Henry V, Saved by a Surgeon


In Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, the king makes a powerful speech before the famous real-life battle of Agincourt that inspires his men. What's little known is that Henry nearly died in an earlier battle but was saved by the ingenuity of his surgeon.

In fourteen-oh-three, at age sixteen, while leading his father's army, Henry was struck by an arrow. It drove six inches into his cheek where the arrowhead became lodged in the back of his skull. Henry continued to fight until they won and was rushed to London surgeon John Bradmore. Henry was lucky. The arrow narrowly missed killing him instantly. Even though the shaft was removed, the arrowhead couldn't be reached.

A similar situation killed King Richard the Lionheart, so Dr. Bradmore had to work quickly or the prince would die from infection. He first made tools he needed: small probes of increasing diameter and length from elder wood and wrapped them in 'purified linen' infused with rose honey, an antiseptic at the time. Using these probes, he slowly opened the wound until he reached the arrowhead. To remove it, he designed a pair of narrow concave tongs the width of the arrowhead.

Once inserted into the cavity of the arrowhead where the shaft had been, a screw opened the tongs until they tightly engaged with the inside edges of the arrowhead. That allowed him to rock it back and forth until it came loose from the bone. I hope the Prince passed out quickly. To clean the hole in the cheek, Dr. Bradmore washed it in white wine and wiped the inside with a probe covered with honey, barley, flax and flour. For three weeks he bathed it but each day with a shorter probe to allow the wound to close.

So Prince Henry was saved to become a popular English king behind one of history's greatest military victories all because of a remarkable doctor.

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