Food for thought

I recently read Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture by Louis Noble (published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2011). Noble’s excellent text sheds light on something that has previously caught my attention in Crooke’s book: the intriguing (and sometimes bizarre) relationship between the body and food in the early modern period. Specifically, the chapter “Medicine, Cannibalism, and Revenge Justice: Titus Andronicus” put me in mind of two particular things I first noted when I got the chance to examine the 1615 copy of Mikrokosmographia held in the John Martin Rare Book Room at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences at the University of Iowa.

1. The illustration Crooke provides of “the Kidnies” and “the vesselles of the Kidneyes” looks startlingly like food – and not just a kidney bean. I see a bunch of frisée lettuce and apples:

2. Crooke’s discussion of the female breast and its role in feeding the infant appears in Book Three, “Of the Parts belonging to Nutrition or Nourishment” — among the stomach, intestines, kidneys, gall bladder, liver, spleen, etc. — rather than Book Four, “Of the naturall parts belonging to Generation,” where I would expect to find it. Although I haven’t fully explored the idea yet, to me this represents a particularly male view of the female body. Even if we accept its infant-feeding capabilities as the primary role of the female breast, the female might see her own breast as something that enables reproduction as her ability to nourish her offspring ensures the child’s viability. The male, however, sees the breast as something that fed and nourished him, and therefore categorizes it with the parts of the body involved in ingestion and digestion.

Furthermore, Noble points out a detail that is not only interesting but incredibly important to my understanding to the culture of anatomy surrounding the production of Crooke’s book, something I had previously missed. Noble writes:

Until 1632, dissections were performed in the kitchen of the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall; however, this transgressed in a rather troubling way the proper function of the kitchen, particularly given the tradition that a special dinner was enjoyed after each anatomical demonstration. In 1632, an urgent demand was made for a special anatomy theater to rectify the situation . . . (54)

When I first read this, my initial reaction was, “Surely, that can’t be right!” I had imagined Mikrokosmographia used in the anatomy theater from its first publication in 1615. I returned to Kate Cregan’s article “Blood and Circuses,” the best source on the Barber-Surgeon’s Anatomy Theater I had handy. Citing The Annals of the Barber Surgeons of London (Sidney Young, 1890), Cregan reports:

At their incorporation in 1540, Henry VIII granted the Barber-Surgeons of London a perpetual right to the bodies of four executed felons per annum, to be used at their discretion, as anatomical subjects . . . . Initially regular public anatomies were held in the common hall of the company, with temporary scaffolding erected for the accommodation of the crowd of spectators (Young 315). . . . The temporary scaffold structure was superseded by a purpose-built Anatomy Theater, designed by Inigo Jones and built between 1636 and 1638. (42-43)

Noble also cites Young with a description of the kitchen anatomies:

. . . hitherto those bodies have beene a greate annoyance to the tables dresser boardes and utensills in our upper Kitchin by reason of the blood filth and entrailes of those Anathomyes and for the better accomodateing of those anatomicall affaries and preserveing the Kitchin to its owne proper use. (54)

Cregan provides a rather less provocative description from Young that describes the early temporary scaffolding structure without mention of the kitchen:

1st February, 1568. Also yt ys ordayned and agreed by this Courte That there shalbe buyldyngs don and made aboute the hall for Seates for the Companye that cometh unto every publyque anathomy, ffor by cawse that every prsone comyng to se the same maye have good prspect over the same and that one sholde not cover the syght thereof on frome another as here fore the Company have much cõplayned on the same. . . . And also ther shalbe pyllers and Rods of Iron made to beare and drawe Courteynes upon & aboute the frame where wthin the Anathomy doth lye and is wrought upon, for bycawse that no prsone or prsones shall beholde the desections or incysyngs of the body, but that all maye be made cleane and covered wth fayer clothes untyll the Docter shall com and take his place to reade and declare upon the partes desected. (Young 315, in Cregan 42-43)

This explains why William Jaggard’s smaller epitome of Crooke’s text was necessary even in 1616, when it first appeared; whatever the size of the room, it seems many members of the company had difficulties seeing the anatomy subject during the procedure. Of course, this could have been due to overcrowding in a small space, rather than the problematic distance of the further seating in the proper anatomy theater once it was built. I do not have a clear concept of what would be defined as a “kitchen” in this time period, or of the layout of the original Barber-Surgeons’ hall. I do not think I would go so far as to call this a “discrepancy” between Noble and Cregan, as Cregan’s “common hall” may be inclusive of or synonymous with Noble’s “kitchen,” but I am interested in pursuing further details about the original situation.

As a side note, I want to mention that there won’t be a post next week – next Friday is the date of my move to Iowa, and I’ve been too busy with packing and wrapping up the class I’m teaching to get ahead on blog posts. Although this summer I haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked, my ultimate intention is to regularly post at least once weekly, although my yet-unknown fall schedule will determine what day of the week that will be.


I began with Anatomy

The title page of Mikrokosmographia is followed by an epistle to the king . . . which I look forward to translating once I learn Latin, but which we must skip for now. This is, obviously, not the only Latin in the book, but it is the only substantial portion of text presented in that language, a choice I will explore when Crooke addresses it (which he does within his first few pages).

Setting that aside, however, brings us (finally!) to the English-language content of the book, beginning with “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.” Crooke addresses his audience thus:

T O   T H E   W O R S H I P F U L L

Company of the Barber-Chyrurgeons, the

Maister, Wardens, Assistants, and Comminalty of the same;

HELKIAH CROOKE, Physitian and Professor

in Anatomy and Chirurgery to His MAJESTIE,

wisheth Happie and prosperous successe in


Crooke, of course, is not himself a member of the barber-surgeon’s company; he is a physician. In this time period, the  barber-surgeons and the physicians were two distinct groups with distinct professional roles. Barber-surgeons had little or no formal schooling and entered the profession by apprenticeship and joining the guild. Physicians entered their profession through college education and membership in the College of Physicians:

A small group of physicians led by the scholar Thomas Linacre petitioned King Henry VIII to establish the College in 1518. They wanted the power to grant licenses to those qualified to practice medicine and to punish unqualified practitioners and those engaging in malpractice.

As the founding charter decreed, the College would: “curb the audacity of those wicked men who shall profess medicine more for the sake of their avarice than from the assurance of any good conscience, whereby many inconveniences may ensue to the rude and credulous populace.” In 1523 an Act of Parliament extended the College’s licensing powers from London to the whole of England.

Linacre wanted to found an academic body for physicians rather than a trade guild of the kind which regulated surgeons and apothecaries. Physicians were seen as the educated elite of the medical world: a degree was required to gain a College’s license. Candidates for Fellowship underwent an oral examination to demonstrate that they were “groundedly learned” (classically educated) in addition to their medical knowledge.

From the start the College was involved in battles with other medical bodies in the struggle to control medical licensing in London. Until the 19th Century there were usually fewer than 60 College Fellows at any one time and under 100 licentiates. It is not surprising that the more numerous surgeons and apothecaries felt they had a strong mandate to treat the rapidly expanding population of London without restrictions from physicians. The College did not always grasp opportunities to lead the broader medical profession and critics saw it as a conservative and protectionist body. (

As this brief history from the Royal College of Physicians website hints, these two professional organizations were frequently at odds with each other, even though the nature of their work was closely related. Crooke recognizes the counterproductivity of this situation. Although he may have had additional motives (many of Crooke’s actions appear to have been taken in the primary interest of financial gain), Crooke presents his volume as a gesture of goodwill toward the barber-surgeons, an effort to aid them in improving their knowledge of their trade. His preface begins:

My Maisters and Worshipfull Friends. As from the first I intended this Labor unto your behoofe; so now having by Gods assistance brought it to an end, I offer it unto you as a token of my Love: Not that I doubt but there are some among you who as themselves stand in no neede of my helpe, so they are also able to have set out this Banquet with greater variety and to have Cooked it fitter for you as being better acquainted with your diet and appetites. But because it is now a long time since your Banister (that good old man) first presented you with a service of this kind, and no man hath seconded him; I have adventured to commit unto you these first fruites of my untainted fame: which if you shall kindly entertaine and make such use thereof as I may not think my labour misbestowed, you shall encourage me cheerefully to run on that course which I have propounded to my selfe to further your profiting in that Noble Art which you have taken upon you to professe. For when I first began, I intended the Anatomy to be but an entrance into a worke of Chyrurgerie, which I had digested into a forme fit, as I thinke, first to ground and establish you in the Principles and Theory or Contemplative part of your profession, and after to builde you up unto the practise of the same. And because the Body of Man is the Subject of your Art, without the knowledge whereof it is impossible for a Chirurgeon to work with any confidence or certainty of successe, I began with Anatomy.

Crooke positions his endeavor in writing his anatomy manual as a “service” to his “friends” the barber-surgeons. He acknowledges his predecessor, John Banister, who published his less-comprehensive The Historie of Man in 1578. (The fact that he makes no mention of Thomas Vicary’s Anatomie of Mans Body, originally published in 1548 and reprinted in 1577, leads me to believe that volume had less bearing on English surgery and anatomy practices than the other, at least after 1600 or so.) Crooke seems to be planning a much larger career in medical writing than he will actually accomplish, not only in his larger plan for this book but in the other endeavors he hints at, this volume being just the start of his “untainted fame.” Best laid plans aside, it does seem a little bizarre that Crooke begins discussing his self-proclaimed “description of the body of man” in food metaphors, calling the volume his “first fruites” and a “banquet” that has been “cooked” for the “diet and appetites” of the barber-surgeons. The relationship between the body and food is an intriguing one in Mikrokosmographia and resurfaces many times.

Revisiting this first paragraph of “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons” gave me a feeling of camaraderie with Crooke. My efforts in undertaking this blog seem to echo his own in drafting Mikrokosmographia in the way the project has burgeoned beyond my expectations. My summer schedule has been fuller than I anticipated, and while I enjoy the work, it takes up so much more time than it seems it ought to. However, this, I fear, is the nature of all such academic endeavors. Although the end result may not be what I originally anticipated, with Crooke, I’ll carry on.

A poxed printer

Printed by William Jaggard dwelling in Barbican, and are there to be sold, 1615.

This final line of the title page identifies one more important relationship for Crooke. William Jaggard (1568-1623) is best known as the printer of the first folio of Shakespeare, which was completed the year of his death. However (unsurprisingly, I suppose), I find his role in the production of Mikrokosmographia equally interesting.

Jaggard was the son of a barber-surgeon; he met Crooke when he required treatment for syphilis. In his ODNB entry on Jaggard, Stanley Wells writes that Jaggard went blind from the disease “about 1612”; O’Malley records that the printer “suffered from a syphilitically induced blindness in 1612 and turned to Dr. Crooke in what was a vain effort to recover his lost sight” (5). (Both cite Sloane manuscript 640 at the British Museum as the source of this information, but I’ve been unsuccessful in my attempts to find any images of that manuscript online.) According to O’Malley, “the two men became friends,” and when Jaggard told Crooke of his plans to publish a translation of Paré, the physician convinced the printer to take on his own “extensive anatomical treatise for which Crooke had long been collecting material” (6). I find it intriguing that both O’Malley and Wells use the verb “persuade” to describe the way Jaggard was hired as a printer (O’Malley in regard to Crooke; Wells in regard to Thomas Pavier, for whom Jaggard printed the Shakespeare folio). At this point in my readings, I have the impression that Jaggard was rather malleable in his business dealings, perhaps in part because of his blindness. I’m not saying that Crooke and Pavier were aggressively manipulative, but Jaggard does come across as somewhat passive in his transactions with these men. This could be important because it would also have bearing on the issue of the origin and verifiability of the title-page claim about Crooke serving as James I’s personal physician; although Jaggard would have had more to lose for publishing a false claim, he could have been “persuaded” into it by Crooke, if that was the nature of their relationship.

In addition to Crooke and Jaggard’s documented doctor-patient relationship, a search of the Map of Early Modern London reveals that Jaggard’s location in the Barbican was not far (to the north) from St. Anne’s lane, where Crooke lived at the time his book was published, and that the Barber-Surgeons hall, where Crooke’s book was used and the company’s anatomies were conducted, was located in between. I find the physical proximity of these locations a point worth noting. I wonder, for instance, if this nearness is the reason Crooke was called upon to treat Jaggard for his syphilitic blindness in the first place. The College of Physicians was some distance away, on Knightrider Street (south of St. Paul’s). Ironically, because of Jaggard’s blindness, when the College called on the printer to threaten him regarding the objectionable parts of Crooke’s work, it was his wife Jane who appeared before them on his behalf. She apparently was either free from or did not suffer such severe symptoms of the disease.