Barbers, Surgeons, and Barbarism

Barbers, Surgeons, and Barbarism


After visiting the Mayo Clinic, the magnificent medical complex in Jacksonville, Florida, and seeing the kinds of treatments – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – my family member was getting and the EFFECT ‘this treatment’ I thought it appropriate to post this 16th-century text, ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’ on ‘Barbers and Surgeons’.

In the 23rd Century, the 22nd will look like the 16th.


Introduction to the Chapter on ‘Barbers and Surgeons’

In 1163, Pope Alexander III issued a decree that prohibited members of religious orders from spilling blood. Because of their dexterity with scissors and razors, barbers began to aid monks in their traditional role as physicians. In addition to shaving and haircutting, barbers began performing bloodletting, which was the treatment of almost all maladies for nearly three millennia, until the late 19th century. Barbers also performed incision and drainage of abscesses and cysts, neck manipulation, tooth extraction, enemas, and fire cupping. Surgeons with little experience in shaving and haircutting also joined the barbers’ company, but in 1368, surgeons formed their own guild. In 1540, Henry VIII merged the Fellowship of Surgeons with the Company of Barbers, to form the United Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The parliamentary act that led to this merger specified that surgeons could not perform grooming and barbers could not operate. Their only common procedure was tooth extraction. (Note the similarities between dental and barber chairs today.) The barber pole, with its red (for bloodletting) and white (for bandages) stripes, was used to promote the barber surgeon trade. Barbers maintained preeminence and commanded higher pay until surgeons began caring for injured seamen aboard British war ships. In 1745, King George II separated the two groups and surgeons formed the Company of Surgeons, which became the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800.


Of the CITIES of
London and Westminster:

The Original, Antiquity, Increase, Modern Estate
and Government of those CITIES.

Written at first in the Year MDXCVIII 1598)
By JOHN STOW, Citizen and Native of London.
Since Reprinted and Augmented by the AUTHOR;
And afterwards by A.M. H.D. and others.

Corrected, Improved, and very much Enlarged: And the SURVEY and HISTORY brought down from the Year 1633, (being near Fourscore Years since it was last printed) to the present Time;
By JOHN STRYPE, M.A. a Native also of the said CITY.

Illustrated with Exact MAPS of the City and Suburbs, and of all the Wards; and likewise of the Out-Parishes of LONDON and WESTMINSTER: Together with many other fair Draughts of the more Eminent and Publick Edifices and Monuments.


To which is prefixed,

The LIFE of the AUTHOR, writ by the Editor.

At the End is added,
An APPENDIX of certain Tracts, Discourses and Remarks,
concerning the State of the CITY of LONDON.


A Perambulation, or Circuit-Walk Four or Five Miles round about LONDON, to the Parish Churches: Describing the Monuments of the Dead there Interred: With other Antiquities observable in those Places.

And concluding with a SECOND APPENDIX, as a Supply and Review: And a Large INDEX of the Whole Work.

PEACE be within thy Walls, and
PLENTEOUSNESS within thy Palaces.
Psal. cxxij. 7.



THEIR Arms, Crest and Supporters were granted by Sir Gilbert Dethike, Garter, Robert Cook, Esq; Clarencieux, and William Flower, Esq; Norroy (by Patent under their Hands and Seals, June 2. 1569.]

J. S.

The Barbers-Chirurgeons, being a Company of no mean Credit and Estate, became a Brotherhood and Fellowship, incorporated by the Charter of King Edward IV. afterwards by the Henrys, the Seventh and Eighth, Philip and Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. Last of all, they were again confirmed by King James, with other Additions also to their Charters. And all those former Charters have been re-confirmed, with large Additions, by King Charles I.

To rectifie and explain what is said of these Barbers-Surgeons, let this that follows be added.

J. S.


THE Barbers, long before they were united with the Chirurgeons, were an ancient Company of themselves; being incorporated in the first Year of the Reign of King Edward IV. Febr. 24. at Westminster. And their Company confirmed by King Henry VII. and King Henry VIII. by sundry Letters Patents. These Barbers anciently practised Surgery also.

Barbers, an ancient Company.

Thomas Colard, Citizen and Barber, by his Will dated Anno 1467, gave his Book of Fysyk and Surgery, called Rosse and Constantine, to the Hall of Barbers, to be laid into the Library.

Regist. Testament. Lond.

E. A.

Robert Scot, Citizen and Barber of London, by his Will dated Decemb. 1490, gave to the Fellowship of the Craft of Barbers, his Tenements in the Parish of St. Barth{query}omew the Less; and to their Successors for ever.

Barbers, Regist. Lond.


THE Surgeons were not incorporated till the Reign of Henry VIII. yet they were a Society long before. And there was an Act of Parliament for them 3 Hen. VIII. viz. That none should practise Surgery, no more than Physick, but first to be examined and approved upon pain of 5l. for every Month. In the beginning of the said King Henry, there were but twelve Persons that were Surgeons in the City of London (though in former times many more) and yet they consisted of a Warden and a Fellowship, called Of the Craft and Mystery of Surgeons, infranchised in the City of London. In the 5th of Henry VIII. they had an Act made in their Favour, to be discharged of Quests, Watch, or other Office; whereby they should use or occupy any defensible Armour, or Geer of War. And the Cause assigned of this was, because time out of mind, as well in London as in other Cities and Boroughs of the Realm, they had been exempt and discharged from all such Offices and Business; for their continual Service and Attendance, that they daily and nightly, at all Hours and Times, gave to the King’s liege People. But they were not as yet incorporated.

Surgeons, a Company not incorporated.

J. S.


IN the 32. of Henry VIII. there was an Act passed for the Barbers and Surgeons; importing, That whereas there were two distinct Companies of Surgeons, occupying the Science of Surgery; the one Company commonly called The Barbers of London, the others called The Surgeons of London; it being judged necessary that both Companies should be united and made one Body Corporate, by the said Act they were both united, and made one intire and whole Body Corporate, and one Commonalty perpetual, to be called by the name of Masters or Governours of the Mystery and Commonalty of Barbers and Surgeons of London, for evermore. By this Act those of the Company that occupied Surgery were to be exempt from bearing of Armour, or from being put in any Watches or Inquests. And that they might take every Year four Persons condemned and put to Death for Felony, for Anatomies, at their discretions and pleasures. And that none of the Company that used Barbery and Shaving, should occupy Surgery, letting of Blood, or any other thing belonging to Surgery, except only drawing of Teeth. Nor he that used the Mystery of Surgery, should exercise the Feat or Craft of Barbery or Shaving.

Both incorporated 32 Hen. VIII.

The Surgeons afterwards were complained of, as well for their Ignorance in their Craft, oftentimes hurting their Patients instead of doing them good; as also for taking great Sums of Money, and doing little therefore. And that it was well known, that the Surgeons admitted, would do no Cure to any Person, but where they knew to be rewarded with a greater Sum than the Cure extended to. For many rotted and perished to Death for lack of help of Surgery, and daily died. And that they troubled others well disposed, that ministred for God’s sake to poor People that had sore Breasts, Pin and Web in the Eye, Scalding, Burning, sore Mouth, the Stone and Strangury, Saucelim and Morphew. In Consideration whereof, and for the Comfort and Relief of the King’s poor Subjects, it was ordained, in the 34th and 35th of Hen. VIII. That it should be lawful to every Person, having Knowledge and Experience in the Nature of Herbs, Roots and Waters, or of the Operation of the same, to practise and minister to any outward Sore, uncome Wound, Apostemations, outward Swelling, or Disease, any Herbs, Ointments, Bath, Pultes and Emplaisters, according to their Cunning and Experience.]

Complaint against the Surgeons.

This Company (besides divers Priviledges of several kinds by their Charter granted unto them) have Power at any time to command the Body of any Malefactor executed at Tyburn, (except a Traitor’s) to anatomize the same: which they commonly do, and exercise their Skill thereupon in private at their Hall. And commonly once in every Year (and that in the Time of Lent) they command such a Body. Which being brought from the Place of Execution to their Hall, is cleansed, and laid out upon a Table, in their publick Theatre built for that purpose; where the next Day, a learned Doctor of Physick, meets the chief Members of the Company. And the Doctor sitting in a Chair against the Body, and the rest sitting on a Bench about it, reads a Lecture about some Part or Member; and two of the Company (called at time Masters of the Body) standing by the Table upon which the Body lies, having all necessary Instruments to put in Practice what the Doctor reads and dictates; the Galleries above being filled with young Students in Physick and Chirurgery, to hear and see the Method and Manner thereof, for the Increase of their Knowledge. These Lectures do commonly last three Days: And then they bury the mangled Body, in a Place in the Parish Church-Yard. But sometimes they make a Skeleton of the Body, or otherwise; and many Pieces of Art of that kind are preserved, and stand erected about their Theatre.]