Mistress Martha writes of Master Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper 1616-1654

Culpeper 1Nicholas Culpeper was born in 1616, the son of a clergyman who died before his son was born. He grew up in Sussex within the home of his Puritan grandfather. He studied at Cambridge before being forced to leave the university. He then became an apprentice to an apothecary in Bishopsgate, London.

He married 15 year old Alice and due to her wealth was able to set up as an astrologer and herbalist in Spitalfields. He was able to charge nothing or very little for his services. Here he began translating medical books into English, thus making them more accessible to those who could not read Latin. He used local ingredients in his treatments, many from his own herb garden.

As a Parliamentarian, he performed surgery during the English Civil War and during the First Battle of Newbury in 1643 he received a bullet wound from which he never fully recovered. In 1649 he published his Physical Directory beforeissuing his most important work, The English Physician in 1653. He died aged 37 in 1654. Culpeper was described as a radical, witty and eloquent as well as being prone to melancholy.

Culpeper contributed much to the corpus of knowledge. He was an early proponent of the importance of caring for the sick and the poor. He was of the opinion that all people who required it should be treated and social status should not prevent necessary care from being given. In his book The English Physician (now Culpeper’s Complete Herbal) he integrated astrological ideas as well as ideas from the Doctrine of Signatures (a ‘like for like’ theory that the medical use of a herb could be ascertained from its appearance) into herbal medicine. This book is an index of illnesses and herbal remedies has never been out of print.

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