Views & Reviews Review

Doctors at war

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 23 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7606
  1. Wendy Moore

How did physicians navigate the English civil war? Wendy Moore was fascinated by the 17th century tales of conflict and diplomacy in an exhibition from the collections of their royal college

How do doctors behave during civil war? Do they put patients first, stick rigidly to political and religious principles, or simply look after themselves? The answer, during the English civil war at least, is all of these things, as a thought provoking exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians in London shows.

Fascinating more for the narrative it unfolds than the artefacts on display, rare and special as they are, the exhibition prompts the timeless question of how human beings react in situations of immense turmoil. The title, “An end to good manners,” says it all. During the seven years of turbulence that ripped apart families, friends, and communities in 17th century England, physicians showed just as much courage, cowardice, and sheer cunning as anyone else.

At the beginning of the civil war in 1642, the College of Physicians numbered fewer than 40 doctors, and its powers were limited to licensing medicine within the capital. …

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