I am reading a wonderful book called The Gardens of the British Working Class. It is one of those books that seems to be about what some would call a “little thing,” but is really about all of life. The author, Margaret Willes tells a wonderful story (starting at page 38) as to which we would all recognize the issues and circumstances, both for medicine and law:
Towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign, in 1543, an act was passed allowing those experienced in he nature of herbs, roots and waters to practice and use them as a gesture of Christian charity. This caused much consternation in some quarters. . . . The College of Physicians summoned a series of women before their court for administering medicines and giving advice. But in one instance, when a poor woman Margaret Kennix, was accused of supplying her friends and neighbors with herbal remedies, the Queen intervened in person. In a letter sent to the College secretary via Secretary Walsingham, the Queen declared:
“It is her Majesty’s pleasure that the poor woman should be permitted by you quietly to practice and minister to the curing of diseases and wounds, by means of certain simples, in the application whereof it seems God hath given her an especial knowledge. I shall therefore desire you to take order amongst yourselves for the readmitting of her into the quiet exercise of of her small talent, lest by the renewing of her complaint to her Majesty through your hard dealing towards her, you procure further inconvenience thereby to yourselves.”
How perfect. I particularly love the subtlety of the implicit threat that the College of Physicians should not take actions by which “you procure further inconvenience thereby to yourselves.” Something tells the lawyer in me that they had no need of class actions that are now used to obtain compliance for the whole group in such circumstances in those days (although sadly recent Supreme Court rulings have, with some exceptions, made dramatic inroads into the practical availability of the remedy.).
The incident also makes me wonder if, in her day to day administration of the realm, Queen Elizabeth may have been more of a feminist than we realize. My popular culture impression is that “she had to act as a man to be a queen.” It would be a great PhD thesis to look through those day to day records, with this incident in mind, to see if the truth may not be much more complicated and interesting. And, I wonder what Walsingham and others thought about her attitude.
(This is a slightly edited version of a post that appears also in my access to justice blog.