Ian Mortimer


The Dying and the Doctors

This is a scholarly monograph, based on Ian Mortimer's PhD thesis (University of Exeter, 2 vols, 2004). It is published by the Royal Historical Society (Studies in History series, vol. 69).

Drawing on more than eighteen thousand probate accounts for the dioceses of Canterbury, Salisbury and Chichester, this study charts the adoption of medical strategies by the seriously ill and dying, decade by decade, from the Elizabethan age of astrological medicine to the emergence of the general practitioner in the early eighteenth century. It identifies massive increases in the consumption of medicines and medical advice by all social groups and in almost all areas. It focuses on the diocese of Canterbury to explore how these increases were possible even though there was a relatively static number of practitioners. Most importantly, it examines the roles of towns in providing medical services to rural areas and hinterlands, and demonstrates the extending ranges of physicians', surgeons' and apothecaries' businesses. It also identifies a comparable revolution in community nursing, from its unskilled status in 1600 to a more exclusive one by 1700. Thus this book describes not only a medical revolution in terms of the supply and demand of medical goods and services but a medical revolution in religious terms too, in which whole communities' hopes for physical salvation shifted from God to the professional medical practitioner. This, it is suggested, is one of the most profound revolutions which the human race has ever experienced.