Post-classical history


Henry’s Physicians and Surgeons

Henry was often in poor health. We first find him ill with the pox in 1387 at the age of twenty, when the king’s physician, John Middleton (d. 1429) was summoned to assist him.1 This was not a permanent employment. The following year he employed Geoffrey Melton, an Oxford physician, to come to Kenilworth to attend his wife.2 Melton was not retained either. When Henry was ill on the reyse in Lithuania, he was given the services of the physician of the Master of the Order of the Teutonic Knights.3 On the same trip he paid a ‘leech’ in Danzig for staunching a wound, perhaps obtained while jousting.4 It was only after his return from his pilgrimage, in 1393, that Henry began to retain a personal physician, Dr John Malvern (d. 1422) .5 It was presumably under Malvern’s care that medicines were bought for him in 1395, 1397 and 1398. Malvern continued to appear in Henry’s company for the rest of his life but seems not to have followed Henry into exile in 1398.6

Henry took on his late father’s French physician, Master Louis Recoches, when he returned in 1399. From 22 February 1400 to 13 April 1406 Recoches is described as ‘the king’s physician’ in grants to him, receiving the office of the keeper of the Royal Mint in the Tower on 24 January 1404.7In Henry’s extant wardrobe account book for 1403, Recoches is the only king’s physician mentioned.8 However, in April 1402 there is a reference to one Richard Grisby, ‘king’s physician’, being given a general safe-conduct.9 The safe-conduct suggests that this was a one-off appointment, an impression made all the more likely by the absence of any other reference to Grisby serving the king in a medical capacity.10 Nevertheless, this is the first indication that the king was enlisting additional medical help. As mentioned in the text, medicines were bought for him the following year, and there is evidence in a letter written by his surgeon that Henry had been ill before 1404.

Recoches was replaced as ‘the king’s physician’ by David Nigarellis of Lucca before 17 November 1408.11 On that day Nigarellis received the keepership of the Royal Mint with which Henry had previously paid Recoches. By 2 February 1412 his salary amounted to eighty marks per annum.12He and his heirs became subjects of the king of England that same month but Nigarellis himself died very shortly afterwards, at Easter 1412.13 Henry also benefited from the ministrations of two other Italian physicians at the end of his life: Elias de Sabato, a Jewish doctor from Bologna, who was given permission to come to England and practise in December 1410, and Pietro D’Alcobasso, or Alto Bosco, who was in royal service in 1412.14

It is interesting that, after his accession, Henry preferred foreign physicians whereas prior to his coronation he had been attended by English medics. Two of the three identified foreigners employed after 1407 were Jews and all three were from Italy. Although we have no names regarding the identity of the ‘physicians’ (plural) who were with him at Windsor in April 1406, thereafter Henry’s attempts to find a medical solution to his problem became more intense. There may be many more physicians as yet unidentified whose names have still to be pulled from the official documents of the period. One historian has gone so far as to suggest that he may have been attended in 1405 by as many as five.15

With regard to surgeons, the name of John Bradmore (d. 1412) is pre-eminent. He was connected with the royal household from 1399 and acted as an official surgeon to the king from at least 1402 to at least 1406, if not until the end of his life.16 He is most famous for his surgical treatise which details his most notable cases and which is now in the British Library. This is the source for the description of how he managed to save the life of the prince of Wales after the battle of Shrewsbury, by extracting the arrow from his face, when many other physicians had failed to do so. He was also a founder member of the Fraternity of the Trinity in the parish of St Botolph, Aldersgate, and master of the fraternity in 1409, and bequeathed the fraternity its first property.17 This gives him a religious link to Henry as well. In 1403 he was one of two surgeons to receive robes in an official capacity (the other being John Justel).18

The final medical reference for Henry which is worth noting is one dating to 5 April 1400. On that day Henry gave a generous allowance of sixpence per day to Matthew Flynt, a toothdrawer of London so he would pull the teeth of ‘any poor lieges of the king who may need it in the future, without receiving anything from them’.19 One cannot help but feel that this is evidence of Henry himself experiencing toothache in early 1400, and wishing to reward the man who helped him in his plight. That he did so by helping the poor of London at the same time is to his credit.

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