The Dark Ages
As was mentioned in previous pages, the English first introduced gunpowder to war in 1347 at Calais. Henry V invaded France during the 15th century. He used his cannon at the siege of Harfleur. It was at Harfleur that disease decimated the army of Henry V with an outbreak of dysentery; it eventually killed 2000 and incapacitated many more.
It was his courage and leadership that enabled the final victory. The wounds that were created as a result of gunpowder were automatically considered septic.
The Arabs introduced the standard treatment for a gunshot wound, which was to pour boiling Elder oil into the wound. Using a hot iron arrested the bleeding. It is also widely believed initially during the early years of gunpowder, that priests ignorant of the nature of the substance felt it better to exorcise the wound.
Because of the lack of any suitable substance to relieve the excruciating pain, that was the inevitable by-product of a surgical procedure, death due to agonizing pain was common. The surgeon had to work expeditiously, surgery was severely restricted. The common procedures were splinting of fractures, lancing of boils and limb amputation. Death from the simplest surgical procedure was common.
The most common cause of death following a surgical operation was from sepsis, although as has been mentioned, surgeons believed that sepsis was part and parcel of wound healing. The discharge that seeped from the wound was known at the time, as ‘laudable pus’. An important change in the type of wounds managed by surgeons occurred midway through the 13th century with the introduction of gunpowder into Europe by the Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon.
"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead! In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect."110