Tudor medicine had not advanced massively from the times of Medieval England. It is thought that only about 10% of all Tudors lived to be beyond their 40th birthday – and one of the reasons, among many, was the poor standard of Tudor medicine and medical knowledge.
In the countryside, villagers frequently relied on herbal treatments for illnesses – or ‘old wives tales’. As an example, a Tudor ‘cure’ for a headache was to drink a medicine made up of a mixture of lavender, sage, majoram, roses and rue or to press a hangman’s rope to your head. Rheumatism was treated by the patient being made to wear the skin of a donkey. Other treatments included:
Gout – apply to the affected foot a mixture made out of worms, pigs marrow, herbs all boiled together with a red-haired dog.
Deafness – mix the gall of a hare with grease from a fox. Warm the resulting concoction and place it in the ear.
Smallpox – hang red curtains around a victim’s bed as the red light produced by the curtains will cure the patient.
Head lice – pour tobacco juice onto the scalp.
Jaundice – swallow nine lice mixed with some ale each morning and do this for seven consecutive days.
Baldness – shave the head and smear onto the scalp the grease from a fox. An alternate cure was to crush a garlic bulb and rub it into the scalp and then wash the scalp in vinegar.
Plague – put herbs on a windowsill near the patient or burn leather to produce smoke as the smoke will kill off the plague.
In the towns and cities, bleeding was still a popular cure for most ills. The Tudors believed that too much blood was bad for the body and this in itself caused illnesses. Therefore, if blood was let from the body, the patient’s illnesses would also go. Some ‘doctors’ used leeches to complete the task while others simply cut a vein.
It would be many years before there was any noticeable and sustained advanced in medical knowledge so that society as a whole benefitted.