Cathy McClive

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline History
Lecturer in the Department of History, Durham University

Research project

Identifying the Experts: The Trials of Medical Practitioners in the Ancien Régime Courtroom: Lyon, 1670-1789


In the present day we often take the concept of medical expertise for granted. That is to say, we depend upon a qualified body of experts whose legitimate knowledge and expert status inform judges, juries and wider society. The questioning of expert medical testimony in recent high-profile cases, such as those involving former British Home Office pathologist Dr Freddy Patel, reveals that the basis of professional expertise is much more uncertain than we might think. What makes an expert? When should her/his evidence be relied upon, when should it be questioned and by whom? How far is expertise affected by things like the status and gender of the expert and the bodily evidence?


The basis of this application is that an historical approach to medical expertise can make a valuable contribution to our understanding of the related issues in both past societies and our own. The fellowship will be used to conduct a case study of medical expertise in eighteenth-century Lyon. The study will be guided by issues as relevant in the eighteenth century as they are today. Medico-legal experts now, as in eighteenth-century France, carry the responsibilityof interpreting medical evidence within a specific legal framework and conveying their conclusions to the court in a convincing and authoritative manner. Now, as in the eighteenth century, decisions about the future of victims/defendants are often made by judges or juries on the basis of this evidence. The smooth running of this system depends on the legitimacy of the expert’s knowledge and expert status and their ability to successfully perform the role of medico-legal expert in the judicial arena, negotiating the acceptance of their expertise by judges, juries, jurists, lay witnesses and wider society. If their expert status is revealed to be fraudulent, or their expertise based on a mistaken assessment of the evidence, the consequences can involve tragic miscarriages of justice. This may not go as far as the execution of an innocent person as in ancien régime France, but could and still does lead to wrongful imprisonment.


The Lyon case study has been chosen because of the importance of the city as a provincial medical centre and because of the survival of an exceptional body of legal and medical documentary material. This case study will be the first step in a long-term project examining medical expertise in ancien régime France. 



Cathy McClive specialises in the social and cultural history of medicine, gender and sexuality in early modern France. Her doctoral work on perceptions of menstruation in France c. 1495-1761 has generated numerous articles and essays, and is currently being revised for publication as a monograph. Her new project, supported by a British Acadmy grant, explores notions of expertise and the figure of the medical-expert witness in civil and criminal proceedings in ancien-regime France. She is also interested in life-cyles, sexuality and fertility and false conceptions.

Selected publications


Blood, Menstruation and Gender in Early Modern France (forthcoming, Ashgate).


Co-edited with Nicole Pellegrin, Femmes en fleurs, femmes en corps : sang, santé, sexualités du moyen âge aux lumières, Presses Universitaires de Saint-Étienne, Saint-Étienne, 2010.


'Masculinity on Trial: Penises, Hermaphrodites and the Uncertain Male Body in Early Modern France', History Workshop Journal, vol. 68, 2009, pp. 45-68.


'Blood and Expertise: The Trials of the Female Medical Expert in the Ancien Régime Courtroom', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 82, no. 1, 2008, pp. 86-108.


'The Hidden Truths of the Belly: The Uncertainties of Pregnancy in Early Modern Europe', Social History of Medicine, vol. 15, no. 2, 2002, pp. 209-227.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Political Science
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Literature
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Literature