Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Butts, William

BUTTS, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1545), physician to Henry VIII, was born in Norfolk, and educated at Gonville Hall, Cambridge, being admitted to the degrees of B. A. in 1506, M.A. 1509, and M.D. 1518. In the following year he applied for incorporation into the university of Oxford, but Wood could find no record of his incorporation. In 1524 he took a lease of St. Mary's Hostel, and was therefore probably principal of the house (Athenæ Cantab.) ; but he was at the same time practising his profession among the nobility, and from that time to his death he was constantly employed as physician at the court. The king, his queens, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, the Princess Mary, afterwards Queen Mary, the king's natural son, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke of Norfolk, Sir Thomas Lovell, George Boleyn, and Lord Rochford, are all known to have been his patients. As physician to the king his salary was 100l. a year, afterwards increased by forty marks, and an additional 20l. for attending on the young Duke of Richmond. He was also knighted. As physician to the Princess Mary he received a livery of blue and green damask for himself and two servants, and cloth for an apothecary. His wife was also in the princess's service as one of her gentlewomen, and her portrait was painted by Holbein. The finished picture was exhibited in 1866 at the Royal Academy, and the sketch is at Windsor. It is engraved by Bartolozzi in 'The Court of Henry VIII.' It may fairly be said that the princess owed her life to her physician. Not only did he exert his professional skill in her behalf, but having good reason to suspect that there were plots to poison her, he frightened her governess, Lady Shelton, by telling her that it was commonly reported in London that she was guilty of this crime, and so made her doubly careful of her charge for her own sake. Some writers have spoken of him as being one of the founders of the College of Physicians, but this is an error. The college was founded in 1528, and he did not join till 1529. He does not seem to have held any collegiate office, but he was held in such esteem that he is entered in their books as 'vir gravis, eximia literarum ognitione, singular, judicio, summa experientia et prudentia consilio doctor.'

This praise refers more particularly to his medical life ; but he was a patron of other branches of learning, and a man whose influence with the king was invariably directed to good purposes. When Wolsey was in disgrace Butts tried to reconcile the king to him, and his interposition in favour of Archbishop Cranmer is well known to readers of Shakespeare (Hen. VIII. act v. sc. ii.) In religious matters his sympathies were with the reformation. He attempted in person to convert some of the monks of Sion who refused to acknowledge the king's supremacy, and two men, both prominent reformers, one on the side of religion and the other on the side of learning, Hugh Latimer and Sir John Cheke, both owed their advancement to him. He died 22 Nov. 1545, and was buried at Fulham church. His tomb was against the south wall, close to the altar, and formerly possessed a brass representing him in armour, with a shield bearing his arms : azure, three lozenges gules on a chevron or, between three estoiles or, and a scroll inscribed with the words 'Myn advantage.' Beneath it was a Latin epitaph in elegiacs by his friend Cheke. The tomb and brass are destroyed, but a slab with Cheke's verses, and an inscription stating that it was restored by Leonard Butts of Norfolk in 1627, is inserted in the wall of the tower. The epitaph gives the date of death as 17 Nov., 22 Nov. being found in both inquisitions. The figures had perhaps become nearly illegible and were wrongly restored. All the authors who mention the date of death copy this mistake. He married Margaret Bacon, of Cambridgeshire, and left three sons : Sir William, of Thornage, Norfolk; Thomas, of Great Riburgh, Norfolk, and Edmund, of Barrow, Suffolk. Sir William, junior, was not killed at the battle of Musselburgh, as Blomefield says, but lived till 1583. The epitaphs on him were collected and printed by R. Dallington. Edmund alone had issue, one daughter, who married Sir Nicholas Bacon, eldest son of Sir Nicholas, keeper of the great seal. His will at Somerset House and the inquisitions taken after his death show that he possessed houses at Fulham, and on the site of the White Friars, London, the manors of Thornage, Thornham, Edgefield, and Melton Constable, in Norfolk, and Panyngton, in Suffolk. Other lands with which the king rewarded him had been disposed of before his death. Sir William Butts was twice painted by Holbein. The portrait which belonged to William H. Pole Carew, of Antony, Cornwall, was exhibited at Burlington House in 1866; it ranks among the very best of the genuine works of the painter. The National Portrait Gallery possesses a copy of it. The other portrait of him is in the picture of the delivery of the charter to the barber surgeons, engraved by Baron. Many of his prescriptions, some devised in consultation with Drs. Chambers, Cromer, and Augustine, are preserved in Sloane MS., No. 1047, in the British Museum. There are three epigrams on him (Nos. 48, 49, 100) in Parkhurst's collection.

[Cal. of State Papers of Hen. VIII, vols. iv.–vii.; State Papers, Hen. VIII, i. 299, 311, 572, ix. 170, xi. 59; Strype's Cranmer, 179; Eccl. Mem. I. ii. 461, I. i. 261, III. i. 514; Cheke, 166; Wood's Athen. Oxon. i. 244, Fasti, i. 50; Wright's Suppression of the Monasteries, 49 (Camden Soc.); Madden's Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary; Blomefield's Norfolk; Foxe's Acts and Mons. (ed. 1838), v. 605, vii. 454, 461, 773, viii. 25–34; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. i. 87, 535; Goodall's Royal College of Physicians; Munk's Coll. of Phys.; Granger's Biog. Hist. i. 76, 109; Inq. p. m. 37 Hen. VIII, pt. i. Nos. 50, 75; Patent Rolls, 28–38 Hen. VIII.]

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