The Imperfect Warrior: Disability and Surgery on the Medieval English Battlefield


  • Miles S. A. Buckminster Thompson Rivers University


medieval, england, medieval england, medical history, disability, surgery, richard iii, henry v, john bradmore, wars of the roses, battle of towton


This paper questions the assumption that medieval European medicine was unsophisticated and ineffective, unable to aid injured or disabled warriors. Three instances from English history refute this: the case of King Richard III, who was an accomplished warrior despite having scoliosis; the fact that King Henry V was able to recover fully from a serious battle wound; and the existence of a common soldier from the Wars of the Roses who had a similar, successful recovery. Historical evidence and the work of modern scholars, like Tobias Capwell, point to many cases of successful battlefield surgeries and supportive technology. When fitted with specially tailored armour, a man with similar scoliosis to Richard III was trained in 15th century riding and fighting techniques. The surgeon John Bradmore gave a full account of the methods and tools he used to heal Henry Vâs facial injury caused by an arrow. Finally, historians and archaeologists studying a skull found at the site of the Battle of Towton were able to determine that the deceased had sustained a fractured jawbone, which was healed ten years prior to his death. The paper ends by asserting that given the evidence, medieval English fighters with physical disadvantages received effective care and assistance that allowed their careers to continue despite their setbacks. This offers insight into the quality of the medicine available to them and shows that committed patient care is not a modern phenomenon.