Linacre, Thomas

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Linacre, Thomas

(b. Canterbury, England, 1460[?]; d. London, England, 1524)


Linacre received his early education at the school of Christ Church Monastery, Canterbury, under the direction of William de Selling, later prior. It appears at the age of twenty Linacre went to Oxford, where he learned some Greek and in 1484 was elected fellow of All Souls College. About 1487 he accompanied Selling to Italy. He studied Greek with Demetrius Chalcondylas in Florence, met Hermolaus Barbarus in Rome, became acquainted with the printer Aldus Manutius (and was involved in the editing of the Aldine edition of the Greek Opera omnia of Aristotle [1495–1498] ) in Venice, and graduated M.D. from Padua in 1496. He then engaged in further study with the humanist-physician Nicolò Leoniceno in Vicenza and returned to England by way of Geneva, Paris, and Calais.

Back at Oxford, Linacre was incorporated M.D. in consequence of his Paduan degree. He is said to have given some public lectures on medicine and seems also to have taught Greek privately, one of his students being Sir Thomas More. During this period he also made a Latin translation of Proclus’ De sphaera, which was published by Aldus in a collection of ancient Greek astronomical works (1499). About 1501 Linacre became tutor to Prince Arthur (who died in the following year) and in 1509 was chosen as one of the physicians to Henry VIII at a salary of £50 a year. From this time onward he lived chiefly in London, where his patients and friends included Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Warham, Bishop Fox, and such eminent scholars as Colet, More, Erasmus, and William Lily.

At about the same time Linacre, in search of greater leisure, took holy orders. His highly placed friends found him a succession of ecclesiastical livings, which he either sold or deputized; he was thus enabled to devote most of his efforts to scholarship (although he remained physician to the king, in which post his duties were nominal). Linacre was especially concerned in translating Galen’s writings into Latin, beginning with the treatise of hygiene, De sanitate tuenda. Since there was then no printer in England sufficiently able or willing to assume the financial risk of producing this woTk for the English market, the tract, dedicated to Henry VIII, was published in Paris in 1517. Linacre’s second translation, Galen’s Methodus medendi, was also published in Paris (1519). It, too, was dedicated to the English king.

Linacre’s next translation of Galen, De tempera-mentis, was, however, published in England, from the press of John Siberch in Cambridge (1521). In 1522, Linacre saw two Galenic translations by his former teacher, Nicolò Leoniceno, through the press of Richard Pynson in London; Pynson also published Linacre’s own subsequent translations, De usu pulsuum (1522), De facultattibus naturalibus (1523), and De symptomat is different its (1524).

Linacre was a medical humanist as well as one of the finest Greek scholars of his day; his major effort, therefore, was directed toward bringing to English physicians a series of classical medical texts that he considered essential and that were, in fact, superior to other medical writings published in England at that time. In addition to the works that he brought to publication, he is known to have translated yet others, but with the one exception, a brief extract from Paul of Aegina, these were either lost or destroyed after his death. His very considerable Continental reputation, especially in Greek medical scholarship, was clearly recognized by Erasmus: “Medicine has begun to make herself heard in Italy through the voice of Nicola us Leonicenus … and among the French by Guillaume Cop of Basel; while among the English, owing to the studies of Thomas Linacre, Galen has begun to be so eloquent and informative that even in his own tongue he may seem to be less so.” Such commendation remained unheeded in England, however, and Linacre’s translations were not republished there, although there were approximately forty Continental reprintings of them between 1524 and 1550.

Linacre himself may have come to realize that more than the Greek medical classics were necessary to improve the state of English medicine. Just prior to his death he arranged that funds from his considerable estate should be used to establish the Linacre lectures at Oxford and Cambridge. Although he did not specifically declare that the lectures must be devoted to medical subjects, there nonetheless seems little doubt that such was his intention. He may have hoped that the oral presentation of classical medicine would prove attractive to physicians and medical students who might resist the printed word. He did not live to see the misuse of this endowment. The lectures failed through the conservatism and lethargy of the universities, and whatever potential they might have had for revitalizing the medical curriculum or promoting a more advanced medicine in England was unrealized.

Linacre was nevertheless responsible for an important contribution to English medicine in his work toward founding the College of Physicians of London. Through his influence the College was granted, from its foundation in 1518, the power to license physicians in London and for seven miles surrounding. The right to practice medicine had previously been conferred only upon medical graduates of Oxford or Cambridge or to Such men as were licensed by bishops (or in London by the bishop or by the dean of St. Paul’s). The more stringent professional license enhanced the prestige of the relatively small group who met the College’s standards. This result, desirable from the physicians’ standpoint, was recognized and envied by those practicing outside the area of the College’s supervision, where licensing remained beyond the control of the medical profession.

Linacre’s sense of the dignity of medicine was paramount. As the College served to promote that dignity, so it also maintained it. Although the medical profession in Continental cities was able to rally around the faculty of medicine of a university, this was not possible in England, since the universities were in relatively small and inaccessible towns. For this reason the College of Physicians of London became the focus of physicians in London and, to some degree, elsewhere. The College, which Linacre directed until his death, established the character of English medicine for centuries to follow. It thus represents his most enduring work.

Apparently it was of the complications of a calculary disorder that Linacre died.


I. Original Works. The original editions of Linacre’s translations of Galen are very rare, but one of them, De temperamentis, was published in facsimile with a biographical introduction by J. F. Payne (Cambridge, 1881).

II. Secondary Literature. On Linacre’s life and work see Josephine W. Bennett, “John Morer’s Will: Thomas Linacre and Prior Sellying’s Greek Teaching,” in Studies in the Renaissance,15 (New York, 1968), 70–91; George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1 (Oxford, 1964), 37; John Noble Johnson, The Life of Thomas Linacre, Doctor of Medicine, Robert Graves, ed. (London, 1835); C. D. O’Malley, English Medical Humanists. Thomas Linacre and John Caius (Lawrence, Kans., 1965); and William Osier, Thomas Linacre (Cambridge, 1908).

C. D. O’Malley

Linacre, Thomas

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English physician and priest, founder of the Royal College of Physicians in London; b. Canterbury, c. 1460;d. London, Oct. 20, 1524. He was educated at the Priory School in Canterbury under William of Selling (later prior), through whose influence he enrolled in All Souls College, Oxford. He studied also in Florence, Padua, and Rome. In 1488 Henry VII sent Prior Selling to Rome as ambassador to the pope, and Linacre accompanied him. In Florence he met Lorenzo de'Medici, who invited him to share in the instructions given by Angelo Poliziano and Demetrius Chalcondylos to the two young princes Piero and Giovanni de'Medici. Giovanni later became Pope leox. Linacre studied medicine in Padua, where he received his M.D. After years of practice on the Continent, he returned to England, where he became royal physician to henry viii and regular medical attendant to many of the highest nobility of the country. He used most of his fortune to found the Royal College of Physicians. The charter for the college was granted by Henry VIII on Sept. 23, 1518, upon the petition of Linacre, several other physicians, and especially Cardinal Wolsey. This charter gave the college the sole power to give medical licenses. His important contribution to medical science was his translation of galen's work from Greek into Latin. Linacre was highly esteemed by his contemporaries. He began to receive ecclesiastical preferments, even before he was ordained in 1520. After this he gave up his medical career in order to devote himself to priestly work. Johnson says that he seems to have had no enemies.

Bibliography: j. f. payne, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900) 11:11451150. j. n. johnson, The Life of T. Linacre, ed. r. graves (London 1835).

[m. a. stratman]

Linacre, Thomas

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Linacre, Thomas (c.1460–1524). Linacre is believed to have come from Canterbury and was educated at Oxford, where he was elected a fellow of All Souls in 1484. He then went to Italy, graduating as MD from Padua. He returned to Oxford, where his contemporaries included Grocyn and Colet, with a fine reputation as a Greek scholar. In 1509 he was appointed physician to Henry VIII. Linacre was largely instrumental in founding the College of Physicians in 1518 and served as its first president. He left funds for the establishment of lectureships in medicine at both Oxford and Cambridge. His last years were spent in holy orders. Linacre College, Oxford, was founded in 1962 as a postgraduate institute.

J. A. Cannon

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