Medieval Theories of Disease

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Crazy Cures

Doctors in the Middle Ages spent years training at university, as do doctors today. However their understanding of what caused disease and how to cure it was limited.

Fill in the grid below using your textbook and any other research that you have done.

Medieval Theories of Disease

Theory of how this caused disease

Impact on the way that disease was treated

God and supernatural explanations for disease.

4 Humours

The stars and the planets

Bad air

University of Medieval England

It is 1400. You are the Chancellor of the University of Medieval England. You are opening a new Medical Faculty where you will train doctors. You need to produce a prospectus advertising your course and encouraging men to sign up. (Only men could be doctors in the Middle Ages as the Church ran universities and refused to let women attend. Women could, however, be surgeons.)

Your prospectus should take the form of a poster It must be bright and colourful with clear messages to attract attention, after all you are competing with the top Universities in France and Italy where medicine has already been taught for a long time.

You must:

  • Outline the medical techniques that students will be trained in.

  • Give some sense of what the students will see and do on the course.

  • Show why it is money well spent to attend this course which may take up to 7 years.

You may be given a chance to advertise your course to the rest of the class. Remember that you are competing for numbers!!

Task 2

It is time to put your training in to action! In small groups put together a scripted drama based on a consultation with a doctor in 1400.

You must:

The disease your ‘patient’ has is up to you but must be something that would have been common at the time. Your patient must also survive the consultation!!

The Black Death - A Case Study of Medieval Disease

The Black Death was a catastrophic plague that swept through Asia and Europe in the 1340s and 1350s. It was probably a mixture of slightly different diseases which all hit the people of these areas at the same time. Within a few years Europe’s population had been reduced by about 1/3.

At the time there was no understanding of the causes of the plague and very little understanding of how it spread. In many ways the disease may have been a victim of its own success killing all those who were going to die very quickly then fading away.

Other plagues reoccurred later in the Middle Ages and people still die of the bug thought to have caused the Black Death (Yersinia Pestis) even today.

This is a well covered topic and there are plenty of good websites to help you with your studies. Below are just some worth a look.

websites campbell password: belmont

This is a subscription website with lots of good information, activities and games on the Black Death. You will use some of these in class. It also has links to other websites and stories on the plague. Go to Year 7 then click on Black Death. - Good links to a number of sites included those listed below. - Good site linked to a series that was on Channel 4. Concentrates on the 1665 plague so good for considering changes over time. - Scroll down to drop down menu on the Black Death. Good if you fancy a bit more depth and challenge. Articles on the plague itself but also the longer term effects. - Gives a scientific and historical account of the plague. Brings the story right up to the 21st century.

The Plague is Coming!!

Reorder the statements in the right hand column so that they are in chronological order.

What did people think caused the Plague?


Attached are some sources which outline some of the reasons that people in the 14th century believed caused the plague. Consider them individually and then use them to provide case studies that can be put in to the table below. You can also add in any examples that you have found through your own research.


Causes found in sources

Best cure for this explanation

Scientific Reasons

My chosen cure is ...

I have chosen it because …

Magical/ Superstitious Reasons

My chosen cure is ...

I have chosen it because …

Religious Reasons

My chosen cure is ...

I have chosen it because …

Below is a table listing some of the ‘cures’ used by people in the 14th century to deal with the plague. For each of the three separate types of cause choose one ‘cure’ that you think would work well and explain why you have chosen it in the table above.

Wear a magpie’s beak around your neck

Cut a hole in to your skull to let out evil spirits

Sit in a sewer. The bad smells will crowd out the smells causing the Black death

Hold sweet herbs to your mouth to keep away the bad air

Swallow the powder of crushed emeralds.

Drink a glass of your own wee twice a day

Open your veins and let out a pint of blood

Shave a chicken’s bottom and strap it to your plague sores

Kill all the cats and dogs in the town

March around the town whipping yourself and asking for God’s forgiveness

Run away to another town

Clean the streets of filth and burn the clothes of the victims

Wash yourself with vinegar and rose water

Slice the buboes open, squeeze out the poison then seal the wound with poo

Eat bread, fruit and vegetables but no meat or fish






Stretch Yourself

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