Thomas Muffet & The College of Physicians: A Battle for Power
Haverford College. Department of History
Place of Publication
Table of Contents
Haverford users only until 2058-01-01, afterwards Open Access.
Thomas Muffet, the 16th century English natural philosopher, is best known today for the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet. He apparently wrote it about his daughter. Some people have even suggested that the poem refers to Muffet’s experiments on his daughter with spiders, which led to her being deathly afraid of spiders for the rest of her life. Despite the wide acceptance of these claims, there is no historical evidence to support any of them. Whether or not Muffet had anything to do with the actual writing of the poem, it is undeniably linked to him. He is little more that a footnote in the history books. Muffet’s absence from history demonstrates a shift in the intellectual authority of the time and the rise of the institution. Power shifted from natural philosophers backed by wealthy nobility to natural philosophers backed by an institution.