“In leechcraft he was homicide”: Medical Quackery in Late Medieval Literature and Law

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@ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

An illuminated drawing from a medieval manuscript depicting a brown monkey, wearing a red hood and seated on a gilded chair. One hand holds a green urine flask aloft while the other touches the head of a gray owl that stands at the foot of the chair.
Cambrai, Bibliothèques municipale MS 87, fol. 138r. License: CC BY 3.0.

Chelsea Silva

Solmsen Fellow (2023-2024)

Assistant Professor, Department of English, Oklahoma State University

Bedwritten: Middle English Medicine and the Ailing Author

Although the erosion of public trust in healthcare professionals has been made especially visible by the COVID-19 pandemic, concern about popular ability to discern “real” medical experts from frauds is far from a modern phenomenon. Throughout the Middle Ages—and particularly in England and Scotland, where medical licensure was established far later than elsewhere in Europe—determining the credibility of a practitioner was frequently the patient’s prerogative. Trusting the wrong healer, or failing to adequately trust the right one, could have fatal consequences. Like patients today, many medieval clients had good reason to be wary of their potential healthcare providers. Approaching the patient-practitioner relationship as the site of both communal care and exploitative violence, this talk explores a number of sources, including satirical poems, didactic texts, and legal records, to consider the way medical authority was established, interrogated, and counterfeited in the medieval West.

Chelsea Silva is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Oklahoma State University, where her research focuses on literary representations of popular healthcare in late medieval England. She received her PhD from the University of California–Riverside in 2020, and her work has been supported by fellowships from the Huntington Library, the Medieval Academy of America and the Richard III Society, the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, and a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

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