Monday, 30 January 2017

Keeping Warm: Heating at Versailles

Royal palaces by their sheer size were impossible to properly heat up and the rather primitive heat sources did not help matters. Despite being occupied both during the Grand Siècle and the Enlightenment the heating available to the peak of French society was the same as it was for the poorest peasants - and had been since before the middle ages.

The only true way of heating a room was by an open fireplace. However, with the size of the apartments and little to none isolation the beautiful fireplaces did not do much. This was partially why Louis XV decided to change his bedroom from the grand, airy room of his predecessor to a smaller one which was easier to heat. He had actually in 1758 requested a ceramic stove to be installed in the bedroom of Louis XIV but was met with opposition from Ange-Jacques Gabriel who worried about the design being compromised.


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Detail of the cast iron fire-back in the Salon of Hercules 


The winter of 1708/1709 would go down in history as one of the coldest winters in memory. Even the sturdy Madame complained that "never in the memory of man has it been so cold". That winter people fell like flies in both country and city and the royal court was not immune either. It became so cold that the water inside the crystal flagons froze completely which caused their ornate vessels to burst. That unrelenting cold would continue for three weeks straight only to return twice in February and in March.
Another anecdote from that terribly cold winter was when a courtier reminisced of a dinner party given by the Duc de Villeroy. Bottles were brought in from a rather warmer kitchen but on their way to the dining room the cold had had such an impact that when the delicious drops were poured ice came with it.

The often inadequate fireplaces had another side-effect: they smoked. If the King's fireplaces could be smoky then just imagine what the small fireplaces in the minor apartments was like. On occasion the smoke issuing from the fireplaces was so bad that the inhabitants were driven out of their apartments - others completely gave up on trying to have their own fire.


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The white ceramic stove in Madame du Barry's bathroom


The odd thing is that it actually became possible to avoid such terribly cold living conditions. In 1713 new ways of heating had already been developed but they were never installed on a grander scale in the royal palaces. The only obvious thing that changed was the decor of the heating source. Towards the end of Louis XV's reign it was modern to have stoves decorated with porcelain tiles; such a one was found in Madame du Barry's apartment.
A page of Louis XVI remembered fondly a ball given by Marie Antoinette had taken care of the guests' every concern. The rooms allocated for the festivities were fitted with "heating pipes" to keep the guests from shivering but these does not appear to have been a permanent fixture.

With the draughty rooms and poorly heated rooms it is no wonder that people often caught colds or pneumonia.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon & the Marquis de Cavoye

Unlike most affairs in this section this particular one was mainly one-sided. Louis Oger de Cavoye was known as the Marquis de Cavoye and as such was a regular fixture at court. Here, he was remarked for his beauty - even the Duc de Saint-Simon admitted that he was "one of the best made men in France". Naturally, such an appearance was bound to attract admirers but in Cavoye's case his admirer was one he would rather be without.

Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon was a maid-of-honour to Queen Marie Thérèse when she first noticed the handsome Marquis. She fell so intensely in love with him that everyone at court soon new of her feelings; it would be odd if they did not considering that she never attempted to hide them. While Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon was swooning and could talk of little else the target of her affections was not particularly interested.
The Marquis considered the young woman's infatuation with him to be a nuisance that he sought to end sooner than later. His way of doing so was apparently to treat poor Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon with great "cruelty" by which should be understood that he was terribly rude to her. Nevertheless, her feelings remained unaltered. In the end the King was obliged to reprimand his Officer of the Crown since the King could not abide rudeness especially towards the fairer sex.


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The Marquis de Cavoye


One reason why the Marquis might not be attracted to Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon could be related to just that. She was not very beautiful; on the contrary she was unfortunately described as being rather ugly. It is not impossible that her appearance caused the Marquis to turn away from her advances especially since he was said to be superficial on occasion.

The court was greatly amused at the young Coëtlogon yearning for Cavoye when things took a turn for the dramatic. Cavoye was imprisoned in the Bastille for having acted as a second in a duel. Distraught, Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon went to the King where she pleaded with him to let her darling go. The King refused and she went into an absolute fit of hysterics. First she even dared to scream at the Grand Monarch who attributed this offence to her passionate feelings and refrained from punishing her. However, it was soon clear that Mademoiselle would not give up so easily. Soon after she refused to perform her duties as maid-of-honour and dressed in as mean clothes as possible. Seeing that her tantrum had no effect on the King she grew virtually ill and was at last permitted to go see her beloved in the Bastille - how the Marquis felt can only be imagined.

Eventually, the Marquis was released and Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon once again adorned her dressed as befitted a court lady. By this point the apparently ceaseless admiration on behalf of Coëtlogon had begun to tire both the King and Queen. Knowing that the Marquis de Cavoye had always desired an office in the King's household Louis XIV sought to bring about the marriage using such an office as bait.

Recently, the post of Master of the Logis had become available so the King offered it to him - on condition that he would marry Mademoiselle de Coëtlogon. Finally, the Marquis relented and the couple was married in 1677.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Victoire de Rohan, Princesse de Guéméné

Victoire Armande Josèphe de Rohan was born as the second daughter of Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise and Anne Thérèse of Savoy on 28 December 1743. From the moment of her birth Victoire was destined to marry into the higher ranks of the French court. Her father was a member of the mighty house of Rohan while her mother was born the daughter of a Prince. Furthermore, Victoire was a first cousin to Louis XV but through an illegitimate line.

As far as marriage was concerned Victoire was expected to do very well. Her half-sister had married the Prince de Condé thus becoming a Princess of the Blood. Victoire was seventeen years old when she married Henri Louis de Rohan, Duc de Montbazon. Surprisingly, she was two years older than her bridegroom. Together the couple would have five children.

Once established at court Victoire took up the task which befell all courtiers: trying to make a career. Her husband was made Grand Chamberlain but Victoire herself soon found an influential post. She was made Governess to the Children of France in 1775 when her aunt retired. As such she was entitled to her own suite of apartments at Versailles; an honour her husband also had through his post.

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Victoire with Madame Royale

When the couple was not at court they resided in the lavish Hôtel de Rohan-Guéméné in Paris. However, with the birth of Madame Royale in 1778 Victoire was required to spent the vast majority of her time at court. Here she had a large responsibility to uphold. The Governess of the Children of France was not merely a nanny; she also had the task of running a household counting more than a hundred people.

Not everyone was entirely convinced that Victoire was the right person for the job. Ambassador Mercy described her as lacking in the essential qualities while Baroness d'Oberkirch said of her that she was: "stubborn but at the same time without character - the worst kind of stubborn. She was passionate but not very gentle."

Unfortunately for Victoire her tenure was to be rather brief. Already in 1782 she was basically sacked due to her husband's ever increasing debts. These debts would eventually lead to the sale of their beloved Hôtel in 1797 - by this time the debt amounted to a staggering 33 million livres! It would seem that their eventual bankruptcy did not come out of nowhere. Neither Victoire nor her husband appears to have had any sense of economy; when Joseph II (Marie Antoinette's brother) visited Paris he described their Hôtel as a gambling den. While at court Victoire was well-known to gamble enormous sums - which apparently she did not have.

Before things got that bad the marriage between Victoire and Henri were very typical of the arranged marriages of their day. Although the couple managed to produce five children they were nevertheless both unfaithful. Victoire took the Comte de Coigny as her lover.
There was an eccentric streak in her character as well. Victoire was immensely fond of dogs and kept a great deal of them with her. That was not unusual in itself but she allegedly believed that she could communicate with spirits using her dogs as mediums.

Sketch by Louis-Auguste Brun. It is disputed whether
it is the Princesse de Guéméné or Madame Élisabeth
who modelled for it

The late 1780's proved to be profitable in terms of climbing the social ladder but disastrous financially. The couple finally had to declare a massive bankruptcy in 1783. In 1787 Victoire's father died which meant that her husband was the rightful claimant to the title of Prince de Soubise. However, since Henri's own father died the year later he would be known by his inherited title of Prince de Guéméné.

When the revolution broke out the couple fled to Marie Antoinette's home of Austria. At a later point they resettled in the Sychrov Castle in the current Czech Republic. The house of Rohan would occupy the castle for the next 125 years. Victoire herself returned to Paris in the aftermath of the revolution. Here she died in 1807.

A Tale of Royal Teeth: Black, Rotten, Gone

The portraits of the ancien regime never show an open smile and for good reason. In an age where a sense of hygiene was not unheard of but not quite understood either dental hygiene was far from perfect.The habit of brushing one's teeth did not really come into force until after the fall of Versailles which meant that most courtiers - the royal family included - had serious dental issues.

Upon his birth Louis XIV was noted to have two teeth already in place. As mentioned in an earlier post the King's teeth caused him problems throughout his life. In the 1680's he experienced increasing bouts of toothaches and had to undergo several oral surgeries where his teeth were pulled. One particular painful incident occurred in 1685 when a molar had become so painful that it had to be extracted. The lack of properly cleaning the wound meant that the King would have infection in his mouth - which resulted in the necessity of pulling out more teeth.
By 1712 the King finally appointed a special dentist who would see to the Grand Monarch's few remaining teeth.

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The Grande Dauphine who was never
blessed with good teeth

Like her husband Marie Thérèse could not boast of having a dazzling smile. On the contrary both her and her daughter-in-law, Marie Anne Victoire of Bavaria, were plagued with having rotten teeth. In the Queen's case her mouth was described as being "black" due to the extremely poor condition of her teeth. At the time the Queen's poor dental state was said to stem from her eating too much chocolate and garlic. The Grande Dauphine's teeth were already poor before she ever made it to the French court.

When Marie Adélaide of Savoy was chosen as the bride for the Duc de Bourgogne it was with great pride that her French-born mother could tell of her white teeth. In this instance the teeth in question actually were white to the relief of Louis XIV and his court.

Louis XV was thought to be the handsomest man at his own court but his teeth were not immune to the troubles of his day. In 1742 he had a tooth extracted which sadly damaged his good looks somewhat according to the Marquis d'Argenson. However, the King himself was not all that concerned about how his appearance was affected; after all having teeth pulled was something that only a very small handful of people could avoid. His regret was that he would miss out on hunting for two whole days.
In 1755 Louis XV was presented with a new invention by a Dr. Julien Botot; the odd mixture was called a toothpaste. Later the dentist would also present the King with mouthwash flavoured with anise. It can be said that the doctor dedicated his invention to the King out of gratitude. After all, it was thanks to a royal decree from 1741 that dentists achieved a status of their own and no longer had to be counted among the odd charlatans.

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Toothpaste and mouthwash as invented by Botot (with
modern hygienic standards) - this is not far from what
was presented to Louis XV 

During the 18th century the fact that having decaying teeth could be actively avoided was gradually being spread. Consequently, a wide array of products for the teeth emerged alongside the inventions of Dr. Botot. Courtiers began to wash their teeth in the same manner as one would wash one's hands. Some sought to preserve the whiteness of their teeth by using these new products. Mademoiselle d'Elboeuf applied a white paste to her teeth for that very purpose. In the reign of Louis XVI it was common to have certain waters to wash one's mouth with; these were often scented with lavender or cloves.

It was not merely a question of appearances that made dentistry important to the royal family. Especially young children - who were already vulnerable - could potentially die from a bad tooth. Sadly, this happened to a daughter of Philippe II d'Orléans (better known as the Regent) who died in Versailles in 1748. Her autopsy placed the blame for her demise squarely on her dental issues.

Madame Victoire (one of Louis XV's numerous daughters) had to have a tooth extracted at the age of fifteen but she was terribly afraid of the procedure. She continued to have it delayed; her father and brother, the Dauphin, had a two-hour long private conversation about the necessity but she was not quite convinced. In the end, though, she resolved to have it done on the condition that that her father and mother would hold down her arms while Madame Adélaide should restrain her legs.

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Madame Victoire
By this time a dentist was well-established in the royal households. As it happens it had been Monsieur Claude Mouton - dentist to Mesdames - who had recommended the pulling of Victoire's tooth.

Poor Louis XVI whose appearance was never as charming as his grandfather's was not made handsomer by his smile. His teeth were misaligned which prompted a page of his to render his laughing "graceless". He had actually been born with erupted teeth as well but unlike those of his Louis XIV they were not considered to be a mark of greatness to come.

When Louis XV was negotiating with Empress Maria Theresia over the union between their two countries the portrait of the Dauphine-to-be, Marie Antoinette, was put under close scrutiny. One particular flaw was found to be great enough to need amendment before the marriage could happen: the archduchess' teeth were crooked. However, a new French invention came to the rescue. It was known as "the Pelican" and involved using wires to straighten teeth. So, the young Antonia had the wires placed and wore them for three months - she was left with neat regular teeth.


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Marie Antoinette as a child before her
excessive dental surgery

The problem was that while everyone expected to suffer from some sort of dental issues during their lifetime there was no excuse for having ugly teeth. As Marie Antoinette's teeth were required to be mended so was her sister-in-law, the Comtesse de Provence, been chided for her teeth. In her case Louis XV thought it necessary to write to the young woman's father, the King of Savoy, to criticise his daughter's oral hygiene. The French King made a slightly cutting remark stating that although attention to teeth was not highly esteemed in much of Europe it certainly was at Versailles.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Unfortunate Marie Anne Victoire of Bavaria

When the marriage of the Grand Dauphin was being decided there was really only two conditions that were raised: she had to be fertile and she had to be of suitable rank. Eventually, Louis XIV decided to strengthen the ties with Bavaria and had his son betrothed to the daughter of the Elector of Bavaria. As was the case with political marriages neither the groom nor the bride were asked if they wanted the match; both parties grew up in a world where they knew they would not marry for love.

The Abbé de Nion attempted to flatter his future mistress by sending back word that she was "really a pretty creature" although he hurriedly went on to describe her other charming qualities.
The King was well aware that most members of his court would attempt to flatter him by sending a positive impression of the future Dauphine. Therefore, the King sent his ambassador to Bavaria, Croissy, with explicit orders to give an accurate description. The answer was overall favourable. The ambassador wrote back that she appeared to have no obvious deformities except for "brown stains on the forehead, sallow skin, red hands, rotten teeth and a very large fat nose"!
On top of that she was a brunette in a time when blonde hair was all the rage but that could be overlooked since many great beauties of the time had dark hair - look for example at Louis XIV's first love, Marie Mancini whose hair was very dark.


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A more flattering portrait - compared to the one below notice how much
smaller the infamous nose is made in this one

Once the marriage was settled upon a miniature was sent to Versailles but it did bode well for the future. Louis XIV had given the artist clear instructions to tone down the flattery but a warning letter from Croissy told that the artist had been carried away nevertheless. Although the portrait was - obviously - flattering to the sitter it was nonetheless not depicting a great beauty. Sunken eyes peered out at the Sun King and the groom-to-be. Once the King was informed of Croissy's letter he would have the match cancelled but here the Grand Dauphin showed a rare instance of personal interference. As has been suggested by some historians the Grand Dauphin had a particular taste for "ugly women"; to him the lack of traditional beauty in his future wife was not an issue. He merely inquired whether she had any deformities and when being told that she did not he was satisfied.

Other reports described the Bavarian princess' character but mentioned little of her appearance - and for a reason. That reason became all too apparent when Marie Anne Victoire arrived at Versailles. Whereas a diplomat may refer to her as homely the courtiers of Versailles were far less subtle: to them she was downright ugly.
Even the tactful Louis XIV had to swallow twice when he saw his daughter-in-law in person. Especially Croissy's comment on her nose turned out to be all too true. But the Grand Dauphin was pleased with what he saw and proudly welcomed her.


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The Grande Dauphine in 1680

All in all the match was made for one reason: to produce an heir. With assurance that his son was not so put off by his new wife as might be expected the King was willing to let the wedding proceed. From that moment on the King made it clear that the Dauphine was to be admired - no matter her actual appearance.

Later Madame would describe the Grande Dauphine in these terms: "She was ugly but her extreme politeness made her very agreeable". Although her husband never complained of her appearance the courtiers could be less discreet. Although the King's orders were being heeded and nothing was said of the Grande Dauphine's looks she was nevertheless condemned to a rather isolated life despite her status. After all, being unattractive in a court obsessed with beauty could be lonely.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Apartment of the Grand Dauphin

Louis, le Grand Dauphin was the second-most important person at court politically; his position was clouded by his father and per French tradition the Queen had no political power. As such his apartments were required to display his status.

The Grand Dauphin had a suite of five rooms located directly beneath the state apartment of the Queen - consequently, they were on the ground floor. The apartment consisted of three antechambers, a grand cabinet and a bedroom. The three antechambers held the costly collection of artwork which the Grand Dauphin was famous for. They led on to the grand cabinet - located underneath the Salon of Peace - and from the cabinet the bedroom was reached. The Grand Dauphine's apartment was directly adjoined to that of her husband.

The Grand Dauphin

When James II of England came to France to visit Louis XIV the Sun King led him to his son's apartments as a part of the château's wonders; so impressive was the artworks to be found in those chambers. While the collection is somewhat intact their original setting is not. In 1747 Louis XV ordered a complete restoration of the apartments on the ground floor. Consequently, the stucco and additional decor of the Grand Dauphin's apartments are completely gone.

We can only use the statements of the Grand Dauphin's contemporaries to imagine what it truly looked like. Félibien gives us an insight into the treasury that was the apartments of the heir:
"one sees in the cabinets of his apartment an exquisite collection of all that is most rare and precious, not only in respect to the necessary furniture, tables, cabinets, porcelains,  mirrors, chandeliers but also paintings by the most famous artists, bronzes, agates, jewels and cameos ..."

The artists of his father had also adorned the Grand Dauphin's apartments. Mignard had adorned the ceilings with mythological scenes while the larger pieces of furniture were creations by Boulle. One particular piece of furniture had another origin, though, and a price tag that would make most people gasp. In the grand cabinet a large table stood; it was cut entirely from silver by Balin and cost no less than 68.259 livres!

The grand cabinet certainly earned its name. Originally, it had been three separate rooms: Monsieur's cabinet and bedroom and Madame's cabinet. They were fused together in 1693 to create the grand cabinet of Monseigneur.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Philippe de Courcillon, Marquis de Dangeau

Born on 21 September 1638 Philippe was born into a family that was well-known to be Calvinists which separated them from the majority of the Catholic aristocracy. This - however - was not a hindrance when it came to the family's place at court. Like most young men of the aristocracy Philippe went from his home in Maine to the court of Louis XIV.

Once at court Philippe became the centre of attention due to an impressive skill in one particular pastime - gambling. Philippe was an eminently intelligent card player and often won huge sums. As it happens he became such a dreaded opponent that being a good card player became known as "playing like Dangeau". Even Madame notes how impressive he was to watch.

Nevertheless, a young man could hardly be expected to get by alone by gambling. Having caught the King's attention Philippe was made Colonel of one of the King's regiments at the age of 27 years. From then on Philippe received certain other marks of favour including the governorship of Touraine and diplomatic missions to Modena and the Rhine-Palatine.



Portrait Of Phillippe De Courcillon.jpg


Personally, Philippe became somewhat of a man of letters who patronised upcoming writers; it was through such a connection that a work of satire on the nobility by Boileau was dedicated to the Marquis de Dangeau. Despite having not yet published anything himself he was accepted into the Academy Francaise in 1668. As for his family life he married his first wife on 11 May 1670; his bride was Anne-Francoise de Morin with whom he had a daughter, Marie-Anne-Jeanne.

Philippe de Courcillon is best remembered for his journal of the court of Louis XIV. Although critics like the Duc de Saint-Simon has called it "the most insipid book ever written" it does provide a day-to-day account of the events of the royal court. He began this diary in 1684; just two years later he would marry again (his first wife obviously having died). This time his wife was Sophia Maria Wilhelmina von Lövenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort. It is quite likely that Philippe first made contact with this family on his diplomatic tours to what is now Germany. This marriage produced a son who would be known as the Comte de Courcillon. It is believed that they had other children but these did not survive childhood.


Illustration of Philippe's residence in Paris where he died

Louis XIV had noticed Philippe's talent for writing and allegedly used Philippe to write to Louise de La Vallière. On what turned out to be a twist of fate Louise asked Philippe to return the favour - in sense he was writing both the love letters and their replies!
As a mark of the King's good-will to the Marquis de Dangeau, Phillippe's second wedding was celebrated at the chapel of Versailles.


In 1691 he became a knight of the Order of Saint-Lazare de Jérusalem which he possessed until his death; likewise he would receive the Order of Saint-Michel. Later, in 1709 he became an honorary member of the Academy of the Sciences.

By 1720 Philippe spent more time at his Parisian abode; here he died on 9 September that very year.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Louis XIV's Surgery

Not even Kings are immune to unpleasant diseases and Louis XIV was no different. In 1686 he had the misfortune of developing a large fistula; to the King's - and his doctors' - horror it was soon clear that a surgery was needed. In an age with neither actual anaesthesia nor any concrete idea of hygiene a surgery was a gamble with the patient's life.

As early as 1685 the King's doctors noted that a swelling had appeared near the royal anus. By 18 February it had developed into an abscess and by 2 May it had become a fistula. Worried, the King was subjected to enemas (which can only have been painful) and poultices without effect. As time wore on it became increasingly difficult for the King to ride and even sit. Eventually, it became clear that a surgery was needed.

At first the King was - understandably - not willing to undergo the surgery. Since the fistula was not inflamed (according to Dionis) there was no immediate danger save the discomfort felt by the monarch. The fistula actually burst on its own which the King used as an argument against surgery. Instead, he was first interested in seeing whether his ailment might be cured by special mineral water. This not being the case the King finally consented.

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One of the instruments used by Félix on Louis XIV...

Eventually, the surgeon Félix was commissioned for the task. Before venturing into an operation on the King himself Félix travelled to different hospitals to seek out patients with similar complaints. In total 75 men were seen by the surgeon. Returning with increased knowledge, Félix had new instruments made which would not only ease the patient's pain but make it easier to get rid of the fistula. The instrument would become known as "bistouri à la royale". The instrument - which looks more like a torture device - can be seen at Versailles today. Some said that the King had experiments carried out on these patients to determine which way would be the best to proceed.


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Another of the instruments

When the fateful hour - on 21 November 1686 at seven o'clock in the morning - came Louis XIV remained stoic; unlike his everyday-life his courtiers were not invited. Actually, his court knew nothing of the surgery before they were informed that it had taken place. Those who were present with him stated that he never uttered a complaint. To ensure that he was not perceived to be weakened the Sun King dictated that a council meeting was to be held as usual.
In an odd turn of events many gentlemen at court suddenly got the notion that they, too, were suffering from fistulas. Many went to their doctors and were greatly annoyed when told that there was no need for a surgery!


A total of five physicians were in the room with the King: Félix (the chief surgeon), Louvoy, Fagon (the King's doctor), Daquin (another physician) and Bessière (Félix's assistant). Madame de Maintenon was also there, as was the Grand Dauphin and his confessor.

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Félix - the successful surgeon

Luckily for the surgeons the operation was a massive success and the King made a full recovery.

Louis XIV was so pleased with the Félix's work that he showered him with favours. Not only a cash payment of 15.000 louis d'or and a country estate was given to the surgeon; he was granted a brief of nobility too. The King's public acknowledgement of Félix's field of work meant that surgery as a profession gained a boost in prestige. Previously, doctors had considered themselves the real medical men of the age - which they continued to do - but more focus was placed on the surgeons from this point on.