THIS COULD HAVE been a brilliant book. Set in the turbulent days of the Civil War, it focuses on two medical giants: the Royal (and royalist) physician William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood, and the astrologer, apothecary and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, who fought with the Parliamentary army and has been largely forgotten except as the author of a famous herbal. Although there was no personal connection between the two, Benjarnin Woolley juxtaposes them, quite rightly, as exemplars of two radically different varieties of medicine. Harvey, of course, was the traditionalist, a staunch upholder of the corporate privileges of the Royal College of Physicians, a devoted servant to hls king and an elitist in every way; and Culpeper was the radical populist, a writer of vernacular medical texts, including unauthorised translations of learned Latin works issued by the Royal Colleges. Both men, it is true, were far too talented to be typical but their life stories could still guide us into the crowded and diverse medical marketplace of early modern England, where healers of varying capabilities vied with one another for custom and renown.
In an age without any of the medications we take for granted, most people probably got well because of Nature's healing hand rather than the doctor's. The elite physician, then, was not necessarily the more slulled healer; his superiority to his competitors was based more on education, social status and