Background: John of Arderne (1307–1380) was one founder of surgery as the profession is known today. He was the first English surgeon of whom biographic details survive. Born on the Arderne Estates at Newark, England, he served as a military surgeon in France in campaigns where gunpowder was used in combat for the first time. His best-known work, the Practica (De Arte Phisicali et de Cirurgia), formed the basis of practical surgical teaching in the medical schools of medieval Europe.
Method: Biographic research of primary and secondary archives and documents.
Results: John of Arderne's surgical practice was undertaken against a background of turbulent political, military and medical events. He survived the Black Death (1347) and its cyclical recurrences. He lived through the turbulent reigns of Edward II and Edward III and practised in London in the decades preceding the simmering unrest which preceded the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. Surgical and medical practice in the late Middle Ages was enmeshed in astrological beliefs. It was greatly influenced by church doctrine of disease causation.
Conclusion: In this paper, the known details of John of Arderne's life are placed in the perspective of these societal and professional influences. He is one of several pre-Renaissance European doctors who were the first to challenge the received medical lore of Galen and later Arabic surgeons. Writing when he was 70 years of age, John of Arderne was the first to advocate that surgeons should trust their own clinical experience ‘Wele ymagynyng subtile things’ rather than following the directions of others, even including those advocated by himself.