Medicine, surgery and apothecary science
Author(s): Félix de Tassy
Date : 1686
Provenance : France
Characteristics/Origins: Wrought iron, Paris, musée d'histoire de la Médecine © François Doury
Louis XIV lived a long time but suffered from many ailments throughout his life. The most famous one, an anal fistula, was caused by extended periods of horse-riding. His physician, Daquin, and surgeon, Félix de Tassy, unsuccessfully tried to shrink it but after months of suffering the king resigned himself to an operation without anaesthesia. Félix designed a "royally curved" scalpel especially for that purpose, inserting it into the fistula with the help of a retractor. The king's medical journal, recorded from 1647 to 1711, contains a detailed account of the operation, which was performed in total secrecy. According to the etiquette, every time Louis woke up in the morning his doctors, Vallot, Daquin and Fagon, examined him in order to determine the state of his health, which they faithfully transcribed in the journal.
During Louis XIV's reign his doctors, France's most famous physicians and surgeons, competed with the medical school. The successful fistula operation gave rise to many celebrations in honour of the king's bravery and raised the prestige of surgery. The Court started taking a passionate interest in the practice, regularly attending public lectures on the topic in the king's garden. Louis XV founded the Royal Academy of Surgery, which was headed by his first surgeon, La Peyronie. Meanwhile, surgery was increasingly well-regulated and organised. Doctors developed inoculation after the king died of smallpox. The idea was to introduce illness into the body in order to protect it better. The new method, the forerunner of vaccination, was used on Louis XV's grandchildren.