Clowes, William (1540?-1604) (DNB00)

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CLOWES, WILLIAM, the elder (1540?–1604), surgeon, born about 1540, was the son of Thomas and grandson of Nicholas Clowes, both of Kingsbury in Warwickshire, and great-grandson of Geffrey Clowes of Tutbury in Staffordshire, all of them gentlemen bearing tokens and arms of honour, helm, mantle, and crest (G. Dethick). He learned surgery as apprentice of Mr. George Keble, a London surgeon, but not a member of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, and often praises his master: 'Sure Alexander the Great was never more bound to Aristotle his master for his lessons in philosophic than I was bound to him for giving me the first light and entrance into the knowledge of this noble art of chirurgerie.' Clowes began practice in 1563 as a surgeon in the army commanded by Ambrose, earl of Warwick, in France, and on this expedition began his lifelong friendship with John Banester the surgeon (Banester, Antidotarie, 1589; Clowes, Treatise on Struma, 1602). After the Havre expedition Clowes served for several years in the navy (Clowes, Profitable Observations), but about 1569 settled in London. On 8 Nov. in that year he was admitted by translation into the Barber-Surgeons' Company. He was successful in practice, with occasional disappointments, as when a man complained in 1573 that the cure of his wife was a failure and got twenty shillings damages from Clowes. In March 1575 he was appointed on the surgical staff of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and became full surgeon in 1581. He also became surgeon to Christ's Hospital, and in his later works gives many details of his practice in both institutions. At St. Bartholomew's he introduced a new styptic powder which caused smaller sloughs than that of Gale, which it supplanted. In 1579 he published his first book, ‘De Morbo Gallico.’ It is mainly a compilation, and his best observations on the subject are to be found here and there in his later works. In May 1585 he resigned his surgeoncy at St. Bartholomew's (MS. Minute Book at St. Bartholomew's Hospital), having been ‘sent for by letters from Right Honourable and also by her Majestie's commandment to goe into the Low Countries, to attend upon the Right Honourable the Earle of Leicester, Lord Lieutenant and Captain General of her Majestie's forces in those countries.’ In his ‘Prooved Practise’ Clowes gives many details of this expedition, and though bad surgeons, he says, slew more than the enemy, he and Mr. Goodrouse lost no cases from gunshot wounds but those mortally wounded at once. He attended Mr. Cripps, lieutenant of Sir Philip Sidney's horse, and was in the field when Sidney was wounded; but as he is silent as to the case it is probable that if Sidney received any surgical help it was from the other chief surgeon whom Clowes often praises, Mr. Goodrouse or Godrus. Clowes had some sensible ideas on ambulance work, and remarks that scabbards make excellent splints. He learned what he could from every member of his craft, English or foreign, and by experiment; thus at Arnhem he tried with success a new balm on a pike-wound seven inches long. After this war Clowes returned to London, and on 18 July 1588 was admitted an assistant on the court of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, and immediately after served in the fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada. He kept his military surgical chest by him, with the bear and ragged staff of his old commander on the lid, but was never called to serve in war again, and after being appointed surgeon to the queen, and spending several years in successful practice in London, retired to a country house at Plaistow in Essex, whence he dates his last preface. He died in 1604, before the beginning of August. In 1595 he received from Garter king-at-arms (South's MS. copy of Dethick's MS.) a confirmation of his coat of arms and statement of his public services and descent. He engraved these arms on the back of the title of the first book which he published after their confirmation, and they are a chevron bearing three crescents and between three unicorns' heads. He succeeded in handing on some court influence as well as heraldic honour to his son William [q. v.], who was made surgeon to the Prince of Wales a few years after his father's death. The books of Clowes are the best surgical writings of the Elizabethan age. They are all in English, and his style is easy and forcible, sometimes a little prolix, but never obscure. He had read a great deal, and says that he had made Calmathius ‘as it were a day-starre, or christallin cleare looking-glasse.’ Tagalthius, Guido, Vigo, and Quercetanus are his other chief text-books, and he had read seventeen English authors on medicine; but with all this book-knowledge he trusted much to his own observation, and a modern spirit of inquiry pervades his pages which makes them altogether different from the compilations from authorities which are to be found in the surgical works of his contemporaries Baker and Banester. His ‘Prooved Practise for all young Chirurgians,’ London, 1591, and his ‘Treatise on the Struma,’ London, 1602, are the most interesting of his works, and besides their surgical interest are full of pictures of daily life in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was called to a northern clothier whose leg was broken by robbers two miles outside London; to another man whose injury was received by the breaking down of a gallery at a bear-baiting; another patient was a serving-man whose leg had been pierced by an arrow as he walked near the butts; a fifth was one of Sir Francis Drake's sailors who had been shot by a poisoned arrow on the coast of Brazil; a sixth was a merchant wounded on his own ship by a pirate at the mouth of the Thames. Clowes cared little for critics, favourable or unfavourable—‘Scornfull scanners, their commendations I disdayne’—but he always speaks with generosity of his professional contemporaries Goodrouse, Banester, Bedon, and Baker, the surgeons; Gerard, the author of the ‘Herbal;’ Dr. Lopez, Dr. Wotton, Dr. Foster, and Dr. Randall, and Maister Rasis, the French king's surgeon. He had met all of them in consultation. He did not conceal that he had secret remedies—‘my unguent,’ ‘my balm,’ ‘of my collection’—but he never made bargains for cures, and never touted for patients as some surgeons did at that time. He gives several amusing accounts of his encounters with quacks, and prides himself on always acting as became ‘a true artist.’ He figures a barber's basin among his instruments of surgery, and says he was a good embalmer of dead bodies, and knew well from practice how to roll cerecloths. Besides a power of ready expression in colloquial English, he shows a vast acquaintance with proverbs, and a fair knowledge of French and of Latin. His books were all printed in London in black letter and 4to, and are: 1. ‘De Morbo Gallico,’ 1579. 2. ‘A Prooved Practise for all young Chirurgians concerning Burnings with Gunpowder, and Woundes made with Gunshot, Sword, Halbard, Pike, Launce, or such other,’ 1591. 3. ‘Treatise of the French or Spanish Pocks, by John Almenar,’ 1591 (a fresh edition of 1). 4. ‘A Profitable and Necessary Book of Observations,’ 1596 (a fresh edition of 2). 5. ‘A Right Frutefull and Approved Treatise for the Artificiall Cure of the Struma or Evill, cured by the Kinges and Queenes of England,’ 1602. In 1637 reprints of his ‘De Morbo Gallico’ and ‘Profitable Book of Observations’ were published. Letters by him are printed in Banester's ‘Antidotarie’ (1589), and in Peter Lowe's ‘Surgery’ (1597).

[Clowes's Works; MS. Admission Book and Court Minute Book of the Barber-Surgeons' Company; MS. Minute Book of St. Bartholomew's Hospital; South's copy of MS. of Dethick.]

N. M.