In 1868 the Corporation of London published a slim volume entitled Memorials of London and London Life in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries. It contained extracts from the archives of the City of London. An editor at The Lancet read it, and found an anecdote which remained topical, half a millennium later:
One Roger Clerk professed to be learned in the art of medicine, and prescribed, for a woman suffering from fever, the hanging of a certain document round her neck, containing certain words which he stated were an antidote to the disease under which she suffered. The charm did not work. He was summoned before the mayor and aldermen in the Guildhall of London, at the instance of the husband of the patient, to show upon what authority he practised the art of medicine. His own statement was sufficient to convict him of being a rogue and an impostor, and he was forthwith ordered to be placed in the pillory, and therein to be punished for the offence he had committed against society. His progress to the pillory is thus graphically described:
“It was adjudged that the same Roger Clerk should be led through the middle of the city, with trumpets and pipes, he riding on a horse without a saddle; the said parchment and a whetstone, for his lies, being hung about his neck, an urinal also being hung before him and another urinal on his back.”
Five hundred years after the public humiliation of Roger Clerk, The Lancet was full of articles complaining about the conduct of quack doctors: a particular concern was their freedom to advertise in the popular press. The editor cannot resist concluding by making a comparison between the two eras:
The offence which Roger Clerk committed was venial compared with some of the flagrant crimes which quacks nowadays too frequently perpetrate. If he was righteously punished, how should we mete out punishment to the harpies and villains of our time who prey upon the weakness and credulity of the miserable victims who are attracted by their infamous advertisements to place themselves under their care?