Chamberlen, Peter (d.1631) (DNB00)

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CHAMBERLEN, PETER, the elder (d. 1631), surgeon, was the son of William Chamberlen, a French protestant, who, when obliged to abandon his home in Paris on account of his religion, sought shelter in England with his wife, Genevieve Vingnon, and three children, and settled at Southampton in 1669. Born in Paris, Peter was bred a surgeon, to which profession his father also probably belonged. For many years he continued at Southampton, but growing tired of the fatigues of country practice, he had in 1690 removed to London and been admitted into the livery of the Barber Surgeons' Company. Chamberlen became one of the most celebrated accoucheurs of his day, and in that capacity attended the queens of James I and Charles I, by whom he was held in high favour. His name is connected with the short midwifery forceps, which he was probably the first of his family to use, as shown by the researches of Dr. Aveling (The Chamberlens and the Midwifery Forceps, pp. 215-26).

Chamberlen, besides trading upon his valuable secret, constantly endeavoured to add to his gains by illicit practice, and thus was perpetually at warfare with the College of Physicians. After being repeatedly prosecuted for not confining himself strictly to the practice of surgery, as it was then understood, in 1612 he was summoned before the college, charged with illegal and evil practice, and on 13 Nov. of that year it was unanimously agreed that he had given medicine wrongly, and his practice was condemned. It is evident that a warrant was signed for his apprehension and removal to Newgate, for four days after his condemnation a meeting took place at the college to consider his imprisonment and release.

'Peter Chamberlen did not submit passively to his imprisonment. The lord mayor, at his request, and probably influenced by Thomas Chamberlen, master of the powerful Mercers' Company, and cousin of the prisoner, interceded for him. A demand was made by the judges of the kingdom on their authority and writ that he should be discharged, but this demand the college could and did legally deny, as he had been committed for "mala praxis." Lastly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the mandate of the queen, prevailed with the president and censors, and Peter was released (Aveling, p. 8).

Chamberlen would appear to have spent his latter days chiefly at Downe in Kent, where and in the surrounding villages he had purchased property. He died in London in December 1631, and was buried on the 17th in the parish church of St. Dionis Backchurch (Registers, Harleian Society, iii. 220). His will, as ‘of London, chirurgion,' dated on 29 Nov. 1631, was proved on the 16th of the following December (Reg. in P. C. C. 130, St. John). By his wife Anne, who died before him, he had an only daughter, Esther.

[Aveling's The Chamberlens and the Midwifery Forceps, pp. 4-14.]

G. G.