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Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54)

Nicholas Culpeper was an English apothecary and physician. Inspired by the work of medical reformers such as Paracelsus, who rejected traditional medical authorities, Culpeper published books in English, giving healers who could not read Latin access to medical and pharmaceutical knowledge.

Culpeper was a political radical who wrote pamphlets against the king, all priests and lawyers, and licensed physicians. He dedicated himself to serving the sick, the poor and the powerless. In 1644 he set up his own shop in east London, and started to translate medical books into English. In doing this, he not only made them more accessible, but also threatened the monopolies of university-trained physicians.

Culpeper wrote and translated many medical books. But his biggest success was The English Physician of 1653 (now known as Culpeper’s Herbal), which was one of the most successful publications of early modern Britain and North America. Culpeper’s Herbal was an attempt to integrate ideas of the doctrine of signatures and astrology into herbal medicine. It also included a translation of a description of plants and their medical uses issued in Latin by the College of Physicians. The college protested against the publication, but the book has been in print ever since.

Bibliography

G Tobyn, Culpeper's Medicine (Shaftsbury, Dorset: Element Books, 1997)

B Woolley, Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People (New York: HarperCollins, 2004)

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