Feeling Ill? Just Ask Dr. Hank

This week Carlyn Beccia author of The Raucous Royals and the brains behind one of our favorite sites, The Raucous Royals: Gossip, Rumors, and Scandals of Royal Rulers has agreed to do a guest post here at Pop Tudors! You all might be familiar with her weekly Tudors recaps entitled Historical vs. Hollywood, if not you should definitely check them out.


Without Further adieu here is Carlyn’s take on Tudor era health care!


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In Tudor times, doctors believed the body was made up of four fluids called humours. The four humours were blood (Sanguine), phlegm (Phlegmatic), yellow bile (Choleric) and black bile (Melancholic). Too much or too little of one humour would cause someone to become sick and in a “bad humour”. Henry’s doctor, John Chambers diagnosed Henry with a sanguine temperament, which meant that he was cheerful and overly fond of women, food and drink. (duh?)

To avoid the usual lustiness associated with a sanguine humor, Chambers bled Henry five times a year and advised him to stop stuffing his face with swan pudding. (Henry didn’t like to be told what to do.) When Henry became especially sluggish, his doctors would purge him with laxatives and administer enemas in the hopes of causing what they delightfully titled a “royal siege.” (Swan pudding can do that to a person.)

With all this purging, bleeding, and royal expelling, Henry eventually decided…to heck with these doctors! Instead, he began mixing his own potions and pills with the help of his Royal Apothecary. Naturally, Henry prided himself on being the closet pharmacist of his day and even traveled with his royal apothecary equipment. I have poured through Henry VIII’s State Papers and some of the listing in Dr. Butts diary to give you Henry’s personal medical quackery (in modernized English.) Just ask Dr. Hank…

Disclaimer: Pop Tudors and SNI takes no legal responsibility for any harm resulting from the following cures. Any law suits resulting from these cures are to be sent directly to the surviving heirs of Henry VIII.

Dear Dr. Hank,
Every month, my courses cause terrible cramps. My physician instructed me to drink ground steel with a little wine. What do you recommend?
-Mistress Menses

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Dear Mistress Menses,
I will send you six cramp rings of gold without delay. Every Good Friday, I bless these rings and they are known to heal cramps, convulsions and epilepsy. I sent some to the Duchess of Suffolk last week and they healed her cramps. Godspeed. – Dr. Hank

Dear Dr. Hank,
I have a black humour in my leg that keeps filling with puss and pains me terribly. What do you recommend?
– Sir Pussalot

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Dear Sir Pussalot,
I have the same swelling in my legs. I will send you some of ‘The King’s Majesties Own Plaster’ guaranteed to heal any ulcer and also comfort the member. It has my secret ingredients of marshmallows, lindseed, oxide of lead, silver, red coral, and dragon’s blood mixed in oil of roses, rose water and white wine. -Dr. Hank

Dear Dr. Hank,
I tried your plaster and it just made my ulcer (and my member) pain me more. Do you have another remedy?
-Sir Pussalot

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Dear Sir Pussalot,
Grind pearl and lignum guaiacum into a fine powder and then mix with a little water. Rub it on the offending ulcer to let the bad humours escape or drink and enjoy. Guaiacum was recently discovered in the New World and is a proven cure for skin ulcers and morbus Gallicus*. My good brother, Francis I swears it cured the pain in his groin. The Emperor, Charles V used it to cure his gout.
-Dr. Hank

*Otherwise known as the Pox….otherwise known as syphilis…otherwise knows as that nasty itch in the nether regions.

Dear Dr. Hank,
My precious daughter has caught the Sweat. *I have wrapped her in warm blankets to prevent the bad airs from reaching her armpits and doused her room in vinegar, but I fear that she may fall asleep and never wake. **
– Sir Sweate


*The Sweating Sickness was a pestilential fever that may have been similar to hantavirus. The disease spread rapidly and could kill its victims in a matter of hours.
**It you were to visit a Tudor village during an outbreak of the Sweat, all you would smell was vinegar. Tudor people loved vinegar. It was believed to strengthen a person’s resistance and cleanse the air. I am pretty sure it does burn your nose hairs.

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Dear Sir Sweate,
I will send you some pills of Rasis.* I sent some to my mistress Anne Boleyn when she caught the Sweat and she soon recovered. (Although now I wish the witch had dropped dead!) If that doesn’t work, mix together the white yolk from a philosopher’s egg, saffron, white mustard seed, dittony root, angelica, pimpernel, powdered unicorn’s horn mixed with white wine. * God willing, your daughter will recover.
-Dr. Hank


*pills of Rasis were named after Rhazis, an Arab doctor.
** Please readers…never pair red wine with powdered unicorn horn.

6 Comments

  1. Kathleen
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I nearly laughed my head off,
    Kate Howard

  2. Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Carlyn, really interesting. The cramp rings sound rather miraculous, must get some! What’s a philosopher’s egg? Anything to do with the Philosopher’s Stone?!

  3. Posted May 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I just want to know why? they never use alcohol for there pains, by God, I am sure it would have taken some of the pain out, and killed any bacteria that was in the wound, not to drink as I am sure many did, but to pure it over the wound would have kill any bacteria that would have cause most of the pain, Just look how far we have come since those days, our poor and home less have better health care then the most powerful man of England.

  4. Kristen
    Posted May 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious! I’ll have to keep in mind that I shouldn’t let bad airs reach my armpits!

  5. Posted May 31, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Anne Boleyn Files – In this instance, the philosopher’s egg was an actual egg. The recipe for using it, “Take first an egg and break an hole in one end thereof, and do out the white from the yolk as clean as you can.” You find eggs in all sort of elixirs throughout the renaissance because eggs symbolized rebirth. But normally, (or at least this is what I thought) the philosopher’s egg was the egg-shaped vessel used to make a philosopher’s stone.

    Hi Jack, they did use wine on wounds (when they ran out of hot oil.. ouch!). So technically, they were not complete idiots because wine would sterilize. Another cure I find often for wounds is to use urine. I asked a medical friend if this would actually work and he said that it would have to be fresh pee that just left the body. So there you go. If you ever are stuck on a deserted island with a gaping wound….just pee on yourself. 🙂

  6. Jennifer
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Now they say that King Henry was giving laxitives for his balance of his humours, but that is not exactly ture. Because of King Henry’s diet He was always constipated and occationally took laxitives to help this problem. He once took a laxitive and on his way to his “stool” his Groom of the Stool (yes the one who was the most fortunate to wipe) went with the king and while on his way, was stopped by all the courtiers, but the King kept face and talked with all inching his way to the stool. For further historial reading I recommend Alison Weir’s Henry VIII


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  1. […] Feeling Ill Just Ask Dr Hank Pop Tudors Posted by root 12 minutes ago (https://poptudors.wordpress.com) My precious daughter has caught the sweat i have wrapped her in warm hi jack they did use wine on wounds when they ran out of hot oil ouch comment on so much tudors buzz so little time by illeanna june 5 2009 you guys are so dang funny keep it up powered Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Feeling Ill Just Ask Dr Hank Pop Tudors […]

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