Medicine in the Elizabethan Era: A Look at the Medical Practices of the Time

Medicine in the Elizabethan Era: A Look at the Medical Practices of the Time


The Elizabethan era, spanning from 1558 to 1603, was a time of great change and progress in England. It was a period of Renaissance, expansion of the arts, and remarkable achievements in science. However, medical practices of that time form a stark contrast to the advancements of its age. As we take a closer look at medicine in the Elizabethan era, we’ll realize how remarkably different it was compared to modern medicine.

The Practice of Medicine in the Elizabethan Era

During the Elizabethan era, medicine was heavily influenced by religion and superstition. Doctors relied on the four humours theory that said that the body had four bodily humours: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Imbalances between the humours were believed to cause disease. The treatments mainly consisted of bloodletting, which was performed by either opening a vein or with leeches. It was also common for physicians to prescribe powerful emetics and purgatives.

Apart from the humours theory, people also believed in the power of charms, amulets, and astrology to cure diseases. Patients would often wear talismans and amulets to protect themselves from the evil spirits that were believed to be the root cause of illnesses.

Medical Practitioners of the Elizabethan Era

Elizabethan England gave birth to some of the most prominent doctors and medical practitioners in British history. Among those noteworthy figures was William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of blood, and William Gilbert, who examined magnetism. However, most of the medical practitioners of the Elizabethan era were not as well versed in medical knowledge. Apart from universities and colleges, barber-surgeons and apothecaries were the go-to individuals for medical assistance.

Barber-surgeons were responsible for performing surgeries, pulling teeth, and bloodletting, as they were trained in both surgical and barbering techniques. Apothecaries, on the other hand, assisted in the preparation and dispensing of drugs and medicines.


Medicine in the Elizabethan era was primarily based on superstition. The advancements made in science during the Elizabethan era did not have an immediate impact on medicine. Though some treatments and surgeries were challenging and required great skill, most were barbaric, painful, and often ineffective. Despite this, the Elizabethan era was a critical era in the history of medicine. It marked the beginning of the Medical Renaissance, a time of great medical advancements in the sixteenth century that led to significant improvements in medical techniques and practices for future discoveries.

In conclusion, studying the medical practices of the Elizabethan era provides a fascinating perspective on how far medicine has come and serves as a reminder of how thankful we should be for the level of care and modern medicine we currently have.

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