Chamberlen, Hugh, The Elder

▪ British midwife
born 1630, London
died c. 1720

      British male midwife, prominent member of a family of medical men remembered for the parts they played in the introduction of the obstetrical forceps. Hugh was the grandnephew of Peter Chamberlen the Elder, inventor of the forceps, and was its chief exploiter.

      A midwife to the queen of Charles II, Chamberlen used his place at court and contacts abroad to enhance his commercial use of the instrument, which had since its invention been rigidly guarded as a family secret. While in Paris (1670), he unsuccessfully offered the secret of the instrument to the French government in exchange for 10,000 talers (about $3,800). Two years later he produced an English translation of the celebrated French surgeon François Mauriceau's treatise on midwifery, making reference to the forceps in the preface. The book became a standard obstetrical text for 75 years. The failure of several of his sensational projects relating to land banks, state medical services, and prevention of plague forced him to leave England for Scotland, from which he went to the Netherlands. It was in the latter country that Hugh, probably impoverished near the end of his life, sold his secret to the Dutch surgeon Roger Van Roonhuysen.

Additional Reading
W. Radcliffe, The Secret Instrument: The Story of the Chamberlen Forceps (1947); J.H. Aveling, The Chamberlens and the Midwifery Forceps (1882); K. Das, Obstetric Forceps: Its History and Evolution (1929).

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Universalium. 2010.

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