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Show RCA 2019

Bethany Parker

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‘The Cruelty of these Infernall Engines’: The materiality of military medical care during the English Civil War and Interregnum, 1642–1660

The English Civil war occurred concurrently with the pan-European Thirty Years War (1618–48), in which European leaders transformed training, formations and tactics to create an articulated war machine of subordinated soldiers. Termed ‘the Military Revolution’ by orthodox historiography, this period saw a departure from previous methods of waging war as armies grew and capitalised on the destructive potential of gunpowder enabled firearms. The outbreak of the English Civil War marked a significant increase in military participation as Englishmen populated both sides of the conflict, representing an immediate and total experience of gunpowder warfare for Englishmen. The exposure of bodies to such high levels of gunpowder often resulted in the physical molestation of the body of the soldier with many suffering dismemberment and other devastating wounds.

This dissertation takes the body of the maimed soldier as a research framework through which to explore the materiality of the medical response to such wounds. Through an analysis of print surgical manuals, manuscript hospital receipt books and extant surgical tools, the dissertation explores the remarkably progressive systems which emerged during the English Civil War to facilitate the care of the maimed soldiers’ body. Expensive materials and technology, such as bespoke prostheses, were provided to address the devastation of gunpowder warfare by affording a veteran self-determined mobility. These objects were a material manifestation of Parliament's dedication to treating the body of the maimed soldier as compensation for service. The dissertation argues that the English Civil War provided a unique ideological moment for a revolutionary attitude to the body of the soldier, resulting in Parliament’s investment in the body of the soldier.

This study places the English Civil War within military histories which identify warfare as providing the ingredients to be a catalyst of social change. It makes a case for the English Civil War being as destructive but equally as caring as subsequent ‘modern’ wars such as the American Civil War and the world wars. Such developments are indicative of the totality of war effort, which encompassed civil support and state intervention to care for those disabled by war. 


  • Previous degrees

  • BA (Hons) History, University of Sheffield, 2016
  • Experiences

  • Private Tutor, 2019; Assistant, Renaissance Watercolours Exhibition, V&A, 2018; Student researcher SURE scheme, University of Sheffield, 2015
  • Awards

  • Dr Sylvia Lennie England Scholarship 2017–19; Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize 2018
  • Funding

  • Dr Sylvia Lennie England Scholarship 2017–2019
Royal College of Art