Doctor to the Militias

Magnus Maxwell (1555-1615)
Courtesy Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Inc.
Personal -

Name: Magnus Maxwell

Birth Place: Maccus' Spring, Westmoreland

Birth Date: 28 February 1560

Father: John Maxwell, English

Mother: Jacqueline Lorraine, French-Scottish

Brother: Marcus Maxwell, older brother, died 1585

Sister: Merideth ("Meri"), half-sister




Magnus was the second son of a small landowner in the north of England. According to tradition, his older brother would receive their father's property. Therefore, his family was able to talk a passing barber into taking their second-oldest son as an apprentice.

Accompanying the barber, Magnus traveled all over the north of England, into parts of Scotland and as far south as London. Much of the time, he just observed as the barber would first pass on news, then entertain, and ultimately treat illnesses and injuries. At first, he did chores such as cooking and cleaning the wagon. Later he learned of herbs, poultices, potions and various treatments.

As Magnus and the barber went from shire to shire, they were paid in food, shelter and sometimes coin. At odd times, though, they had to leave a place empty-handed because a person they had taken to cure suddenly died and they feared for their lives. Early in the seventh year of the apprenticeship, the barber succumbed to what may have been pneumonia. As was customary, Magnus received all of the barber's possessions.

He returned to London to present himself to the Guild of Barbers and Surgeons for recognition and license. The masters of the guild told Magnus that he must serve a standard seven-year apprenticeship first. When he spoke to them of his work with the barber, they put that aside because they felt all that he may have learned from his previous master was probably "country bunk."

The masters did provide Magnus with an option: he must answer the Queen's request for barber-surgeons to serve with militias being formed up for service in the Low Countries and, possibly, even France. If he survived, he could return to the guild and present himself for elevation to master.

Upon agreeing to this alternate plan, the masters approved Magnus as a journeyman barber- surgeon and sent him to a local militia at the White Tower, Stoddard's Company of Foote. It was only later that he learned that he had taken the place of a master who would have done anything (and apparently did) to keep from serving with the armies.

[image of kneeling surgeon before battle] [image of standing surgeon tearing bandage] [image of hatless surgeon over battle victim]
Magnus preparing for — and in the midst of — battle
Magnus went to the continent with the militia and learned much both on the field of battle and from French Protestant barber-surgeons who had trained with the famous Ambroise Pare, France's most skilled military barber-surgeon. As the company doctor for Stoddard's, he not only had to fight England's enemies, he had to fight the fear and distrust of surgeons instilled by the various horse doctors and pretenders who ended up with the armies (many replacing actual barber-surgeons and physicians who, again, were able to avoid military service).

Magnus was able to take leave from his company to continue deeper into Europe working with and learning from doctors and surgeons he found in cities and villages. Since many of these men had attended schools of medicine, he made his way to the great college at Padua where he spent the better part of two years listening to lectures, watching dissections and trading ideas and "secrets" with medical students from all over Europe and the Mediterranean.

[Magnus next to barber sign]
Magnus Maxwell providing private as well as military services
He returned to England after four years abroad. Stoddard's Company had come back the year prior so he immediately negotiated a return to his old position. Because of his increased knowledge and expanded skills, and considering a newer light in which barber-surgeons were coming to be viewed, Magnus was accepted back at a much higher rate of pay and with more authority and prestige. He returned to the militia not only as Company Surgeon, but as chief Barber-Surgeon to a combined force of English, Scottish lowlanders, and Landsknechts (German) mercenaries.

After spending another six years with the armies of Elizabeth, he received the title of Master Barber-Surgeon from the London Royal Company of Barbers and Surgeons. He still works with the militia on occasion, but spends summers of his time practicing in the country just north of London and winters lecturing to apprentices and journeyman at the Barber-Surgeon Guild Hall in the city.

Additional images from the life of Magnus Maxwell, Barber-Surgeon

Originally created 6 March 1997
by Michael Foster