©Wellcome Library, London

The Daughters of Charity were founded in 1633 by a French priest, Vincent de Paul (1580-1660) and a noblewoman, Louise de Marillac (1591-1660). In contrast to the wealthier cloistered nuns the sisters were not fully admitted to Holy Orders. They were taught a range of nursing skills as well as spiritual duties. In 1700, an anonymous physician of St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, praised the order. ‘When one hears of the work of Monsieur de Paul in Paris, it is impossible to be satisfied with the nursing in England, even in so great a hospital as this. The rise of our English Church ended the old monastery nursing, and ... there has been no good attention paid to the patients either in their care, housing or feeding. Indeed, one feels that had we had nurses such as they now have in Paris, the physician would have been forced to pay more attention to his patients, and less to his experiments. Monsieur de Paul's system ... has provided probably the finest nursing service anywhere in the world - and certainly better than that which existed here even under the monastery law; for sisters who were also members of a Holy Order had, of necessity, to divide their time between the patients, and regular and frequent prayers'.

Line engraving by Claude Duflos (1665-1727).