Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Question from Colleen - Places to travel to for consumption "cures"

Does anyone know if there was a place people traveled to when suffering from consumption (tuberculosis)? I know that in later years it became common for people who could afford it to travel to the Alps, where it was thought that the air would heal their lungs. But in the 16th century, was there a common destination for wealthy people who were afflicted with the disease to go and be "cured"?


kb said...

I'm not sure if 'taking the waters' was considered a cure for consumption. However, Elizabethans and Elizabeth liked Buxton.

Foose said...

I looked into this a bit and I would agree with kb that at this stage consumptives were not prescribed visits to curative springs or mineral spas. Tudor physicians appear to have treated phthisis, consumption, lung-rot, etc., with "powder of precious gems, oil of ants, vegetable syrups, bile, the excreta of various animals, the sloughed skin from a snake, and moss from the skull of a person who had died violently." (The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714, by Elizabeth Lane Furdell).

The medievals had recognized various curative wells for ailments like skin diseases and "purging the blood of humours," but these fell out of favor and fashion during the Reformation due to their association with the cult of the saints.

Dr. Agostino (variously "Agostini," "Dr. Augustine," or "Augustino"), the Venetian physician of Wolsey who shopped the Cardinal to Norfolk and Henry VIII after his disgrace (leading to Wolsey's death on the long road to London), may have introduced the fashion in England for the water-cure.

Agostino went to Spa ("Spaw") on the Continent and is credited by some historians as having popularized the concept for the English, although he left England in 1546. However, other native physicians were aware of the value of mineral springs. There is a Dr. William Turner, who published a guide to the "Baths of England" in Queen Elizabeth's reign and argued eloquently on the benefits of "taking the waters." Dr. Humphrey Cotton was active in promoting Bath under Protector Somerset.

English aristocrats took note; Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, controlled Bath and tried to pump up interest in it. Bess of Hardwick's husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, revived Buxton with a building program. People in the latter 16th century are described as going to Buxton or Bath for skin diseases, lameness, gout, migraine, catarrh and other illnesses, but consumption in its various Tudor descriptions is not mentioned. Possibly this might be because the physician Galen (2nd century A.D., still very influential during the Renaissance) recommended that patients with ulcerated lungs be sent to a "dry atmosphere," to heal up the ulcers.

A good resource on the history of English watering holes, from which I drew much of this information: The English Spa, 1560-1815, by Phyllis May Hembry.

Foose said...

Getting back to the question of whether there was a certain climate – spa, mountains, etc. – where consumptives were advised to take up residence, it doesn’t look like there was a specific recommendation during the first half of the 16th century. Many of the ancient physicians did advise certain types of climates for people with “phthisis” (wasting disease, identified with modern tuberculosis) – Galen, to follow up on his recommendation of a dry climate, suggested Egypt (Aristotle also said that there was little incidence of phthisis in Egypt); Celsus recommended life in the country, or sea voyages; Aretaeus proposed living on the sea-coast; Pliny praised the healthful properties of pine forests.

Galen also liked mountains as a suitable location for consumptives, but was particularly enthusiastic about a place called Stabiae (modern Castellamare di Stabia), near Naples, as being the ideal place for the phthisis-sufferer. “Fresh air” is frequently mentioned by the ancients, but their definition is variable.

The Renaissance doctors would have been able to consider these various prescriptions in treating patients, but through the first half of the 16th century I can only find a few instances where an individual was advised to seek a better climate.

-Eleanora de Medici, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, was sent on a trip to Pisa in the 1540s in hopes of curing her consumption in the sea air. Possibly the recommending physician was Gabriele Fallopio (1523-1562), “a firm believer in climate as a factor in the treatment of phthisis pulmonalis. He was elective in the choice of localities, and was guided in this by the temperament and constitution of the patient.” (From Pulmonary tuberculosis, by Sigard Adolphus Knopf. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any more information on Fallopio’s treatment of consumptives (he was an anatomist who discovered the Fallopian tubes, as you might guess, so most of the information available on the Internet focuses on that.))

-Catherine de Medici’s father, Lorenzo, was sent out of Florence to the “countryside” before her birth to ameliorate his condition (he may also have had syphilis). His kinsman Giuliano (married to Francois I's aunt Filiberta) was sent to Fiesole, presumably more healthful and rural, but died there in 1516.

Milk, rest, careful diet and exercise were also common treatments by ancient doctors, and seem to have been more likely to be taken up by Renaissance doctors. Certainly I didn’t come across anyone being recommended to go on a trip to Egypt (in the later 16th century, the doctor Prosper Alpinus said phthisis was endemic to Egypt, suggesting conditions might have changed). Edward VI was told to rest by his Italian doctor Cardano. Milk (and ancient Stabiae was famous for its pastures and fine animal milk) was held to have saved the life of Eleanor Brandon’s husband, the Earl of Cumberland: "Common experience prooveth that womans mylke, sucked from the breast, is without comparison the best of all in a consumption," according to Thomas Cogan, an Elizabethan physician, describing the earl’s recovery.

A lot of famous people suffered from consumption in the 16th century, and it’s disappointing that I couldn’t find out more about their treatments. The Valois, Henry Fitzroy, Catherine Grey, etc. – very little information was available.