Monday, May 16, 2022

Question from Roger - Tudor-era attitudes toward bodily functions, dissections, etc

As a beginning med student, my morbid curiosity has lead me to this site to ask this. My question is were the people back then, less squeamish or less easily grossed out by things such as bodily functions, anatomy, dissected, skinless bodies, just reading about how the body works books, etc. than we are nowadays? Or was everyone, even back then, just as nowadays their own individual person? Like, some people simply were more squeamish, whereas others were not.


PhD Historian said...

In addition to my PhD in Tudor History, I have also been a Registered Nurse for 42 years, so this question intrigues me. Yes, I suspect that reactions varied across a wide spectrum, just as they do today. The trick is in identifying the endpoints of that spectrum. Recall that there were no indoor toilets in Tudor England (except for John Harrington's newly invented Ajax, a flushing toilet that he first made in the late 1580s). So body elimination functions were a lot more messy and unpleasant in the Tudor era. How "grossed out" would you be today to poop in a wooden bowl that you kept under the bed? And there were "nightsoil collectors" who routinely circulated to collect the contents of chamber pots. Too, executions were treated as public spectacle, and the manner of execution ranged from beheading to very gory drawing and quartering to burning at the stake, any one of which would likely "gross out" most modern viewers but seemed to entertain the Tudor public. Dissection of human bodies was limited to medical schools, and mostly on the continent. The average public would not even have been aware of such practices, much less to have seen it in person. And since over 90% of the English public was illiterate in the 1500s, few would ever see a book of any kind, much less a book about how the body works. That, too, would have been largely limited to medical schools and to highly educated persons. So your question is actually very difficult to answer because the circumstances that prevailed in the 1500s were so vastly different, in every respect, from what they are today. And with so very few people able to write and thus able to record their thoughts or feelings, we just do not have the documentation required to make an assessment. All we can do is to make an educated guess.

Roger said...

Thanks for the info you gave me PhD Historian. You sure seem to know your stuff.