In Tudor times, many people died of diseases such as cholera that were spread through human contact and by dirty living conditions.
There was a decline in public health after the Roman times. Towns were overcrowded because the houses were built very close together. Sewage and rubbish ran down open gutters in the centre of the streets, and these overflowed on wet days so that sewage could be trampled onto shoes and clothes and into houses. The Tudors did not have the awareness that we have today about pollution, and how to keep air clean. Coal fires would spew smoke into the air, mixing with steam from the dyers, soap boilers, tanners, brewers and metal workers.
Tudor towns were governed by people who did not see it as their duty to provide public facilities such as covered drainage systems that would remove, clean and recycle sewage, or teams to collect and dispose of rubbish in specially selected land fill sites. It was only after mass outbreaks of diseases unknown today, such as the Black Death, that public services were improved for the health of the community.
The Tudors studied medical science and anatomy but they did not have the knowledge and technologies that we have to prevent, diagnose, manage and cure illness and disease. Tudor doctors did not work in surgeries with a fixed group of patients to look after. If you were ill you went to a man who not only combined a career as a surgeon and a barber, but also would pull out teeth into the bargain. Today men and women who want to be doctors go to medical school and study for a period of seven years. In Tudor times you were apprenticed to the nearest barber surgeon, and worked on the patients straight away. Thomas Linacre became one of Henry VIII's physicians. He was also a classical scholar and could read Greek and Latin. This meant he had access to sophisticated medical texts, and he became aware of the need for better training. In 1518, he obtained a Royal Charter from Henry VIII to establish the Royal College of Physicians, which laid down the qualifications needed to pursue the study of medicine.
Disease spreads through germs in the air and water, through animals running over food, and by human contact. The medical solutions used by the Tudors were not strong enough to counteract the basic lack of hygiene in their everyday life.
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