Appel à contribution – Médecine de cour : personnel de santé et politiques sanitaires dans les cours européennes, fin 15e-18e siècles

Appel à contribution – Médecine de cour : personnel de santé et politiques sanitaires dans les cours européennes, fin 15e-18e siècles

Dimanche 30 septembre 2001  |  London

Court medical practitioners changed in numbers, occupations and functions during the Renaissance and early modern period (15c-18c) practitioners focused on different specialities within body-care, and took on different roles in the government of Europe’s states. Building on recent work that has concentrated on the history of body care at courts, this workshop will explores changes in court medical politics, practices and practitioners and the consequences they had for, firstly, medical thought, regulation and practice and, secondly, the activities, management and evolution of early modern states.

The workshop will focus on:

Identifying the different occupations involved in court medicine, analysing their nature, from astrologers to midwives, and their changing importance over time till their prospective professionalization;
Examining whether practitioners became increasingly specialized over time, and whether this was connected to the emergence and circulation of new medical knowledge during the seventeenth century;
Exploring medical practitioners’ involvement in the wider activities of courts, and identifying their contribution, as experts and entrepreneurs, to the building of modern states;
Investigating the role of medical court practitioners in the redefinition of medicine and medical practices, and the formulation of healthcare politics, including sanitary, occupational and welfare regulation.

Papers are invited that explore one or more of these themes in Europe’s courts. We welcome proposals that are comparative, as well as detailed studies of particular cases. Proposed title, abstract (c. 500 words) will be sent to the organizers, as well as the affiliation of the speaker.

Deadline for paper proposals: September 30, 2011.

Dates and location:

Workshop dates: London (The Wellcome Library), June 21-22, 2012


Benoist Pierre, Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance (Univ. François-Rabelais, Tours/ Institut universitaire de France)

Christelle Rabier, Department of Economic History, The London School of Economics

Patrick Wallis, Department of Economic History, The London School of Economics


The Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance (Tours).

Institut universitaire de France

Scientific background

The workshop aims at reconnecting studies of court medicine to issues in political history, with their implications for therapeutic practices and medical ideas, and the history of the State, encompassing issues from the conservation of the king’s health to sanitary regulations. Health- and body-care in European courts have been at the forefront of recent research in cultural history, with major research programmes on court medicine. These scholarly contributions have enriched the history of bodily practices and personal health. However, they have rarely explored in detail the particularity of the court as a site of power and politics and the implications this had for medical practices. Medical practitioners served not only to preserve the rulers’ bodies but also as acted as tools for control, including the setting of suitable diplomatic atmosphere, in the case of Duchy of Savoy’s barber-surgeons (S. Cavallo) or providing legal or scientific advice (S. di Renzi, E. Andretta). The workshop will provide an in-depth revision of the role of court practitioners in early-modern politics.

Building on historiographies that have independently studied medical courtiers through the lenses of medical science or courtly practices, the workshop intends to offer fresh perspectives on the intersection of medicine and politics. In this regard, medicine can rightly be considered as an instrument of power, whose dimensions were reconfigured thanks to its closeness to power. By delegating some regulatory and supervisory powers to medical occupational bodies, authorities included them in the process of political legitimacy. This in turn had consequences for the fashioning of medical identities and their organization of knowledge and action. Not only did the courts supply serving practitioners with gratuities and salaried positions, they gave them a higher status and often some authority, including scrutiny over policies and regulations in healthcare. As a result, the States obtained tools for reducing sanitary risks and improving the civil populations’ healthcare management. Among other examples, court medical practitioners contributed to the assessment of therapeutic innovations, debates on poverty, distribution of medicines, price fixing for drugs and medical services, preventive administration during epidemics, military medical care, and the development of legal medicine. The parallel with court prelates is striking: religion not only served as an instrument of state control, but was instrumental to the shaping of Counter-Reformation Europe politics, through the various functions served by courtier ministers of the church. Thirty years ago, Foucault argued for the close connection of medicine and politics. By focusing on the actual core location of power and politics in an earlier period, the workshop aims to interrogate the periodization offered by the French philosopher, and place medicine within the larger history of the construction of modern states.

The workshop will explore a crucial period in the history of European courts, from the late fifteenth to the eighteenth century. This was also a foundational period in the history of sanitary politics, from the management of epidemics in the Mediterranean to the poor laws in Northern Europe. Scholars working on different European courts can thus offer a comparative perspective on the courtly places of power, in contrast with state and urban administrations, and the tensions between medical knowledge and sanitary power.

Topics covered by the workshop will include:

Court medical personnel: How can one delineate the court “medical practitioners”? What were their numbers, modes of employment and payment? How did they evolve? What were the occupations involved in health- and body-care? What were their qualifications? What functions did they serve in court?
The court as a place of medical innovation: how did medical practitioners use the court to support their innovative ideas and technologies? To what extent did court cultures change therapeutic practices and medical thought?
Medical practitioners and the politics of health: To what extent did medical courtiers change the politics of health sponsored by court rulers? To what extent was the enforcement of health politics supported early modern regimes?

Work organization:
English language is required for oral presentations. Papers will be pre-circulated a month in advance (by May 31, 2012), in the author’s preferred language, although English is strongly recommended. If the conference is a success, a journal and/or a publisher will be approached at the beginning of 2012 with a view to publish revised English versions.

Christelle Rabier
courriel : [point] june2012 (at) gmail [point] com