The medicine of the friars in late medieval England

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits

The next seminar in the 2015–16 History of Pre-Modern Medicine Seminar Series takes place on Tuesday 2 February.

Friar in apothecary.

A friar in an apothecary. EPB/4633/B: Opera nuova intitolata Dificio de ricette, nella quale si contengono tre utilissimi Ricettari (Venice: Giovantonio da Sabbio, 1529), leaf A4 verso. Wellcome Images L0033475.


Peter Jones (University of Cambridge)

The medicine of the friars in late medieval England


Compared to occupational groups like physicians, surgeons, barbers, apothecaries and empirics of various kinds, or women practitioners, very little attention has been paid by historians to the medical knowledge and practice of the mendicants in late medieval England. This is partly because the available sources for libraries and practitioners under-represent mendicants, while Langland and Chaucer depict friars as lecherous opportunists who take advantage of their access to women in the household. Moreover the ‘frater medicus’ tending his brethren in the convent was on the way out in the 14th century, we have learnt, as lay practitioners were hired to provide medical care. This paper will make the case for reinstating the friars as important contributors to medical knowledge and practice directed at lay patients in late medieval England, and will investigate the friars’ contributions to gynaecology, alchemy and medical astrology. What is more, the friars seem to have pioneered a wiki-type encyclopaedia of medical knowledge compiled between 1416 and 1425 and later used and developed by the great court physician John Argentein.


Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.

Doors open at 6pm, seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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