Evil Humours

Thursday 13th July. 4.00 PM – ‘A’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. In Elizabeth’s private apartments she and Bess discuss the thorny issue of what to do with Mary Queen of Scots whilst the Queen is bled for her health.


During Elizabeth’s reign the prevailing medical theory was still that which had come down from the ancient author Galen who died around 200 AD. This theory held that humans consisted of four humours – blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile which gave rise to four temperaments – sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric. Illness was thought to be caused when these humours fell out of balance. Cures would hence involve attempts to bring them back into balance through changes in diet or very often by being bled.
Bleeding was done by either scarifying the skin or cutting a blood vessel to draw blood off. Using a fleam (a small razor struck with a stick) blood might be drained directly into a bleeding bowl or, as in today’s case, a cup. In cupping round glass bottles were quickly filled with hot air (over a candle) and applied to the broken skin. As the air cooled a partial vacuum formed in the bottle, drawing the blood out. But will this bleed restore the balance to Elizabeth’s humours?
Justin

2 Responses to “Evil Humours”

  1. Ann says:

    Hi Justin,
    The practice you metioned about the suction cup is still in practice today. It is however is done without the process of lanceting the skin. It is quite common in Asia. The Asians swab oil in little glass jars (like baby food jars) before they filled them with hot air (over candles) and then apply on the skin. This practice was believed to relieve aches & pain and fevers. I was quite surprised when I noticed actress Gwyneth Paltrow has done it through one of her razzi pictures. Now I know that it was introduced during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Thanks. 🙂

  2. Cinda says:

    the thorny issue of what to do
    that which had come down from the ancient
    that humans consisted
    to be caused when
    these humours fell out of balance

    cures involve attempts to bring them back
    through changes

    but will this restore the balance?

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