John Caius

Summary

John Caius (Norwich, October 6, 1510 – London, July 29, 1573) was an English academic and physician.He was the second founder of what is now Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, co-named after him.

Youth

Caius was born in Norwich and received his early education at Norwich School. In 1529 he was admitted as a student at what was then Gonville Hall in Cambridge, founded by Edmund Gonville in 1348, where he seems to have studied mainly theology. After graduating in 1533, he went to Italy, where he studied under the celebrated masters Montano and Vesalio at Padua. In 1541 he received his medical degree from the University of Padua.

In 1543 he visited different parts of Italy, Germany and France and then returned to England. Upon his return from Italy he Latinized his surname, according to a fashion of the time.

Career

From 1547 Caius practiced medicine in London, where he was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Physicians, of which he was president for many years.

In 1557 Caius, at that time physician to Queen Mary, enlarged his old college by the construction of an entire new wing, changing its name from “Gonville Hall” to “Gonville and Caius College,” and endowed it with numerous considerable properties. He accepted the office of rector of the college on January 24, 1559, on the death of Dr. Bacon, and held it until about a month before his death.

He was physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. From this position he was dismissed in 1568 because of his adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. He was incongruously accused both of atheism and of secretly keeping a collection of ornaments and vestments of Roman Catholic use. These were found and burned in the College Court.

He was elected nine times president of the Royal College of Physicians, of which, in the Annales collegii medicorum 1520-1565, he left a manuscript account.

He returned to Cambridge from London for a few days in June 1573, about a month before his death, and resigned. He died at his London home, at St Bartholomew”s Hospital, on 29 July 1573. His body was taken to Cambridge and buried in the chapel beneath the monument he designed.

The question of whether John Caius was the inspiration for the character of Dr. Caius in Shakespeare”s play The Merry Wives of Windsor has been discussed at length by Arnold McNair, First Baron McNair.

Caius was an educated, active and benevolent man. In 1557 he erected a monument in St Paul”s Cathedral to the memory of Thomas Linacre. In 1564 he obtained a grant for Gonville and Caius College to take the bodies of two malefactors each year for dissection; he was thus an important pioneer in the advancement of the science of anatomy. He probably devised, and certainly presented, the silver caduceus now in the possession of Caius College as part of its insignia.

Caius was also a pioneering naturalist, ready to make his own observations of nature rather than simply relying on accepted authorities. He was willing to make trips around the country to see and record unusual animals. As such, he could also be considered a pioneer of zoology, not yet recognized as a science in its own right.

He corresponded with the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, with whom he had befriended on his return from Padua. He wrote a study on British dogs to be sent to Gesner as a contribution (not used) to the Historiae animalium of the Swiss naturalist. He also sent Gesner drawings of dogs that were printed in later editions of the work. The Catholic religious convictions of Caius did not prevent his friendship with the Protestant Gesner (in fact, the Historiae Animalium, to which Caius contributed, was included under Pope Paul IV in the index of forbidden books of the Roman Catholic Church).

His last literary production was the History of the University of Cambridge, Historia Cantabrigiensis Academiae (London, 1574).

Sources

  1. John Caius
  2. John Caius