Letter by Mary Queen of Scots on surgeons predated Geneva Convention

By Douglas Barrie, Press Association Scotland

A document signed by Mary Queen of Scots which says surgeons should not have to bear arms in battle has been made public.

The Letter of Exemption for the medics to focus on caring for and remedying the wounded instead of fighting is dated May 1567 – predating the Geneva Convention which had a similar bearing three centuries later.

It has been made available to view online by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), which has records going back 100 years even before the letter to the 1460s.

Chris Henry, RCSEd director of heritage, said: “This unique artefact is one of the college’s treasured possessions.

“It gives us a fantastic insight into the ethics and civilisation of 16th-century Scotland as well as the standing of surgeons in the capital back then.”

Chris Henry, director of heritage (RCSEd/PA)

While it is not clear whether surgeons were asked to tend to injured soldiers on the side of the enemy, the letter is easy to place in Mary’s lifetime.

It would have been signed just after the birth of her son and attempt by her husband Lord Darnley to take the throne.

The letter says surgeons must always be “present with our armies ready to do their cure and duty to all sick persons”.

In 1864, the Geneva Convention aimed to protect victims of armed conflicts by resting the rules of international law.

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