Health (and medicine) during the Elizabethan era was often dictated by social class and gender, with the lower classes more easily succumbing to illnesses. Men were considered superior to women in both health and intellect, although some people believed that women had a special connection with their own bodies. Health also depended upon one’s social status, where those of higher classes did not have to deal with the same harsh and demanding jobs that those in lower ranks were forced to do.
Health issues were also closely related to Tudor beliefs about religion and medicine, particularly humoral theory. Health during this time was of utmost importance for both genders; however, women took on a more infamous reputation when it came down to their hygiene practices and knowledge of medical remedies. Elizabethan Health – Health in Elizabethan times depended upon various factors such as social class, gender, religion and anatomy.
Health was often dictated by social status and occupation rather than wealth alone; therefore health played a big part in how society viewed one another’s place within it. For example, the upper echelons of society would view members of the lower classes as needing help of some sort, simply because their social standing was less important. Health also depended upon how one viewed religion within society. Healthier people were more likely to be of a higher status, at ease with religion and not constantly challenged by it on a daily basis.
Health for women was often seen as inferior to men’s health due to the argument that women were not allowed to partake in strenuous physical activities which led them to become infirm; however, there is evidence that contradicts this idea with examples such as Elizabeth I who exercised regularly until she fell ill (exercise was considered dangerous for women), Sarah Churchill (the Duchess of Marlborough) who is reported to have hunted onback without any problems and Elizabeth Throckmorton who is known to have also hunted on back.
Health issues were even more closely related to Tudor beliefs about religion and medicine, particularly the belief in humoral theory which was largely considered ‘correct’ until the eighteenth century. Health during this time was of utmost importance for both genders; however women took on a more infamous reputation when it came down to their hygiene practices and knowledge of medical remedies. Sarah Gristwood describes how Mary Tudor “had suffered under bad health all her life”, but there are no records that describe her as having any other illnesses (Gristwood 2004, p. ).
The same applies to Elizabeth I who would say at the end of her reign that she regretted nothing except having “but a year to reign” (Doran 2010, p. 9). Health was a very important part in the lives of the Tudors and especially for Elizabeth I who is often noted as being a healthy girl until she fell ill – not many records exist that detail her symptoms, but it is known that she suffered from some sort of fever which affected her well-being for quite some time.
Elizabethan Health Issues for Men – Health also depended upon one’s social status, where those of higher classes did not have to deal with the same harsh and demanding jobs that those in lower ranks were forced to do. Health issues were even more closely related to Tudor beliefs about religion and medicine, particularly the belief in humoral theory which was largely considered ‘correct’ until the eighteenth century.
Health during this time was of utmost importance for both genders; however women took on a more infamous reputation when it came down to their hygiene practices and knowledge of medical remedies. Health issues among the Tudors were extremely varied including fractures, dislocations, internal injuries, bone infections, skin diseases (including ringworm), digestive disorders (such as colic or constipation) and kidney disease (such as stone/gallstones).
Health also changed according to geographical location due to factors such as sanitation (or lack thereof) which meant that those living in towns had much worse health than those who lived in villages. Health issues were not only limited to physical problems but included mental health as well. Health during this time was so important for both genders, and it should be noted that women had a particularly infamous reputation when it came down to their hygiene practices and medical remedies.
The Elizabethan era was not only a period of rations medical science, but also a time of great superstition. Medicine remained attached to astrology and other beliefs such as the supernatural.
Health was highly influenced by the humoral theory, which held that four bodily fluids (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm) needed to be in balance for a person to remain healthy. Health problems could arise if one of these fluids got out of proportion. This led Elizabethans to believe that dreams were important indicators of a person’s health, as a dream of copious bleeding would indicate an excess of blood . Health was also believed to be connected with the balance of the four elements: fire, water, air and earth.
The common people believed that illness was caused by some sort of bad luck or evil spell cast on them by someone else. Often they tried to cure themselves by selling their remaining possessions and leaving their homes, since they believed that somehow this would be enough to restore their health.
The Elizabethan era was also a time of great medical advances. William Gilbert, an English physician, wrote numerous works based on his research into magnets. He discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism by experimenting with compass needles and presented his findings to the Royal Society of London.
Paracelsus, an astrologer and physician of this time, was one of the first medical professionals to be critical of the widespread belief that health was related to the balance of humors. He believed in using chemicals and minerals as medicine rather than herbal remedies. Paracelsus also studied how disease spreads and stated: “If you wish to prevent pestilence…destroy its causes.” His most important contribution was giving birth children’s toys with cholera; he stated that these preventive measures were more effective than any others available at the time .
Surgery during Elizabethan times were performed without anesthesia, which made it very painful process for those on whom it was performed. The same was true of dentistry, and people avoided it as much as possible. However this led to the rise of barber surgeons: men who cut hair and provided other services such as tooth extraction and bloodletting – a practice that was believed to remove ‘bad blood’ from the body .
Professionals at this time were divided into two groups: those with university degrees (such as physicians) and those without (such as higglers). higglers had many different responsibilities, including selling food or medicines; their lack of qualifications meant that they often did not understand what they were selling . At times though, higglers could offer invaluable insight into local cures and remedies for illness.
Barber-surgeons also had a lot of freedom to practice their trade, but they were generally unskilled in medicine. They became known as barber-surgeons because it was common for them to perform surgery along with their usual shaving duties. The only requirement necessary to become a barber-surgeon was an apprenticeship. These types of professionals also performed bloodletting.
The Elizabethans had few remedies for treating illness other than those recommended by medical professionals. To avoid expensive doctor’s fees, the poor often tried to cure themselves using homegrown remedies and herbal cures. However these were usually ineffective, so many then turned to prayer or sought out the help of astrologers.