The first English hospitals appeared soon after the Norman Conquest. By the year 1300 they numbered over 500, caring for the sick and needy at every level of society - from the gentry and clergy to pilgrims, travellers, beggars and lepers. Excluded from towns, but placed by main highways where they could gather alms, they had a complex relationship with medieval society: cherished yet marginalised, self-contained yet also parasitic. This book - the first general history of medieval and Tudor hospitals in eighty-five years - traces when and why they originated and follows their development through the crisis periods of the Black Death and the English Reformation when many disappeared. Nicholas Orme and Margaret Webster explore the hospitals' religious, charitable and medical functions, examine their buildings, staffing and finances, and analyse their inmates in terms of social background and medical needs. They reconstruct the daily life of hospitals, from worship to living conditions, food and care. The general survey is complemented by a regional study of hospitals in the south-west of England, including detailed histories of all the recorded institutions in Cornwall and Devon. 'A major and most accomplished work, the first reliable, methodical and total treatment of medieval English hospitals ever written.' - Barrie Dobson, Professor of Medieval History, Cambridge University.