Byline: DR ALUN WITHEY
ASK most people to name even one thing about Welsh medical history and they'll probably struggle.
I was recently asked by an academic colleague what my area of research is.
When I replied that I study the medical history of Stuart Wales he looked puzzled, frowned and said: "I didn't know there was one."
But my bewildered colleague had a point. In the wider medical history of the 17th and 18th centuries, Wales is largely anonymous.
Anonymous, that is, except for the wealth of books, articles and websites about magic, cunning folk and the "legendary" Physicians of Myddfai.
Put these shadowy figures into a well-known internet search engine and your screen will light up with literally thousands of hits from scholarly articles to homeopathic healing sites.
But what do we in Wales really know of the medical history of our own land 300 or so years ago? From whom, for instance, did you seek advice, treatment or buy medicines? Was it really all magic and folklore or is there another story waiting to be told? PILLS, POTIONS AND CHARMS - PAGES 16&17 CLICK ON Read the New History ofWales online So you think you know your history? Try our quiz and pit your wits against our politics expert David Williamson WalesOnline.co.uk /history
The legend of the Meddygon Myddfai (Physicians of Myddfai) looms large in Welsh medical history. The first recorded physician connected to the legend is Rhiwallon, reputed son of the farmer and lake fairy of legend. Rhiwallon was the court physician to Rhys Grug (Rhys the hoarse, or stammerer), a local Carmarthenshire lord who died in 1233. By the14th century, stories about a renowned family of physicians in Myddfai were apparently widespread and, also around this time, the first of several manuscript collections of the remedies and health rules of the Meddygon Myddfai were assembled. In these collections were large numbers of remedies for a wide variety of ailments from common coughs and colds to sleeping potions, as well as other useful information such as lucky and unlucky days in the year.
These collections survive and give an enormously important insight into Medieval Welsh herbal medicine. The line of Myddfai physicians continued down the centuries, and the last who actually practised medicine was generally accepted to be one David Jones, who died in 1739. There was certainly …