Rebel physician : Nicholas Culpeper's fight for medical freedom.

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About this work


In the 17th century Nicholas Culpeper took on the government to bring healthcare to the masses. This documentary follows his life and work as well as providing a valuable portrait of illness and medicine in 17th century England, particularly London, and showing a variety of herbs and accounts of how they were used as treatments. Culpeper's career ran parallel to that of William Harvey although their aims were completely different. Harvey's quest to end illegal medical practises and for the Royal College of Physicians to control apothecaries is covered as is his involvement with the death of King James and his loyalty to King Charles. We hear how the bubonic plague wiped out 45 000 people in London and how little the established medical profession did to help the poor as opposed to the rebel doctors who peppered the city. Culpeper moved to London in 1635 and worked as an apprentice apothecary at a time where apothecaries were fighting for independence from the Royal College of Physicians. Shortly after the death of his mother Culpeper gave up his apprenticeship and set up an illegal medical practice in Spitalfields with a pledge to treat everyone no matter how poor they were; it was extremely popular with the people. The most controversial part of his practice was his belief in astronomy and frequent use of herbs in alignment with the stars. In the meantime Harvey discovered the importance of the heart as a pump for the circulation of the blood and London was in an uproar as King Charles lost control of the city and civil war began. Accounts of battle scenes are given. Culpeper joined the battle and received a chest wound from which he would never fully recover. After the death of Charles Culpeper translated the Royal Physicians book 'The Pharmocapothia' into readable English as well as later producing a 3p book 'The English Physician' for anyone to read - his career prospered while Harvey's floundered. He died from tuberculosis while only 37-years-old although his book would remain in print for 300 years and his influence would reverberate throughout social health schemes, providing inspiration to founders of the NHS.


UK : BBC4, 2008.

Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, color

Copyright note



Broadcast on 28 August, 2008.

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Helen Nixon. Presented by Benjamin Woolley.



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