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Dr Percivall Willughby, MD (1596–1685): pioneer “man” midwife of Derby
  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Perinatal Medicine and Child Health, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB
  1. Professor P M Dunn.

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Percivall was born at Woollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire in 1596, the youngest of the six sons of Sir Percival and Lady Bridget Willughby. There were also five daughters. Although his parents were not well off, he was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he obtained a BA in 1620. He was then placed with Mr James van Otten, barber surgeon of London, who undertook to teach him music, physic, and surgery over a 7 year period for £100. Unfortunately, van Otten died in 1624.

Returning to Derby, Willughby entered practice and soon gained the reputation of being a fine physician and “man midwife”, although he was only admitted as a Licentiate of the College of Physicians, London, in 1640. In 1631 he married Elizabeth Coke and they had three sons and two daughters, one of whom became a midwife. In 1655 the family moved first to Bromidgham in Staffordshire and then a year later to London to seek better education for the children. There he practised midwifery among “the meaner sort of women.” In 1660 he returned to Derby and resumed his extensive, successful, and laborious practice, often travelling considerable distances on horseback to visit patients.

Willughby was cultured, modest, and humble. He was also a very practical and caring doctor. His high reputation rests on his pioneering midwifery. He was the first professional man to devote his practice entirely to obstetrics. In the 1670s he completed a manuscript based on the many cases he had attended since 1630. It was written expressly for midwives and physicians called in to assist with difficult cases, and sheds light on practice in the 17th century. …

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