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Lady Grace Mildmay (c. 1552-1620)

Lady Grace Mildmay was a local landowner who made and dispensed medicines for her neighbours. She was a daughter of Sir Henry Sharington of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, and was educated at home by a governess. She learned the different branches of housewifery and received some instruction in medical science.

In 1567 she married Sir Anthony Mildmay. The Mildmays were not rich, but Lady Mildmay became known as a hostess and musician. She also dispensed medicines on a large scale. Common remedies were made in batches of ten gallons at a time. One balm apparently contained 159 different seeds, roots, spices and gums, as well as 13 pounds of sugar and nuts, and over 8 gallons of oil, wine and vinegar.

As a ‘lady of the manor’ Grace Mildmay was exceptional. But many of her contemporaries lived similar lives, and would also have thought it their duty to minister to the sick poor. She is famous because of the scale of her efforts and because her papers have survived. The medical papers she left were written for her own use, and for family and friends. They were not just collections of recipes for medicines, but described the causes of diseases and gave medical instructions. Her advice and her medicines were free of charge, and she became renowned for her charity.

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L A Pollock (ed.), With Faith and Physic: the Diary of a Tudor Gentlewoman – Lady Grace Mildmay, 1552-1620 (London: Collins & Brown, 1993)

L A Pollock, ‘Grace Mildmay’, Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004-08)