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How to convince a queen to have a tooth extracted

Other historical eras can seem more appealing than our own. If you yearn for simpler times, then you might wish you lived in early 20th century Canada, in a town like the one described by Stephen Leacock in “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.” If the hippie counterculture is your thing, then you might wish that you lived in Yorkville, Toronto in the 1960s. But if your goal is painless emergency dentistry, you are definitely better off living in the modern era.

A case in point is Queen Elizabeth I. Her sufferings are legendary: when she was two, her father, Henry VIII, had her mother, Ann Boleyn, executed for failing to produce a son. Elizabeth I later fended off political machinations that led to her having her half-sister, Mary Queen of Scots, executed. To top it off, the unmarried monarch was forced to undergo a tooth extraction without the benefit of modern painkillers.

Queen Elizabeth I once had such severe tooth pain that she was unable to sleep. According to historical records, she was “so excruciatingly tormented with that Distemper (toothache) that forced her to pass whole nights without taking any rest.” Despite the pain and the sleeplessness, she refused to agree to the alternative: to undergo a tooth extraction using the primitive techniques of the day. So the Bishop of London, who is described by his contemporaries as “a Man of High Courage,” summoned an emergency dentist to have one of his own teeth extracted, although “he had not many to spare.” His tactic worked: “She was thereby encouraged to submit to the Operation herself.”

In her portraits, Queen Elizabeth I is always portrayed with her mouth closed, never breaking into a smile. This is not surprising: according to her contemporaries, all her teeth were black. She was also famously ill-tempered, always threatening to send people to the Tower of London, and once throwing a shoe at Walsingham, her head spy.

Who knows? Maybe Queen Elizabeth I would have smiled more, and had a sweeter disposition, if only she had access to a modern emergency dentist.

Source: James Le Fanu. “In sickness and in health: the excruciating history of toothache.” September 15, 2005.