Health, Medicine and the Family in Wales, c. 1600 – c. 1750


Alun Robert James Withey

 Submitted to Swansea University in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Swansea University


NB. The thesis content itself is not replicated here for reason of copyright


The history of medicine in Wales is a subject hitherto largely ignored by historians, beyond a spate of works on magic and folklore. As such, little is known about important factors such as the ways in which Welsh people understood and conceptualised illness and their bodies, medical beliefs and the spread of medical information, and also the important question of economics and the ‘medical marketplace’. This thesis provides a ‘missing half’ to Welsh medical history, by highlighting the extent which Wales was both exposed to, and participant in, wider national and international networks of information and trade.

The thesis is arranged thematically into three sections. Section One explores the types and spread of disease in Wales and also contains a detailed quantitative study of parish burial records. Section Two explores the important issue of the spread of medical knowledge into and around Wales, highlighting the growing importance of literacy, language and published medical texts. The final section addresses in detail questions of the sickness experiences of Welsh people and concepts of care, and highlights the often complex domestic and community structures of care and poor relief.

In sum, this work seeks to shed new light on Welsh medical history and stimulate new debates into this neglected area of medical historiography. More broadly, its concentration upon a unique geographical, linguistic and cultural area of the British Isles raises new questions about the potentially diverse individual medical histories of distinct regions, and the often complex relationships between centres and peripheries. It is thus hoped that this thesis will serve as a stimulus for new debates and approaches into rural medical histories in Britain and Europe.


  •  Acknowledgements v
  •  List of Illustrations vi 
  • Appendices vii

Introduction 1

Section One: Disease and Mortality in Early Modern Wales

  • Chapter One: ‘Fruits of Sin, Forerunners of Dissolution’: Sickness and Disease in Early Modern Wales 18

Section Two: Medical Knowledge in Early Modern Wales

  • Chapter Two: The Welsh Body and Popular Medical Culture 50
  • Chapter Three: Medicine, Oral and Print Culture 84
  • Chapter Four: An Economy of Knowledge: Social Networks and the Spread of Medical Information 116

Section Three: Domestic Sickness and Care in the Welsh Home

  • Chapter Five: Care and the Welsh Medical Home 133
  • Chapter Six: Sickness Experience and the ‘Sick Role’ 181
  • Chapter Seven: Caring for the Sick 210
  • Chapter Eight: ‘Neighbourliness’ and the Medical Community 242
  • Chapter Nine: Conclusion 270

Bibliography 284