Lives of the fellows

Peter Chamberlen

b.8 May 1601 d.22 December 1683
MD Padua(1619) MD Oxon(1620) MD Cantab(1621) FRCP(1628)

Peter Chamberlen, MD, was the son of Peter Chamberlen, a surgeon, who practised in the city of London. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ school, and graduated doctor of medicine at Padua, on the 16th September, 1619; was incorporated on that degree at Oxford, 26th June, 1620, and at Cambridge in 1621. Dr Chamberlen was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 6th July, 1626, and a Fellow (though not without some misgivings on the part of the College) on the 7th April, 1628.(1) On the 23rd November, 1659 [changed to ‘1649’], for repeated acts of contumacy, he was, by a vote of the College, dismissed from his Fellowship: “decreto Collegii [uterque] in Collegii[o], societates[is] locum amisit.” “Dr Chamberlen,” says Tanner, “was alive, but crazy, 7th November, 1682.”

His reputation as a practitioner must, however, have been considerable, for it reached even to Russia, and attracted the attention of the Czar, who wrote with his own hand a letter to Charles I, begging him to allow the doctor to enter his service, understanding that he was willing to do so. Great preparations were made for his reception at Archangel, which was then the way from London to Moscow; but a letter arrived from the king, excusing himself for refusing the Czar’s request, upon the grounds that, as a native Russian, Dr Elmston, had been studying medicine in England, and had returned to his own country, so was he capable of filling the office of body physician to the Czar.

Dr Chamberlen was extensively engaged in the practice of midwifery, and at one time attempted, in direct opposition to the wishes of the College of Physicians, to obtain from the crown authority to organize the female practitioners in that department into a company, with himself at their head, as president and examiner.

He survived until 22nd December, 1683, and was buried at the church of Woodham Mortimer, co. Essex, where he is commemorated by a monument, with the following inscription:
Here lyes ye body of Doctor Peter Chamberlen, who was born on the 8th of May, 1601, and died on the 22nd of December, 1683, being aged 82 years, 7 months, and 14 days. He had 2 wives, and by ye first, Jane Middleton, had 11 sons and 2 daughters, and amongst them 45 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren, whereof were living at his death 3 sons, viz., Hugh, Paul, and John, and his 2 daughters and 20 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. By ye second, Ann Harrison, he had 3 sons and 2 daughters, whereof only Hope was living at his death, who hath erected this monument in memory of his father.
The said Peter Chamberlen took ye degree of Doctor in Physick in severall universities, both at home and abroad, and lived such above three score years, being Physician in Ordinary to three kings and queens of England, viz, King James and Queen Anne, King Charles ye first and Queen Mary, King Charles ye Second and Queen Katherine, and also to some foreign princes, having travelled to most parts of Europe, and speaking most of the languages. As for his religion, was a Christian, keeping ye commandments of God and faith of Jesus, being baptized about ye year 1648, and keeping ye seventh day for ye Sabbath above 32 years.

To tell his learning and his life to men,
Enough is said by here lies Chamberlen.
Death my last sleep, to ease my careful head;
The grave my hardest, but my easiest bed.
The end of sorrow, labour, and of care;
The end of trouble, sickness, and of feare.
Here I shall sin no more; no more shall weep;
Here’s only to be found a quiet sleep.
Death’s but our night; my life hath many seene;
My life brought death; death brings me life again.
Seeds rise to trees; hearbes rise again from seed;
Shall bodies, then, of men obtain worse speed?
We daily dye, entomb’d in sleep and night;
But in the morning we renue our light.
Hence spring my joyes and comforts evermore;
I cannot feele but what Christ felt before.
We now believe, and heare, and talk by guess;
Then I shall see, and what I see possess.
And when I wake, wrapt in eternal light
Of God and Christ, I know no more of night.
Crown’d with eternal glories, ever blest,
Oh! happy rest that brings me all the rest.
Bodies calcined to jemms like stars shall sing,
Ravish’d with joyes and praises of my King.
Praised be God my Saviour, praise His name;
Angels and saints sing with me of his fame.

These verses were found made, written, and ordered by Doctor Peter Chamberlen, here interred, for his epitaph.

Dr Chamberlen was a voluminous writer; we have from his pen -
A Paper delivered in by Drs Alston, Hamæus, Bates, and Micklethwaite, together with an answer by P Chamberlen. 4to. Lond. 1648.
The Poor Man’s Advocate ; or, England’s Samaritan, &c. 4to. Lond. 1649.
Master Blackwell’s Sea of Absurdity concerning Sprinkling, calmly driven back. 4to. Lond. 1650.
The Disputes between Mr Crawford and Dr Chamberlen at the house of Mr William Webb. 4to. Lond. 1652.
A Discourse between Captain Kiffin and Dr Chamberlen about Imposition of Hands. 4to. Lond. 1654.
Legislative Power in Problems. Folio. Lond. 1659.
The Sober Man’s Vindication, discovering the true cause and manner how Dr Chamberlen came to be reported mad. Folio. Lond. 1662.
Vindication of Public Artificial Baths. 4to. Lond. 1648.
A Voice in Rhama, or a Cry of Women and Children. 12mo. Lond.
To my Beloved Friends and Neighbours of the Blackfriars. Lond. Folio.

And from his papers-
The Accomplished Midwife; subsequently enlarged, and often reprinted.

Dr Chamberlen purchased the manor house of Woodham Mortimer hall, near Maldon, co Essex, where a curious collection of midwifery instruments, and among these the forceps, was accidentally discovered about the year 1815. They are now in the possession of the Medico-Chirurgical Society.

William Munk

[(1) Dr Chamberlen was elected a Fellow 29th March, 1628, under which date I read: “Tum actum est, de electione Socii in locum vacantem, et eligitur Dr Chamberlen per majorem partem suffragiorum; sed decernitur ut voce Præsidentis admoneatur graviter de commutandâ ratione vestitus, quo nimis levi et aulicæ juventuti similiori utebatur: neq prius admittatur, quam se consuetudini Collegii et Collegarum decenti et modesto se assuefacerit.” - Annales, iii,181.]

(Volume I, page 194)

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