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  • Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages ed. by Wendy J. Turner and Sara M. Butler
  • Joseph Shatzmiller
Wendy J. Turner and Sara M. Butler, eds. Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2014. xii + 378 pp. Ill. $181.00 (978-90-04-26906-4).

Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages is a collection of twelve studies (“chapters”) by different authors accompanied by a highly important introduction and by ten pages of no less significant concluding remarks. Only eight of the studies are anchored in the history of the Western High Middle Ages, while the first three deal with the Barbarian law and the last one is a fifteenth-century case study. Geographically we find ourselves in most countries of the Medieval West from Ireland, England, and the Low Countries, down to Italy and also Iberia. There scholars discovered abundant data in the archives of large and small towns, those of the kingdom of Valencia being of particular importance. Like all other medievalists, our twelve authors are well versed in the story of the early West European Renaissance in which the rediscovery of Roman law and of Greco-Roman medicinal traditions took place simultaneously. Although none of the studies deals with the numbers of practitioners, the literature that the authors used refers to the thousands of medics and an astounding number of legal professionals.

That medicine became a profession, abandoning almost completely the realm of Christian charity, implied that practitioners had to be paid for their services and in consequence be responsible for their mistakes or errors. On the other hand, like other specialists such as textile dealers or money changers, the expertise of legally confirmed health care providers (wherever they were available) was very much appreciated by the courts. It helped Judges to reach a “just” verdict where assaults, injuries, and death were at issue. Medics had to appear at the call [End Page 801] of the tribunal both at the almost primitive agricultural centers and in highly sophisticated urban cities like Bologna. The medical profession that had been regulated by public authorities in the Arabic world now followed the same path in the Mediterranean countries of Western Europe: the candidates were required to be examined in theory and practice before getting a licentia practicandi. The Archives of Naples, before their destruction, kept notices about no fewer than thirty-six hundred licenses issued between 1273 and 1345. Little wonder then that the question of licensing and of medical expertise engaged the attention of the authors for no fewer than five chapters of the book.

The sick, the suffering, and the lame are not neglected by our authors. Women at childbirth were attended by midwives. It was understood to be a private arrangement, but, as Monika Green put it, women’s medicine tended to become masculine. Doctors, to be sure, did not take over the practice of gynecology, but they did show much interest in the discipline and were there to assist the “Wise Women” when complications occurred. The mentally incapacitated too tended to be relocated from the private to the public domain. Courts in southern France around 1300, would still consider mental disability as a misfortune to be taken care of by parents or by educators. Not so in the feudal Monarchy of England. There, the Crown issued legislation with the aim of establishing trustful guardians of the mentally ill, armored with the legal power to ensure that neither they nor their family would be taken advantage of by wrongdoers. The rape of women should have been of great public concern. However, as the distinguished French Medievalist Jacques Rossiaud demonstrated, the courts of the time were not stringent enough and rapists were not punished with the severity that would have corresponded to the gravity of their transgression.

The only extended portrait of a patient that the book offers is that of St. Francis of Assisi. The author of the study, Donna Tremblinski, examines every piece of information found in the several, and therefore confusing, versions of the “lives” of the saint, as well as in other documents. However what we glean from the article pertains to the early history of...


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