Trials of an ordinary doctor: Joannes Groenevelt in seventeenth-century London
On July 27, 1694, Suzanna Withall and three of her neighbors appeared before the Censors of the London College of Physicians to lodge a complaint against Dr. Joannes Groenevelt. The doctor, according to the women's testimony, had given Withall a "secret remedy" that left her bedridden. When the Censors learned the remedy contained outlawed cantharides - or "Spanish Fly" - they seized what they saw as an opportunity to assert their authority over all London practitioners, including dissenters in their own ranks. The resulting series of legal charges, suits, and countersuits would leave Groenevelt impoverished and the reputation of London physicians subject to public ridicule. Harold J. Cook's microhistory shows how a medical malpractice case against an otherwise obscure Dutch physician in London became the center of one of the era's great medical controversies. Beginning with Groenevelt's boyhood in the provincial city of Deventer, Cook follows Groenevelt through his Dutch medical education, his modest but successful practice in England, his conflict with the medical establishment, and his impoverished old age. He shows how society and politics, as well as the scientific and professional uncertainties and jealousies of the early Enlightenment, helped dictate the course of one man's life - and how the actions he took against those forces helped bring down the authority of the physicians of London.
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