On this day in Tudor history, 22nd November 1545, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Sir William Butts died after suffering from a “dooble febre quartanz”, a form of malaria.

Sir William Butts was a royal physician and Henry VIII sent him to Hever Castle in 1528 to treat his sweetheart Anne Boleyn when she was ill with sweating sickness. Anne made a complete recovery.

Butts also advised on Princess Mary’s ill-health and was the man Henry VIII confided in about his problems consummating his marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. He was obviously a man the king could trust.

Find out more about this Tudor physician…

You may also enjoy my video “Did Anne Boleyn get sweating sickness?”:


Sir William Butts, royal physician

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.

Sir William Butts and his royal patients

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.

Sir William Butts and Princess Mary

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.

Butts and Henry VIII’s problems with Anne of Cleves

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 descendant.

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One thought on “November 22 – The doctor who treated Anne Boleyn when she had sweating sickness”
  1. John Cauis the physician noted that this strange and terrifying disease affected young wealthy men more than any other age group, or gender and when we look at the courtiers who were affected mostly they were all males, it certainly filled the king with horror and it was wonderful seeing his letters to Anne Claire, well done, also yes his distraught one to his beloved on hearing she had fallen sick is surely proof of the terror he was feeling for her very life hung in the balance, he sat down to write at his desk and his hand must have shook as he applied quill to parchment, the frantic scrawl of his sentences and blobs of ink testify to his state of mind, he sent his second best doctor Dr Butts to attend her, (one wonders what the doctor thought of that ) ! and I can imagine the king haranguing his physician as he mounted his horse in the courtyard red in the face and flustered as he pleaded with him to save his sweethearts life, poor Butts, imagine the pressure he was under! However as history knows Anne Boleyn did indeed survive, ‘to put all England in a bruit’ and her brother and father survived to, George being at court at the time but the other family member, William Carey husband of Mary Boleyn succumbed to the disease and died leaving a young widow with two children, two and four, the symptoms sound extremely unpleasant muscle aches and headaches was the start followed by nausea and vomiting, profuse sweating and it was noted, if the patient lived twenty four hours then it thought he /she would survive, a desire to drink and bed rest was advised covered with many blankets, Thomas Cromwells wife is thought to have died from it and his young daughters which was very sad, Cardinal Wolsey also suffered from it but survived and these men were middle aged by Tudor standards, so possibly like illnesses today, the older the patient the greater the immunity, it was noted that Anne did not return to court till about October /November which leads one to suppose that her recovery was slow, indeed it probably did knock the stuffing out of its patients, one knows that a period of nausea and vomiting renders incredible weakness especially combined with muscle aches,and it sounds rather like gastric flu, those who recovered were probably bed bound for a week and we’re no doubt isolated by the other family members, the ghastly remedies used then must have made one feel worse than better, it was only the English who died from it which was strange but it was a new illness to these shores, the soldiers returning from France in 1485 having brought it disastrously with them, Du Belley however caught it but only mildly, Japan another island nation was immune from diseases but then as her nation explored other countries and did trade with them, she also suffered from strange and new illnesses, brought over from the sailors as they returned, over time man builds up an immunity and survives, one’s own immunity is our best form of defence, in time the sweat would have ceased to be as fatal as maybe covid, I purchased a book last year which was written by a NHS nurse and it centred on her life during the pandemic in a London hospital, she described the absolute speed it could kill, patients were admitted and were given a bed, were monitored and their condition stable, ten minutes later she noted their condition had deteriorated to the point where they had to go in intensive care, it moved incredibly fast yet now we appear to have beaten this horrifying disease and there are still outbreaks, but a lot of the danger has passed, our immune systems which are our best form of defence helps mankind to survive which we have done ever since we arrived on this planet, without it we are nothing, the sweat made a few more outbreaks then it disappeared, Henry V111 was indeed lucky to have escaped it as several gentlemen of the court were affected, he had suffered from malaria in his youth and beaten that, Henry V111 was a champion at sports and was a well known healthy and robust individual, which makes his decline towards the end of his life all the more tragic, yet his healthy lifestyle when young helped him overcome the malaria and had he contracted the dreaded sweat, he could have survived that to, we do not know since he never became a victim, but had he died and or Anne died, English history would have been very different, no reformation – no Gloriana strange to imagine! These two powerful personalities forged a new religion and it was Henry V111 who began the building of the navy which later was to become the largest in the world, yet it makes one realise that in the end, where disease is concerned, we are all just as vulnerable as the mayfly, we can be snuffed out in a second.

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