Elizabethan Medicine
And You Thought Our Healthcare was Bad!

Elizabethan Physician
Description: Elizabethan Physician
Image copyright: Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses


During the Elizabethan Era two deadly illnesses were ravaging Europe; the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) and Typhoid Fever. These sicknesses was the cause of the death of nearly 1/3 the Elizabethan population! The underlying cause of the diseases was the lack of sanitation, especially in major cities such as London. The streets were sewers, and plus they had no running water, allowing rats, fleas, and ticks to prosper and infect people. This was only asking for the pestilence that they reci


Medicine in this era was very basic. Physicians had no idea to what was causing everyone to become sick. They based their beliefs on the teachings of the philosophers Aristotole and Hippocrates, and astrology. Because they had no idea to what the cause was, they couldn't cure their patients properly. The best they could do for someone who was ill was to bleed them, or to give them a mixture of herbs.

Physicians were covered in clothing from head to toe to protect them for coming down with a serious illness. They work long, dark robes with pointed hoods, leather gloves and boots, and a mask with a long beak that contained special oils that allowed them to breath the same air as the patient with out becoming sick. They even had rituals to protect them from sicknesses. They would wear amulets of dried blood and dried toads around their waists as well as douse themselves in vinegar and chew angelica. As weird as their customs seem today, they actually worked in protecting against the sickness.


Physicians: these were usually only for the rich; they were educated at one of the colleges or universities
Surgeon: Inferior to the physician; belonged to the Company of the Barber Surgeons
Barbers: Only allowed to pull teeth or give blood
Apothocary: similar to the modern day pharmacist
Church: could only provide spiritual comfort
Wise Woman: doctor for the poor
Housewife: concocted potions and medicines


In order to treat some of the illnesses of the time, the physicians had some unusal medicines. Examples are listed below.

Bubonic Plague was treated by lancing the buboes and applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and garlic. Other treatments involved tobacco, arsenic, lily root, and dried toad.

Head pains were treated with herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay.

Stomach pains were treated with wormwood, mint, and balm.

Lung illnesses were treated with liquorice and comfrey.

Open wounds were flushed with vinegar as it was believed that vinegar killed disease.

Source: Elizabethan Medicine and Illnesses
This page was edited by Wesley S. Williams (Teacher: Maureen Lacasse) using Web Poster Wizard.