All right. Here’s the problem with history research. The more you learn, the more questions you have. If you’re not a curious person, it’s no problem. But if you are, then you are headed down unknown highways and even roads less traveled. I have always skimmed over the statement that Daniel Coxe was a physician to Charles II and Queen Anne. But, as it turns out, that is a road worth taking.

Daniel Coxe, who was born about 1640, studied medicine in 1668. Late that year, he sent to a publisher a treatise on the practice of preparing medications. What prompted this was the Great Plague of 1665, which decimated the population of London, including the number of licensed physicians. To fill the gap, untrained apothecaries began mixing medicines and treating patients. [See the problem? I am way off the track of West New Jersey and Hunterdon County history.]

image from Google

Daniel Coxe was disturbed at the poor quality of the ‘materia medica’ being prepared, and wrote a treatise on the subject, urging physicians to mix their own. The treatise was titled: “A Discourse Wherein the Interest of the Patient in Reference to Physick and Physicians is soberly debated; Many Abuses of the Apothecaries in the Preparing their Medicines are detected, and Their unfitness for Practice Discovered; Together with the Reasons and Advantages of Physicians preparing their own Medicines.”

I will not yield to the temptation to write about the competition between apothecaries and physicians in London at this time. But I will mention that Coxe was an example of the new type of scientist in the 17th century, a subject that was beautifully treated in Soul Made Flesh, by (I am proud to say) my son Carl Zimmer. It’s a wonderful book, even though Dr. Coxe is not mentioned in it.

Coxe’s treatise was controversial, and he was criticized by Henry Stubbe, who claimed that, except for Coxe and a Dr. Sydenham, all physicians of the day condemned the experiments of Robert Boyle, a leader in the new science. This was undoubtedly taken as a compliment by Coxe, even though it was not intended as such. In 1675, Coxe was described as “the ingenious Doctor Daniel Cox, a man better versed in the Art of Chymistry, than any of [the Society of Apothecaries].” [1]

Coxe was licensed in Cambridge to practice medicine in 1669, shortly after publication of his Treatise. But it was several years before he was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians. This was probably because Coxe took physicians to task as well as apothecaries. He was not admitted to the College until 1680, and then only as an “Honorary Fellow.”

One reason why I am spending time on the subject of Coxe as a physician is that he has been recorded on the list of physicians to Charles II. I have not been able yet to find the dates when he served in that position. It is important to know because of the king’s life-threatening illness in 1681 and his death in 1685. There were at least 36 physicians to Charles II after 1660, and there were 14 physicians to the king during his last illness in 1685 [2]. Apparently the principal physician was Charles Scarborough, who was responsible for bleeding and purging the king to death. Scarborough was not blamed for this, as he also served as physician to James II, and to William and Mary. For a hair-raising description of the last hours of Charles II, see this link.

Was Coxe in attendance at either of those events? It will take a better researcher than me to answer that question.

[1]  I learned about Coxe’s Treatise from Frank H. Ellis, “The Author of Wing C6727: Daniel Coxe, F.R.S. or Thomas Coxe, F.R.S.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 18, no. 1 (Jun 1963), p. 36-38. Unfortunately, Ellis did not reprint the Treatise itself, and I have not read it.

[2] Elizabeth Lane Furdell, The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts. Chapter 6, Doctors to the Restored Stuarts, pg. 174, 194. Furdell did not give a date for Coxe’s service to the king, but in a footnote, she states that Coxe was listed in the Calendar of Treasury Books 6: 232. Coxe also appears on Clippingdale’s alphabetical list [Clippingdale, Medical Court Roll, 1: 94, 101, LRCS].