The Trial of Jacqueline Felicie: A Female Physician

by Jade Morales (Vanderbilt University)

The trial of Jacqueline Felicie, though not considered a monument in the history of medicine, is historically significant enough that many textbooks include an in-depth analysis of her 1322 Parisian trial. Jacqueline Felicie, referred to as Jacoba Felicie in the Charlutarium Universitarias Parisiensis, was accused by the Medical Faculty of Paris of practicing as a physician without a license. Felicie's trial is intriguing because it provides an insider view into the Parisian medical marketplace, into how women's roles were perceived within that marketplace, and into the university's power to effect medical culture (Barrett 10).

The trial itself was documented in the Charter of the University of Paris, and it includes arguments for and against Felicie. Felicie's accusers claim that she visited several patients, examined them, and claimed to cure them, despite being warned against practicing without a license. Along with the Medical Faculty, the Archbishop also expressed concerns that practicing without a license could result in the mortal sin of murder, which was punishable by excommunication. For this reason, her accusers claimed that preventing her from practicing was in the interest of her soul. Felicie's defense brought forth 6 witnesses that all attested to her experience and skill in curing them, even after many received unsuccessful treatment from well-known licensed physicians. So the natural question is: what were the motivations of the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris? Was the health of Parisians their main concern, or was this trail an attempt to slowly reduce the competition to university-trained physicians? (Green 15).

Non-university trained traditional healers, like Felicie, were the predominant practitioners of early 14th century Paris. Many women who were skilled through apprenticeship or practice acted as healers for lay people. Because women weren't admitted to the University, they were unable to obtain the licenses that the Medical Faculty mandated. Thus, academically trained physicians were all male, and women were at a disadvantage when the university began to regulate medical practice. Parisian medicine requiring university-training and licenses occurred at the expense of female traditional healers (Minkowski 4-5).

Felicie, though considered very wise and skilled by her patients, was found guilty. Her sentencing included excommunication and a fine of 60 Parisian pounds. It is not known with certainty whether Felicie continued to practice in secret or whether she moved away. What historians do know is that traditional healers continued to cure when academically-trained physicians could not. The population of Paris was bigger than the licensed physicians could accommodate, so the likelihood of Felicie staying in business was high. Her trial is not only an example of the attempt to regulate the Parisian medical marketplace; it also allows us to question the motivations of academic institutions.

Image: "Medicin examinant les dents d'un patient." Manuscrits occidentaux (1350). (Bibliotheque Paris)
Barrett-Graves, Debra, Jo E. Carney, and Gwynne Kennedy. Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Green, Monica H. "Women's Medical Practice and Health Care in Medieval Europe." Journal of Women in Culture and Society (14) 1988-89.

Minkowski, William. "Physicians' Motives in Banning Medieval Traditional Healers." Journal of Women and Health (1:2) April 1994.

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  1. Very interesting! Being old enough to have gone to school with mostly men, it's at least nice to know that things were a little better for me.

  2. Are things really that different in the U.S. today? Can't we find all sorts of examples of the established medical community making concerted attempts to discredit non-doctrinal practices from outsiders?

  3. Fascinating post. I'm jumping up and down saying "But then what happened? What?". Thanks for inspiring me to go find out more. Any suggestions for sources with more info in English?

  4. What a great idea for a post! I bet there were many more women who practiced secretly.


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