Six key changes

Some knowledge of Western civilisation at the time of the Renaissance will help you understand the medicine of the Early Modern Age. In the 15th century AD, there was a 'rebirth' of European civilisation.

  1. Governments - such as that of Henry VIII - were strong and rich. The economy boomed and trade prospered. People could afford doctors.
  2. Artists, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, revolutionised painting - this led them to study the body in more detail, and was connected to improved knowledge of anatomy, eg the fabulous illustrations in Vesailus' Fabric of the Human Body by John Stephen of Calcar, one of Titian's students.
  3. There was a revival of learning. Universities established schools of medicine. The Renaissance saw the beginning of scientific method - which involved conducting an experiment, collecting observations, then coming to a conclusion. At first, scholars merely claimed that they were renewing the perfection it had amongst the ancient teachers', but soon they began to conduct experiments which led them to question the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans. This was vital for the development of medicine.
  4. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg allowed new ideas to spread more quickly around Europe.
  5. The discovery of America by Columbus meant that new foods and medicines were brought back from the New World.
  6. The invention of new weapons, especially gunpowder, led to soldiers getting different sorts of wounds, which battlefield doctors had to deal with.

Growth of knowledge

Although the Renaissance saw an improvement in medical knowledge, particularly of anatomy and physiology, many people rejected the new ideas.

Further, doctors still did not manage to use their discoveries to develop better cures for their patients, because they had still not discovered the role that germs play in causing disease.