Name Description

Medical advertising was ubiquitous in early modern England; due to the ephemeral nature of many advertisements, probably only a tiny percentage is still extant today. Practitioners of all kinds advertised their services, both consultation and a wide range of prepared medicines. Many medical advertisements included information about health and disease.

anatomical treatise

Anatomical treatises have been part of medicine since antiquity. This kind of work lays out the form and structure of the human body, and often includes details about function, which we would classify as physiology today.


Writing in cases dates back at least to the classic Hippocratic text Epidemics, but case writing became a more popular genre, with works including dozens and dozens of individual cases being published. Cases are descriptions of single instances of an ailment, usually describing the process of the illness, what therapeutic measures were taken, and the outcome.


Controversial writing includes specific attacks on, or rebuttals of, another writer’s work. It also includes critical writing about the occupational structures of medicine, such as attacks on the limits within which a particular group should practice.


A dictionary is much like today in format — an alphabetical list of words with definitions.


A dispensatory is a list of medicines that sets out to be comprehensive or at least extensive; it is a guide to the range of therapeutics available. Dispensatories may describe how to make a particular remedy as well as reviewing its uses; they may also provide guidance on selecting the best raw materials for the process.

general medical guide

Many such guides were produced in our period; they purport to offer a complete survey of healing, with definitions of diseases, symptoms, and therapeutics, often aimed at household use.


A herbal is a listing of plants with therapeutic uses. Each item usually includes a description of the plant and where it can be found, as well as its therapeutic uses. Many herbals are illustrated, and often include paratextual apparatuses such as indexes to help a reader find a specific plant or remedy.

how-to manual
midwifery manual

The first printed midwifery guide in English was published in 1540; like others that followed, it was addressed both to midwives and to married women. These works provided basic information on conception, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and care of the newborn. With the exception of Jane Sharp’s book (1671), they were all written by men.

From 1540 onwards, printed midwifery manuals were popular in England. A typical format includes the signs of pregnancy; a description of bodily changes associated with it; remedies for common ailments; descriptions of labor and delivery; and care of the newborn. Some also include a guide to selecting a midwife and or a wet nurse.


A pharmacopoeia is very like a dispensatory; it is a list of medicines with brief discussions of preparation and uses. Unlike the dispensary, however, the pharmacopoeia is usually the product of an established body, such as the College of Physicinas, and thus serves as an official guide to ‘acceptable’ drugs.

plague tract

Plague tracts are among the most common forms of medical writing in the period. They describe signs of the disease; offer suggestions for therapeutics; and discuss larger-scale preventive measures such as quarantines.


The ‘practica’ is a medieval genre associated with university training.


Proclamations came from the ruler or a local authority, and usually in this collection they address restrictions imposed during an epidemic.


Recipe books are common in print and manuscript is our period. They offer how-to instructions on preparing a wide range of medicines. There is considerable overlap with cookery, with books offering recipes for individual dishes, for medicines, and for preserving; many of the preparation processes were the same.


Regimen is a old genre, codified in the Middle Ages. It advises the reader how to preserve his or her health by managing lifestyle factors known as the “Six Non-Naturals”: eating; sleep; emotions; evacuations (ie, urination, defecation); air; and exercise. Such works focus on health maintenance rather than on curative medicine.


Secrets were a popular genre in the period. They were collections of short items, including stories (often of a wondrous or startling sort); recipes for remedies; and a wide range of other items designed to amuse and instruct. The items are often arranged in what seems to be a random order.

surgical guide

Surgery in the early modern period does not mean operative surgery, as it does today, but a wider range of practice focused on the exterior of the body. Surgeons dealt with wounds, swellings, discharges, broken bones, and dislocations. They were also the healers most often involved in the treatment of venereal diseases, in part due the the external’ nature of the signs.


Urinoscopy, or the inspection of a sick person’s urine, was the badge of the learned medieval physicians, and gradually over the tour elf the early modern period, the practice lost its reputation and became instead a hallmark of quackery. Manuals that instructed on how to read a glass of urine transitioned from manuscript to print and remained popular into the sentence century.