Peter and Hugh Chamberlen

Peter John Chamberlen

b 1601 d 1683

Hugh Chamberlen (the elder)

b 1630 - 1720

Hugh Chamberlen

b 1664 - 1728

Woodham Mortimer Hall

Peter Chamberlen was born on 8 May 1601 at Blackfriars, London as the oldest son in a wealthy family.

Several generations of his family were physicians.

Their family secret was the invention of forceps for use in difficult deliveries that had been invented by Peters's grandfather.

At that time forceps were crude hooks and were used to extract dead babies as they would kill live babies before they could be delivered.

Peter gained a MD at Cambridge University and became an eminent Doctor being made the physician to King Charles I and later to King Charles II.

During his life Peter had two wives and 18 children, the best known of which was his son Hugh.

For their times the Chamberlen family were radical thinkers proposing a number of schemes some of which were practical and some less so.

In Chamberlen's time midwives were not regulated and received no formal training.

In most cases they were appointed by the Church. Chamberlen caused a furore by suggesting that Midwives be forced to join a College and receive training.

This was strongly opposed by midwives and church alike.

The midwives believed that their experience was better than training and the church was concerned at the loss of revenue from the midwives

In the 1640's Peter became religiously minded and embraced the new evangelical religion.

He still continued to make his views felt about subjects of the day and supported Cromwell and the long Parliament.

On the accession of Charles II he was expelled from the College of Physicians but this was short lived and on reinstatement he was appointed as physician to King Charles II.

Expulsion from the College seemed to have affected Peter as he sold his house in London and bought Woodham Mortimer Hall as the family home.

Woodham Mortimer was within a days ride of London but away from involvement in politics.

New inventions and ideas kept flowing and rumours of his madness grew to the extent that he was forced to publish an article designed to prove that he was sane.

He died on 16 December 1683 at his Woodham Mortimer home and was buried in the adjoining cemetery.


Hugh Chamberlen followed his fathers footsteps in becoming a physician and like his father was appointed as physician to King Charles II.

He gained praise for staying in London during the Plague unlike most Physicians who left the Capital.

By this time other physicians were experimenting with forceps and High Junior journeyed to France where he made an unsuccessful attempt to sell the secret of the forceps.

He moved on to Brussels where we was successful in selling the secret to two eminent Doctors.

On his return to England he used his family flair for language to translate a French medical textbook called the accomplished midwife into English at which point it became a best seller further adding to his reputation and wealth.

Hugh Chamberlen junior was born in 1664 and obtained his MD at Trinity College

Unlike his controversial father and grandfather young Hugh married well and moved in society to the extent that he was appointed as a censor.

He continued to prosper to the extent that on his death a memorial Tablet was erected in Westminster Abbey.

Although he married three times Hugh only had daughters and so the family secret use of forceps stopped with  Hugh.


In 1813 the owner of Woodham Mortimer House noticed a loose floorboard and on checking found a small hiding hole.

This contained the Chamberlen family secret ie three sets of forceps

History will judge the actions of the Chamberlen family who achieved considerable wealth by use of the forceps which they kept secret for four generations.

As a result many women and children dies from difficult childbirth who would have survived had the Chamberlen's shared their secret.

Fortunately by the death of Hugh Junior similar designs were becoming available