The Infamous Physician

Early modern society in Europe was composed of many superstitions and beliefs formed around religious and magical views. There was strong faith in the medical society that magical and astrological powers were significant to treating the population. A man who can be seen as ‘striking from his grave’, the physician Simon Foreman (1552-1611) was an example of how the beliefs and principles lived by in the early modern period were very strange and calamitous at the same time.

Simon Foreman was a self-taught physician who believed in the powers of astrology, alchemy and the occult arts; he held the view that the natural world around him could be controlled and manipulated through astrology and cosmic medicine. In the medical community he was considered uneducated and uninformed, looked down upon by his peers and was never given a voice, albeit he formed around him a cult of followers who believed and practised his methods and medicine.

His grounded astrological beliefs derived from the Swiss German Paracelsus who was a radical thinker and again wanted certain understanding of the natural world around him through unorthodox methods. Like Paracelsus he shunned the College of Physicians, who believed in the Galenic model identifying the world to be divided into four separate humor’s composed of air, water, fire and earth; from this stemmed early modern medical belief and practise.  Simon Foreman believed his own lunacy in regards to reading the stars and providing health treatments like no other physician in Elizabethan England.

The current research on Foreman is incomparable to other physicians at the time, his casebooks record more than 8000 patients in which he consulted in great detail, he had data including the exact time, date of birth of patient, address’s, this further backed up by strong descriptions of astrological figures and therapies.  This unprecedented account of information, in many cases, would have legitimised his work on astrology and the occult arts. However up to 60% of his patients were understood to be women,  uncommon in many cases throughout medical history due to women believing their reproductive systems to relate to how astrology works.

As his followers gathered he created a greater understanding of how astrology works and condemned those at the College of Physicians for not allowing his view and title as practitioner. He was arrested and imprisoned many times while he worked at the college due to his unrelenting persistence in learning and attributing the dark arts to medical practise. His intrigue in the dark arts were very problematic, this is due to early modern society having grounded religious beliefs and ideologies that specifically argued and nullified any basis for argument regarding witchcraft or the dark arts as it was axiomatically related to the devil. Self admittedly Foreman quoted that he had created effigies of his patients for the purpose of medical research to consider their ailments and infirmity.  His over reliance on the dark arts made him a notorious character in the medical world.

Those at the College were all university educated, humanist medical practitioners who had all been awarded the title of physician through years of practise, learning and training; the idea that these occult practises could ever be understood and practised in the medical world was unquestionable. They argued that an unlicensed physician should not be prescribing medicine, usually jobs done by a licensed physician and apothecaries. The arguments and convictions put against him by the courts and college were such: ‘asking the name and place of habitation of clients, declaring himself a prophet stating when deaths and plagues will occur. A statement from a client read that he asked personal questions, created an effigy giving his own personal opinion regarding illness hence demanding money for the medication a total of nine shillings and ten pence’ . Forman was making a living by being a self-proclaimed physician. He backed up his methods by arguing his knowledge of medical practises came from God and believed those that did not support this view were committing a sin. In a society that was socially and educationally inept it would be down to those who individuals who believed him or went against his role as an astrological physician. Furthermore he believed that those who understood astrological medical theory must have total compliance from the patient. This can be divided into two arguments, one that he wants to obtain the necessary information to determine his opinion on the disease or ailment, or two to create a sense of trust between himself and the patient insofar that he can convince or alter the perception of the patient’s view of him and his work, this is so he builds up a group of trust worth clients that can spread the news of his medicine and his methods.

As mentioned early as ‘striking from the grave’ Simon Forman was embroiled in a murder case four years after his own death in 1611. His casebooks had recorded evidence of a mistress and recipe’s of love potions and poison’s, which had led to the untimely death of the poet Thomas Overbury, his credibility and status was tarnished by county lawyers from then on.

Simon Foreman was using arguably some of the most technical and fascinating remedies on his clients equally equipped with some of the best medical record keeping at the time, however his uneducated character and ignorance of those in positions above him strayed him upon a path of false hope and lies that he gave to many of his patients. One last interesting aspect to Simon Forman’s life was his prediction about his death which he accurately predicted four days prior.