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A Famous and Flourishing SocietyThe History of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 1505-2005$
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Helen Dingwall

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780748615674

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748615674.001.0001

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Origins and early years, 1505–1581

Origins and early years, 1505–1581

(p.11) 2 Origins and early years, 1505–1581
A Famous and Flourishing Society

Helen M. Dingwall

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter discusses the origins and early years of the Incorporation. The origins of the Incorporation owed much to the general background of the period. Just as other groups had done, barbers and surgeons wished to have exclusive rights to perform surgery and to have the power to prosecute individuals who persisted in operating outside of these boundaries. Demarcation was difficult in an age when everyone treated his or her own diseases as far as possible, and when it was decided to consult a ‘practitioner’, the first choice was more likely to be an amateur healer than a ‘professional’ surgeon or physician. By 1505 the secularisation of medicine and medical training had begun to produce anatomical knowledge which was a little more reliable than that extrapolated from the dissection of animals. The apprenticeship system was well founded in many trades. Surgical treatises were in existence – even in the highlands of Scotland, the Gaelic physicians had translations of Greek, Roman, and Arabic medical texts, and most of the ingredients for exclusivity were there, in however primitive a form they may have been at the time. It is difficult to assess any element of altruism or professionalism in all of this. It is true that the reason given for the setting up of any organisation of this nature was often to ‘better serve the kingis liedgis’, or to prevent tragedies caused by untrained practitioners, but this was only one of a number of causal circumstances. Whatever the case, by the time its records began, the Incorporation already possessed many of the attributes and characteristics that would be sustained and developed, and, importantly, recorded in the minute books and other documentation.

Keywords:   Incorporation, early history, late-medieval Scotland, medicine, medieval training, barbers, surgeons

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