Anti-quack literature in early Stuart England
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During the thirty years preceding the Civil War, learned physicians such as John Cotta, James Hart, James Primerose and Edward Poeton produced a stream of works attacking those who practised medicine without what they regarded as the proper training and qualifications. Recent scholarship has tended to view these as exercises in economic protectionism within the context of the ‘medical marketplace’. However, increasing attention has latterly been drawn to the Calvinist religious preferences of these authors, and how these are reflected in their arguments, the suggestion being that these can be read as oblique critiques of contemporary church reform. My argument is that professional and religious motivations were in fact ultimately inseparable within these works. Their authors saw order and orthodoxy in all fields - medical, social, political and ecclesiastical - as thoroughly intertwined, and identified all threats to these as elements within a common tide of disorder. This is clearest in their obsession with witchcraft, that epitome of rebellion, and with priest-physicians; practitioners who tended to combine medical heterodoxy, anti-Calvinist sympathies and a taste for the occult, and whose practices were innately offensive to puritan social thought while carrying heavy Catholic overtones. These works therefore reflected an intensely conservative worldview, but my research suggests that they should not necessarily be taken as wholly characteristic of early Stuart puritan attitudes. All of these authors can be associated with the moderate wing of English Calvinism, and Cotta and Hart developed their arguments within the context of the Jacobean diocese of Peterborough, where an entrenched godly elite was confronted by an unusually rigourous conformist church court regime. They sought to promote a particular vision of puritan orthodoxy against conformist heterodoxy; in light of the events of the interregnum, it seems likely that this concealed more diverse attitudes towards medical reform amongst the godly.
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