Teaching Module

Health in England (16th–18th c.)


I have found that the best way to teach about sickness and health from centuries ago is to not to focus on the biology and statistics of diseases but to focus on the suffering and the impact of illness on a person's life. I have had students write about their own experience of illness until the age of 18, and then had them compare and contrast that with the common illnesses a child and youth would have experienced in early modern England. Students have also researched how medical conditions of children and youth would be diagnosed and treated by a variety of healers. They took into consideration wealth and poverty, class status, gender, and whether they were living in a city or in the countryside. Finally, I have had success with using visuals to illustrate not just medical care and treatment but environmental conditions. If you have students imagine life without modern conveniences such as electricity, gas, sewers, clean water, cars, and so forth (the list is long), their understanding and interpretation of images of early modern children and youth grows as they take into account the context of health, hygiene, and illness.

Discussion Questions

  • What were the common illnesses of children and youth in early modern England? What remedies were suggested and by whom? Can you describe some of the changes in medical treatment during this period? (Classification and description of diseases, inoculation and vaccination).
  • Some historians have argued that children and youth had a miserable existence and that parents in early modern England tried not to become too attached to their children, as infant and child mortality was so high. Can you use the sources to argue for and against this thesis? (Teeth pulling, Gin Lane, Infanticide Trial versus The Graham Children and the Evelyn Diary).

How to Cite This Source

Lynda Payne, "Health in England (16th–18th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #166, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/166 (accessed August 10, 2021).