|A woman fighting alongside men
In Lincoln, Lucy de Taillebois held the office of Sheriff of Lincoln in her own right up to her death in 1136 and a sheriff in those days was far from a mere ceremonial role, for she was sworn to uphold the king’s law, deliver criminals and the king’s enemies to justice, supervise the royal lands in her area, requisition supplies for the king and preside over the shire courts.
|Man and woman fencing, 1300's
We know the nunneries held a great store of medical knowledge, but perhaps more surprising is the large number of women who attended medical schools alongside male students in the early Middle Ages especially the school of Salerno where one woman or perhaps a group of women known as Trotula, became famous for writing a treatise on obstetrics which included breach births, prolapses and polyps of the womb. Her book De mulierum passionibusante, in post partum was still in use as the standard textbook by doctors centuries after women had been barred from practising medicine. It’s thought Trotula may be immortalised in the nursery rhyme which was well known by 1706, about Old Dame Trot and her cat.
Right across Europe beguines, who lived in the cities of women, set up hospitals for the local people in which the beguines worked as physicians and surgeons. Many of these hospitals are still in use today, though now in private or state hands.
|Woman blood-letting by by placing heated vessels
over cuts to create a vacuum to draw off
a measured amount of blood. 1400's
They were much better at preventing infection than was the case in latter centuries, using antiseptics and even rudimentary antibiotics although obviously they didn’t have the modern understanding of viruses and bacteria. And it was medieval female physician who pioneered an early form of plastic surgery, binding a patient’s forearm to his face until the skin of the arm attached itself to the wound and then cutting it away. It is reported the patient survived and both wounds healed.
Not only were many of the medical skills and knowledge lost in later centuries and had to be rediscovered, but women also lost their right to work in many professions and had to regain them. Will it happen again? Sadly in some countries it already is.
Medieval surgical instrements from 'Mirror of Phlebotomy & Practise of surgery' by John of Arderne, written in the 1400's.