What kind of prosthetic technology would be available to a wealthy but rural aristocratic person without a leg and how would it affect their social standing? The time era is sort of pre-Elizabethan, but as it is fictional I can change certain aspects of it to fit the medical aspects of amputation if necessary.

The leg is removed from the knee down following an infection.

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    $\begingroup$ How much of the leg is missing? How did it go missing as well. That might have a bigger impact on his social standing then the wound itself. $\endgroup$
    – Mormacil
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ If you look up Götz von Berlichingen, you will find that a lot was possible in medieval times. And what @Mormacil said. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ It would only be from the knee down, and was lost due to an injury that became infected. $\endgroup$
    – user36787
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ One take on this, early 19th Century, is the ballad "Faithless Nelly Gray" by Thomas Hood: poemhunter.com/poem/faithless-nelly-gray: "Ben Battle was a soldier bold, and used to war's alarms; but a cannon ball took off his legs, so he laid down his arms." $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ prosthetics got pretty advanced, the most famous prosthetic, hooks and pegs were make for pirates by whatever the ships carpenter could scrounge up and thus are poor representations of the technology available. real advancement started in the 15th century with springs and gearing. The real limit was the wealth of the amputee. wellcomecollection.org/sites/default/files/styles/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


It's sad that this is before Victorian, because those fellows could amputate well and quickly--we are talking half a minute to 2 minutes for the really practiced ones. Pre-Elizabethan doctors were not so well versed in the art of amputation, because the autopsy craze hadn't taken hold, and that's where a lot of Victorians learned how--on cadavers. During the Pre-Elizabethan times, there would be less opportunity to practice such a thing.

Let's take your second question: How would it effect their social standing?

Depends on several factors. If they were injured in war--or if the story of that injury is a good one rather than a mundane one (I tripped on the stairs and it got infected vs. epic fight with a boar. It took my leg, but I ate it. Vengeance is savory!) Injury in war can actually raise their standing because they gave to their country.

However, it means that they will be looking for ways to be useful in battle. They'd want to do mounted combat, of course, and will want to be in battle to prove themselves.

Since this isn't a birth defect, it might not harm their standing at all, as long as they produce heirs and or otherwise upstanding. If they are not upstanding (no pun intended) then this weakness will be used to further denigrate their reputation.

Socially it would hurt them for activities involving walking, though they may work to be able to do those just as easily.

Now let's look at question 1: What would be available to this fellow to replace the leg.

That's going to greatly depend on finding a craftsmen. Today prosthetics are many and varied, but they often come from the same manufacturers, but back then, you would engage a specific craftsmen to do the work.

This is going to be limited by the fact that amputations that the person actually lived through were relatively RARE, because there's more to it than simply lopping off the limb--you've got to tie off blood vessels, leave extra skin to close it up, be careful where you cut. At the time you are talking about, most would be dead.

So because it's rare, there aren't likely to be people who are specialists in prosthetics. During America's Civil War for instance, there were enough amputees that a specialist business grew up out of it, but your noble is more likely to hire a craftsmen they know, or send for one at great expense who has been known to do such a job in the past.

Materials used, and the people hired include woodworkers, armorers and leather workers. There's evidence that wood and metal might be used together in order to fit on to the stump.

If you are wondering about a hinge or anything--while it could be possible, during this era it's not common. Possible, if the person in question pays a lot and gets the most advanced thing. Here's a snippet on the most advanced during that time period:

Early 1500s

In 1508, German mercenary Gotz von Berlichingen had a pair of technologically advanced iron hands made after he lost his right arm in the Battle of Landshut. The hands could be manipulated by setting them with the natural hand and moved by relaxing a series of releases and springs while being suspended with leather straps.

Around 1512, an Italian surgeon traveling in Asia recorded observations of a bilateral upper extremity amputee who was able to remove his hat, open his purse, and sign his name. Another story surfaced about a silver arm that was made for Admiral Barbarossa, who fought the Spaniards in Bougie, Algeria, for a Turkish sultan.

History Prosthetics 04Mid- to late 1500s

French Army barber/surgeon Ambroise Paré...invented an above-knee device that was a kneeling peg leg and foot prosthesis that had a fixed position, adjustable harness, knee lock control and other engineering features that are used in today’s devices. His work showed the first true understanding of how a prosthesis should function. A colleague of Paré’s, Lorrain, a French locksmith, offered one of the most important contributions to the field when he used leather, paper and glue in place of heavy iron in making a prosthesis. SOURCE

As you can see springs and hinges were possible for knee joint action and this gives you an idea of the materials used.

EDIT: By Knee Joint action, I just mean that the knee joint can be adjusted manually. It would not actually work like a regular knee during this time period, although there might be an adjustable hinge.


There are several types of early prostheses in history, showing that it would be possible to create one for most part of the foot and leg.

Egyptian toe prosthesis (pre 600 BCE)

Exquisitely crafted from cartonnage (a sort of papier maché mixture made using linen, glue and plaster) the Greville Chester toe dates from before 600 BC and comes in the shape of the right big toe and a portion of the right foot.

Capua leg (300 BCE)

The Capua leg is an artificial leg, found in a grave in Capua, Italy. Dating from 300 BC, the leg is one of the earliest known prosthetic limbs. The limb was kept at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, but was destroyed in World War II during an air raid. A copy of the limb is held at the Science Museum, London.

Medieval foot (6th century CE)

a burial of a middle-aged man who died in the 6th century A.D. He was laid to rest with a short sword and a brooch and his skeleton was fully intact except for his left foot and ankle, which had been replaced with a prosthetic device.

Brief History of Prosthetics (from 424 BCE to near modern times)

The Dark Ages (476 to 1000)

The Dark Ages saw little advancement in prosthetics other than the hand hook and peg leg. Most prostheses of the time were made to hide deformities or injuries sustained in battle. A knight would be fitted with a prosthesis that was designed only to hold a shield or for a leg to appear in the stirrups, with little attention to functionality. Outside of battle, only the wealthy were lucky enough to be fitted with a peg leg or hand hook for daily function.

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    $\begingroup$ Despite the source being pretty good, the oldest clock still around was built around the 1300s--there are other timekeeping devices, but geared devices were not common from 476-1000. That is to say that there are not really any watchmakers in this time. During the 1500s the earliest known handheld watches were developed, which is right about the time of Queen Elizabeth or a little prior. You have watchmaking as a thing under The Dark Ages, and that's not really accurate. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby thanks, I did wonder but had no time to go research that. $\endgroup$
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ I looked at the source and I think they are missing a time period heading, and that's why. That last paragraph in that section is likely supposed to go under 1000-1400. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Erin thanks, I'll edit to remove it. $\endgroup$
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 13:35

The only prosthetic leg available in Medieval Europe was the pegleg.

Having a prosthesis shouldn't impact social standing, unless the story of how they acquired it was particularly scandalous.


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