The Tudor Society

22 November – Sir William Butts, royal physician and confidant

On this day in Tudor history, 22nd November 1545, Henry VIII’s trusted physician and confidant, Sir William Butts, died after suffering from a “dooble febre quartanz”, a form of malaria.

Sir William Butts was the doctor who was sent to treat Anne Boleyn, when she was ill with sweating sickness, and also advised on Princess Mary's sickness, and was the man King Henry VIII confided in about his problems consummating his marriage to Anne of Cleves. He was obviously a man the king could trust.

Find out more about this Tudor physician in today's talk, with help from Teasel the dog.

Also on this day in history:


On this day in Tudor history, 22nd November 1545, Henry VIII’s trusted physician, Sir William Butts, died at Fulham Manor, Middlesex, after suffering from a “dooble febre quartanz”, a form of malaria.

Let me tell you a bit more about this royal physician...

Sir William Butts was born in Norwich around 1485 and was the son of John Butts, auditor of Crown revenues.
He was educated at Gonville Hall, Cambridge, and in 1516 married Margaret Bacon, who went on to serve in the household of Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The couple had 4 children.

Butts acted as a royal physician at the court of Henry VIII from 1528 until his death. His patients included the King himself, queens Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, the Lady Mary (Mary I), Henry Fitzroy the Duke of Richmond, George Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey and the Duke of Norfolk. In 1528, when Anne Boleyn was suffering from sweating Sickness at Hever Castle, Butts was sent by the king to treat Anne, and to take a love letter to her from the king. When Anne became queen, Butts, who had reformist sympathies, acted as what historian Eric Ives describes as her “talent spotter”, helping her find and employ reformist scholars as her chaplains. He also helped advance men like Hugh Latimer and Sir John Cheke. Felicity Heal writes of how French reformer, Nicolas Bourbon, approached Butts for help in 1535 after he was forced to flee France because of his beliefs. Butts told Anne Boleyn and she employed Bourbon as a tutor for her ward, Henry Carey.

In December 1534, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, recorded how Henry VIII sent Butts to see the eighteen year-old Princess Mary who had fallen ill, “intimating that nothing would grieve him so much as the loss of his daughter”. Mary was at this time in her younger half-sister Elizabeth’s household. Chapuys recorded how Butts told the king that the princess’s illness “was partly the result of the worry and extreme annoyance to which she had been subjected”. Butts apparently advised that the princess should be reunited with her mother, and that she “might live there at less expense, be more honourably treated, and recover more surely, and besides, that in case of mishap (which may God forbid), all suspicion of foul play might be removed by the presence of so many witnesses”. However, although the king agreed that Butts was right in what he said, “there was one great drawback in such a plan, which was that were the Princess sent to reside with her mother, it would be impossible for him to bring her to his wishes, and make her renounce her legitimacy and her right to the succession.” Oh well, Butts tried to do his best by Mary.
Following the break with Rome, Butts also tried to convert some of the monks of Syon Abbey who were refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church.

In 1540, King Henry VIII discussed his difficulties in consummating his marriage to Anne of Cleves with Butts and Dr John Chamber, explaining that “he found her body in such sort disordered and indisposed to excite and provoke any lust in him”. He also confided in Butts that he’d had two wet dreams and believed “himself able to do the act with others but not with her.” The marriage was later annulled due partly to this lack of consummation.

Butts was knighted by King Henry VIII in 1544 but died on this day in 1545. He was buried in a tomb against the south wall of All Saints Church, Fulham, near to the altar, and his brass depicted him wearing armour, with a shield showing his arms and a scroll with the words “myn advantage” on it. However, his tomb and brass were later destroyed. In 1627, his epitaph (a slab with verses by Sir John Cheek) was restored by Leonard Butts of Norfolk, a desendant.

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