Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Richard Caldwell -Tudor Doctor

2013 sees the 500th anniversary of the birth of a man completely overlooked in the annuals of famous people of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Richard Caldwell was born in Upper Hulme in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. For someone from such a remote place Richard must have showed signs of remarkable promise. He attended Brasenose College in Oxford, graduating in 1554. Caldwell was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians four years later becoming President of the College in 1570. He co- founded the Lumleian lectures- annual lectures on the latest medical advance- still held today. It was at a lecture that William Harvey announced his research on the circulation of the blood in 1615 .

During the 16th century there were some improvements in medicine, but it remained basically the same as in the Middle Ages. In 1478 a book by the Roman doctor Celsus was printed. (The printing press made all books including medical ones much cheaper). This quickly became a standard textbook. However in the early 16th century a man named Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) called himself Paracelsus (meaning surpassing Celsus). He denounced all medical teaching not based on experiment and experience. However traditional ideas on medicine held sway for long afterwards especially in an area as inaccessible as the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Tudor doctors were expensive and they could do little about illness partly because they did not know what caused disease. They had little idea of how the human body worked. Doctors thought the body was made up of four fluids or 'humours'. They were blood, phlegm, choler or yellow bile and melancholy or black bile. In a healthy person all four humours were balanced, but if you had too much of one you fell ill.

Despite the relative scarcity of available books on medicine in England, this was a period of rapid development in medicine on the Continent. A number of important teachers were experimenting with new methods and disseminating new ideas. Men such as Falloppius, head of medicine at the University of Padua (for whom the Fallopian tube was named); Columbus, who first described the relationship of the systole and diastole of the pulse to the beating heart; and Montanus, the first to use clinical instruction for the teaching of medical students. Caldwell seems to have been aware of the advances and it is reported that he made a reputation for translating Italian medical research into English.