Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

John of Arderne, founder of English surgery

John of Arderne (1307–1392) practiced in London during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III, surviving several cycles of the Black Death, and serving as military surgeon in the Hundred Years’ War as well as in European conflicts in which gunpowder was used for the first time. Believed to have studied at the University of Montpellier, he wrote a popular manual on surgery, De arte phisicali et de cirurgia, recommending the use of opium during surgery or as ointment for arrow wounds. He favored charging the rich as much as possible but treating the poor for free, and developed surgical techniques for several conditions, including the fistulae-in-ano and pilonidal cysts that knights would develop from prolonged sitting in the saddle.

The illustration of a man with open wounds on his arm is from his 1412 manual of surgery. His treatment “for a stinking, itching, granular, sanious and serpiginous ulcer” shown in the illustration entails washing the affected area vigorously, then treating it with egg yolk and rose oil until the dead tissue sloughs away. The wound, then wrapped in egg yolk and honey, is left to heal.


A man with a series of open wounds or ulcers on his arm. Illustration from De arte phisicali et de cirurgia of Master John Arderne, surgeon of Newark .
Illustration from De arte phisicali et de cirurgia of Master John Arderne, surgeon of Newark. Original published 1412, translated by Sit D’Arcy Power from a transcript by Eric Millar. 1922. Hagstromer Biblioteket.



Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 1 – Winter 2021

Fall 2019   |  Sections  |  Surgery

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