The Dark Ages

Richard Wiseman 1621-1676

During the English civil war the most prominent royalist surgeon was Richard Wiseman. 

Historically war has elevated the profile of military leaders, if you win a battle you are glorified in the history books, if you lose you get mentioned. The same was with surgeons except that the winning and losing did not matter as much. The surgeon was recognised not only because of his efforts in treating the wounded, but also in the way he progressed the art of surgery with new ideas and techniques.
Richard Wiseman was no exception, having completed his training, entering the ranks of the Barber Surgeons just before the civil war between the Crown and Parliament broke out in 1642.
This conflict was to continue on and off for another 15 years. Wiseman took the side of the crown and was at many of the famous civil war battles.

Wiseman was taken prisoner in the Battle of Worcester 1651.In 1652 after being released, he qualified as a member of the Barber-Surgeons' Company and worked at St. Thomas' Hospital. He was it seems imprisoned again in the Tower of London accused of aiding the escape of a Royalist prisoner.133

His observations and writings were his legacy. An extensive writer, he noted many conditions and outlined his treatment for them. He escaped the Parliamentary forces and accompanied the future Charles II to France.

He was also supposed to have joined the Spanish navy for 3 years. He eventually returned to England in 1657 when the anti-royalist sentiments waned. Charles II returned as King on the death of Cromwell and Wiseman was made Sergeant Surgeon to the King in 1672.

His book Several Surgical Treatises is now seen as a landmark in English Surgery, this book outlines over 600 surgical procedures. His observations on gunshot wounds are extensive and his detailed remarks on the treatment of these wounds are superb.
One of the entries in the book reads:

"A gentleman of about sixty years of age, labouring of a hydrocele, was referred to me by Dr Morrison. The swelling was within the tunicles of the right testicle, the scrotum was thick. I let out the water by puncture with a cannula; it was drained a quart: then I dressed it., and on the third day applied a restrictive emplaster over it with a truss. He was cured in a few days and discharged. “134

He was rewarded eventually by becoming King Charles II personal surgeon and is also responsible for raising the Profession to a class equal to the Clergy. With this class elevation came harder entry standards for would be apprentices.

Richard Wiseman died in 1676 and was buried in Covent Garden in London. Wiseman advocated early amputation on the field of battle and wrote extensively about his observations.


“Surgery is always second best. If you can do something else, it's better.”135




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