22nd November 1545 – Death of Sir William Butts, Henry VIII’s Physician

Sir William ButtsOn this day in history, 22nd November 1545, Henry VIII’s trusted physician, Sir William Butts, died at Fulham Manor, Middlesex, after suffering from a “dooble febre quartanz” – sounds nasty!

Sir William 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.

Butts was buried in a tomb against the south wall of All Saints Church, Fulham, but his tomb and brass were later destroyed. In 1627, his epitaph (a slab with verses by Sir John Cheke) was restored by Leonard Butts of Norfolk.

Here are some facts about Butts and some of them are Anne Boleyn related:-

  • Butts had Reformist sympathies
  • Henry VIII sent Butts to Hever Castle to treat Anne Boleyn when she had sweating sickness in June 1528. Butts also took a love letter from Henry with him.
  • He tried to convert some of the monks of Syon Abbey who were refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church
  • Butts used his influence to advance the likes of Hugh Latimer and Sir John Cheke
  • Eric Ives writes of how Butts acted as Anne Boleyn’s “talent spotter”, helping Anne to choose her chaplains “from the most promising young reformist scholars, particularly from Cambridge” and his old college there, Gonville Hall. He introduced Hugh Latimer to Anne and Latimer became one of Anne Boleyn’s chaplains. You can read more about Anne Boleyn’s household in my article “Anne Boleyn’s Household”.
  • Felicity Heal writes of how French reformer, Nicolas Bourbon, approaches Butts for help in 1535 after he was forced to flee because of his beliefs. Butts told Anne Boleyn and she employed Bourbon as a tutor.
  • Henry VIII discussed his difficulties in consumating 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”.

Notes and Sources

  • Nasim T’s Twitter – Thanks to Nasim for reminding me about William Butts today! See http://twitter.com/#!/NasimT
  • C. T. Martin, Rachel E. Davies, ‘Butts, Sir William (c.1485–1545)’, rev. Rachel E. Davies, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p266
  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, David Starkey
  • Reformation in Britain and Ireland, Felicity Heal, p228

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7 thoughts on “22nd November 1545 – Death of Sir William Butts, Henry VIII’s Physician”
  1. Poor Doctor Butts. Taking a look at his patients, he really wasn’t all that successful! Thanks for this. Claire, my email account was hacked yesterday and I lost all addresses so I have had not way except FB to contact people. Please disregard any plea for $$ from me! I’m NOT in London–you would be the first to know if I were in England!! 🙂 Anyway, sorry for any inconvenience–it’s been a royal pain!

    1. Anne Barnhill says:

      November 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Poor Doctor Butts. Taking a look at his patients, he really wasn’t all that successful!


      How Dr Butts and his colleagues kept Henry VIII alive for as long as they did was quite an achievement.

  2. Was he the doctor who was put in charge of Jane Seymour when she was in labour with Edward?

    Oh dear, either way he didn’t seem to have a very good success rate did he :S

    1. Hi Cassie,
      Yes, he was one of the royal physicians at that time, along with Thomas Linacre, Water Cromar, George Owens and John Chambre. Most historians put Jane’s death down to puerperal fever but some believe that it could have been due to a retained placenta or an infection picked up during the birth. Poor Jane and the poor doctors who must have been in a bit of a panic!

  3. I see that Doctor Butts had The Duke of Norfolk amongst his patients – well he must have looked after him quite well, because he lived to be over eighty!. He also spent all of Edward VI’s reign as a prisoner in The Tower. It has been said of him that he had the constitution of an oxl, although he is said to have often complained about his health Perhaps he would have survived whoever his doctor was!.

  4. Medical knowledge was very basic in tudor times, and relied heavily on plants/herbs, and as we know some plants are very toxic, and dosage was guess work. Ideas on treating conditions were often counterproductive, for example keeping patients with fever warm and not letting them drink, apparently if they dont drink they dont sweat! bleeding people when already weak, and of course little if no understanding of hygene and the transference of germs through touch. It is suprizing in these circumstances that any on survived at all. Dr. Butts seems to be a cut above the rest maybe, or just lucky, that when he treated Henry that it did more good than harm. Hats off to him… at least he survived Henry’s rule.

  5. I am happy to find this info for I ve always been told my grand-mother is a descendent of Sir William Butts. She was nee Caroline Butt from Bay of Islands Nfld. I also have paper data reffering to Sir Williams visit to Nfld.

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