Ian Mortimer


The Dying and the Doctors

'Ian Mortimer's The dying and the doctors is probably the most important book on the history of medicine published in recent years. He is not the first to identify a medical revolution in the seventeenth century, but his is the most substantial claim, and his findings should fundamentally change our narrative of the medicalization of English society. Mortimer's methods and arguments deserve serious consideration by all historians of medicine.' Dr Patrick Wallis (LSE), Medical History, October 2010.

'Mortimer's book is a feat of statistical organisation. He has deftly and meticulously analysed thousands of probate records, using complex and subtle quantities techniques. [...] It is a valuable contribution to the history of medicine, and succeeds in its aim to draw attention to the hitherto acknowledged rise in the employment of doctors at times of grave illness.' Hannah Newton (University of Exeter) Local Population Studies (2009)

'A work of great clarity and elegance, and provides the bedrock on which social history must be based.' William Poole (University of Oxford), Times Higher Education Supplement (31 Dec. 2009)

'Due to a dearth of primary source material for medical assistance or nursing care in the seventeenth century, we have long lacked a fuller historical picture of medico-social changes and attitudinal shifts within the period. Ian Mortimer's analysis of probate accounts, however, rectifies this omission... The results of this meticulous and painstaking research are persuasive and have far-reaching implications for the social history of medical care of the dying.' Peter Mitchell (University of Wales, Lampeter), Social History of Medicine, 23, 2 (2010), pp. 437-8.

'Ian Mortimer has found proof of profound change in English medicine between 1570 and 1719 in the probate accounts of the period. Examining more than eighteen thousand accounts set up to administer deceased persons' estates in five counties, Mortimer has discerned a measurable shift in the treatment of the dying from palliative nursing and spiritual help to paying for medicines and doctors... Ian Mortimer has given us the numbers that chart nothing less than a remarkable medical revolution taking place throughout seventeenth-century England. Historians of early modern medicine should thank him for that.' Elizabeth Lane Furdell (University of North Florida, Jacksonville), Journal of the History of Medical and Allied Sciences (2010)

'Mortimer's work is rigorous and cautious, enabling readers to overview a truly vast section of 17th-century society... This study involved a tremendous amount of research, and his calculations and conclusions will prove a valuable resource for early modern scholars and historians of medicalisation more generally. His thorough use of probate records, previously very under-utilised sources, reminds historians that our understanding of the past should emerge not just from books and treatises but from the wide variety of things people left behind.' Erin Sullivan (UCL), Wellcome History, 43 (2010), p. 23.

'Despite the difficulties inherent in the dataset, Mortimer convincingly uses the accounts to make some excellent broader points that contradict some prevailing assumptions about medical care in southern England in the seventeenth century. Mortimer argues that geographic proximity was in fact not the principal concern of patients when choosing a physician to treat a serious illness. Nor was social class a primary factor: Mortimer concludes that lower status groups sought professional medical care about as much as higher status groups. His provocative analysis of the geographic range of physicians in urban and rural areas shows how physicians increasingly traveled to rural areas to provide medical expertise, and that 'qualified' practitioners themselves were more frequently living in rural areas. He also demonstrates that women, too, were specifically sought out for medical expertise and were not called upon merely for geographical convenience. Mortimer nicely illustrates the myriad ways in which the accounts described medical practice and practitioners, especially the wide range of activities (and descriptions of them) that comprised 'nursing' duties.' Frederick Gibbs (George Mason University), Journal of Social History, 44, 4 (Summer 2011), pp. 1289-91.