeding.
  • They also believed that illness and disease were punishments from God. They had to pray to God for forgiveness.
  • Like the Romans, they believed bad air and smells could cause sickness. 
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The influence of the Christian Church in the Middl

  • The Church taught that all illness was sent as a punishment from God. It was right for the person to suffer and cures should only come from God.
  • The Church also supported Galen's and Hippocrates' ideas because they fitted the Christian idea that one God created all humans.
  • The monasteries and convents had the best libraries and some of the provided training for doctors. They were taught the theory of the four humours and were not encouraged to prove Galen wrong.

Attitudes and beliefs:

The Church controlled medical training.

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Treatment in the Middle Ages

  • Physicians, or doctors, probably had some medical training at a Church-run university.
  • Doctors also studied urine charts and astrology to diagnose and treat illness. They had access to leechbooks which contained a mixture of Greek and Roman ideas about medicine as well as well-known herbal remedies.
  • Doctors only treated the rich. Most illness was dealt with in the home by local village healers - usually women.
  • Doctors did not attent childbirth. Women acted as midwives and attended births.
  • Wise women provided herbal remedies and advice on curing illness and infections.
  • Hospitals were places of rest and recuperation. They were not used for infectious or terminally ill patients. Hospitals were usually attatched to manasteries or convents.
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Public health and living conditions in the Middle

Living conditions and health and hygiene were pretty bad, particularly in towns.

  • City streets were covered in rubbish and animal human waste.
  • Water was often contaminated by other sources such as sewage and animal blood from butchers.
  • Government laws to keep the streets clean were difficult to enforce.
  • Monasteries and covents were generally healthier places as they had their own public health system with fresh water and toilets.
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