The Prujean Chest at the Royal College of Physicians

Yesterday evening, following a good old research session at the National Archives at Kew, I attended a lecture at the Royal College of Physicians in London. The lecture, entitled, ‘Losing sight of Glory’: Six centuries of battlefield surgery,’ and given by Michael Crumplin, was superb. 

Royal College of Physicians

Before the lecture began, however, we were all able to view the Prujean Chest, which I will go into further detail about later.

Light refreshments were available, including some wonderful olives stuffed with almonds. Fabulous! At this time, I was happily joined by my friend Piers Alexander, author of the 17th-century novel, The Bitter Trade, and we were both thrilled about the various 17th-century objects on display. The audience in the lecture theatre was surprisingly large and I was pleased about this – it’s always lovely to see people with an interest in learning more.

Michael Crumplin began his career as a military historian, and is now a retired surgeon who is an advisor for film and tv. His  lecture ranged from 1414-2014 and with understandably graphic imagery, showed us the severe damage inflicted to a human body from musket balls, arrows, IEDs, machine gun fire, and all the rest of it. Given that my personal background is not only history but anthropology (in which I studied both forensic anthropology and archaeology), I found Crumplin’s lecture all the more fascinating. He showed us Richard III’s wounds, how Prince Hal (later Henry V) was able to survive an arrowshot to the face, the types of injuries during the Battle of Towton, and spoke about Ambroise Pare’s surgical innovations.

Lecture

During the course of his immensely interesting lecture, Crumplin gave a brief overview of 17th-century surgery, which was fascinating. Thomas Prujean was the son of Sir Francis Prujean, a physician who attended to Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, when she was suffering from typhus fever in the 1660s (Tinniswood, Adrian. The Verneys, page 363).

The Prujean Chest, a remarkably rare and beautiful surgical set from the 17th-century. This chest is, ‘a precious storehouse of the Art of the Chirurgeon (surgeon)’ – Dr. Thomas Prujean, 1653. It contains steel and pewter instruments used for procedures such as lithotomy, bullet extraction, and trepanation.

Among the items in this amazing case were:

  • bone scraper
  • bone gouge
  • vaginal speculum
  • clyster syringe
  • pelican dental extractor
  • Seton foreceps
  • tongue depressor

Now, I asked to take the following photos and one of the ladies ( I believe she was one of the curators) very kindly allowed me to in order to show you what the chest looks like:

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You can learn more about the Prujean Chest in this article, The precious storehouse of the chirurgeon.

Information just rolled out from Crumplin in an effortless way which indicates the scale of his knowledge about battlefield surgery. I was truly amazed and have only the highest amount of respect for him.

As photos almost never do museum artefacts justice, I would strongly recommend you visit the Royal College of Physicians to see this semi-permanent exhibit. For 17th-century history lovers, this is a must-see item. 

For more information, please visit the official website at Royal College of Physicians.

Royal College of Physicians
11 St Andrews Place
Regent’s Park
London NW1 4LE27

Or, you can email: enquiries@rcplondon.ac.uk

You can follow Michael Crumplin on Twitter @MichaelCrumplin
You can also follow the Royal College of Physicians @RCPLondon

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