The Physician of London

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON is the colorful sequel to Cowell’s earlier work, NICHOLAS COOKE (1993). She continues the life story of priest and physician Nicholas Cooke during the reigns of the early Stuart kings. Although Nick and his brilliant wife, Cecilia, are fictional characters, many of their friends and acquaintances actually lived, including the great physician, William Harvey; Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud; and Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford.

The novel opens in 1617 in London, where Nicholas serves as priest and physician in a small parish. He lives alone and devotes his energy to scientific research, as well as serving his parish and patients. One winter’s day, he is called to assist a young man, Thomas Wentworth, who has fallen from his horse. Their meeting initiates a friendship that lasts twenty-four years, during which Tom Wentworth becomes one of the most powerful men in England.

Their friendship is tested by personal conflict and political strife. When Nicholas marries Cecilia, Tom is also attracted to her and they have a brief affair. Nick’s discovery of the betrayal by his wife and his best friend leave him in agony and pain. Yet his commitment to his Christian faith and his love for them motivate him to forgive their transgressions.

Political events place both men in danger and draw them closer to each other because of their common goal. The bitter conflict between the Anglicans and Puritans, the struggle for power between the landowners and crown, and the devastation of the English Civil War all lead Nick and Tom to work for preservation of the monarchy. Their friendship ends when Tom is executed for his loyalty to the king. Yet Nick’s love for Tom endures and inspires him to continue to fight for their shared ideals.

THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON is exciting and satisfying historical fiction. Cowell weaves an intricate tapestry of love, faith, commitment, and political intrigue into a powerful portrayal of life in post-Shakespearean England. Although the story is set in the 1600’s, the appeal is timeless.