The Tudor Society

6 October – John Caius, royal physician, and sweating sickness

On this day in Tudor history, 6th October 1510, John Caius was born at Norwich.

Caius was a theological scholar, founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, royal physician (to Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) and author of a book on sweating sickness.

In today's "on this day" talk, I give an overview of John Caius' life and career, as well as sharing some of what he wrote on sweating sickness, that mystery Tudor illness.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 6th October 1536, reformer, scholar and Bible translator William Tyndale was executed. One of Tyndale's works had helped King Henry VIII while another incurred the king's wrath and led to Tyndale's execution. Why? What happened? Find out in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1557 – Death of John Capon (also known as John Salcot), former Benedictine monk and Bishop of Salisbury, probably from influenza. He was buried in the choir at Salisbury Cathedral. He appeared to have reformist leanings in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, but became a conservative Catholic again in Mary I's reign, and was involved in the examination of those deemed to be heretics.


On this day in Tudor history, 6th October 1510, John Caius, spelled CAIUS but pronounced Keys, was born at Norwich.
Caius was a theological scholar and founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. But he also served as royal physician to Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, and wrote a book on sweating sickness. Let me tell you a bit more about this Tudor man.
• John was the son of Robert Caius and his wife, Alice Wode.
• He was educated at Norwich School and then at what was known as Gonville Hall, Cambridge, where he studied theology, being influenced by the works of the famous Humanist, Erasmus. He was gifted at languages and studied Hebrew and translated Greek works into Latin.
• In 1533, John became Principal of Physwick’s Hall and then fellow of Gonville Hall.
• It is not clear when he became interested in medicine, but in 1539 he set off for Italy, where he studied medicine at Padua, where he would have learned the principles of the Greek physician Galen. At Padua, John shared a house with the famous 16th century Flemish anatomist, physician and author, Andreas Vesalius, who was teaching anatomy at Padua.
• Caius graduated in May 1541 and lectured on Aristotle’s logic at Padua before moving to Pisa to study and then travelling around the important libraries of Italy looking at Greek manuscripts on medicine and philosophy.
• Caius published a collection of Galenic texts in Greek at Basel in 1544, along with his own work “De methodo medendi”, which was based on what he’d been taught at Padua by his professor, Johannes Baptista Montanus. He then returned home to England.
• In 1546, he was appointed by King Henry VIII to start a series of anatomical demonstrations for the London Barber Surgeons, which he did for 20 years, and in 1547 he became a fellow of the London College of Physicians .
• In the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I, Caius served as president of the College of Physicians on several occasions. He made a living from working as a physician in London and at court, attending Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
• His financial support of the College of Physicians led to the refurbishment of the tomb of its founder Thomas Linacre at St Paul’s, and he also used his wealth to enlarge, convert and refound Gonville Hall as Gonville and Caius College in 1557. He became master of the college in 1559.
• Caius was a religious conservative and hoarded religious relics at his college. In 1572, his room was ransacked and his collection burned and smashed. Caius retired to London and died at his house near St Bartholomew’s Hospital on 29th July 1573. He left his library and property to the college he’d founded, with instructions for a tomb to be built for him in the college chapel. His tomb can still be seen there today, with its Latin inscriptions which translate to 'virtue lives beyond the grave' and 'I was Caius'.
• His works include a history of Cambridge University, translations of Galen’s works, and works on the Greek and Latin languages, Caius was also interested in zoology and was a keen naturalist. He wrote a book on British dogs and also rare plants and animals. Caius also wrote a book on sweating sickness, in which he noted that the illness was not entirely new, but that it: “hath been before seen among the Greeks in the siege of Troy. In the emperor Octavius’ wars at Cantabria, called now Biscay, in Hispain: and in the Turks, at the Rhodes.” He also listed its main symptoms and wrote of how “he would have named the disease “Ephemera of Englande”, an ephemera being “a fever of one natural day”, rather than simply “sweating sickness”, because this disease only affected people for up to twenty-four hours and was “no sweat only” but a fever”.

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6 October – John Caius, royal physician, and sweating sickness