County Studies

Medical practitioner county guide

The seven files (Dorset, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Wiltshire and Devon) represent the first fruits of the project and contain, by county, the ‘biographies’ of all known medical practitioners whose principal residence and place of practice has been established. They appear in a similar format to that adopted by the ODNB with some important qualifications.

Each entry is allotted a Person ID. In some cases, these are multiple numbers and in others, there are blanks where a number has not yet been allocated (indicated by ????).

Each entry is allocated an occ[upation] and loc[ation]. These, too, may be multiple, reflecting the wide range of activities pursued by many practitioners as well as the frequency with which others travelled and re-settled in order to make a living from healing.

The entries themselves often contain references to other practitioners in the database. These are indicated by an emboldened script.

All entries are followed by a definitive list of sources (roughly in order of appearance in the main text). In some cases, these appear in bold, indicating that the reading of the source is incomplete. In due course, we hope to cover all the gaps, but in the meantime would be enormously grateful if readers were able to supply additional information that either enhance or correct the current entries (see below).

Abbreviations are kept to a minimum. These are the most commonly used:

Bodl.: Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Foster: Joseph Foster (ed.), Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714, 3 vols (Oxford & London, 1891-2).

HS: Harleian Society.

Innes Smith: R.W.Innes Smith, English-Speaking Students of Medicine at the University of Leyden (Edinburgh & London, 1932).

LRRO: Leicestershire and Rutland Office, Wigston Magna, Leicestershire.

Munk: William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 3 vols (2nd ed., London, 1878), volume 1 (1518-1700).

ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

TNA: The National Archives, Kew.

Venn: J.Venn and J.A.Venn (eds), Alumni Cantabrigienses. Part 1: From the Earliest Times to 1751, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1922).

Address for communications:

Peter Elmer, Senior Research Fellow, Department of History, Exeter University


Gloucestershire Medics





Devon medics

FURTHER SAMPLE DATA: Chymical Physicians in Restoration London




Jeremiah ASTEL

 Astel signed a letter of support in favour of the creation of a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665 as a ‘chymical student and practitioner’. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the person and miraculous claims of Valentine Greatrakes. Astel was active as a physician in London during the plague, for which he was rewarded by the King with the gift of a piece of plate valued at £10. In 1675, he was responsible for publishing the work of fellow iatrochemist, George Starkey (below), entitled Liquor Alcahest (London, 1675), which he dedicated to his friend, Robert Boyle. A letter to Boyle, written in 1664, is now lost. Astel was also engaged, with other chemical physicians, in writing testimonials for candidates for ecclesiastical licences to practise medicine. In April 1665, he signed a certificate on behalf of John Dabbs, MA, who was seeking a medical licence from the bishop of London. Other signatories included the Helmontian John Collop and R. Barker, probably Richard Barker (below). In 1668, when he described himself as MD, he signed letters in support of the application of Henry Bingham, of Mitcham, Surrey, for a licence to practise medicine from the archbishop of Canterbury. He himself was licensed to practise medicine in the diocese of London, 12 March 1663, letters testimonial being supplied by fellow iatrochemist and signatory of the chemists’ petition, John Fryer, MD (qv). He is probably the ‘Dr Astall’ who was consulted by Ann Savile in March 1666, when she claimed to see images in a crystal ball owned by the doctor.


Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; TNA, PC 2/59, f.17r; Boyle, Correspondence, ii, p.235; Bloom and James, p.45; LPL, VX 1A/10/14; Wellcome Library, MS 5334, sub nominum; HMC.Leybourne-Popham Manuscripts, p.197 [Ann Savile to William Shippen, 30 March 1666].


(Sir) Richard BARKER

A physician, Barker was practising in London in 1656 when he was fined £50 by the College of Physicians for illegal practice. At the time, he was resident in the parish of St John the Baptist, Dowgate. At the Restoration, his practice prospered and he moved to a new home in the Barbican. He would appear to have been on friendly terms with the former Leveller-turned-Ranter, Captain William Rainsborough of Stepney, for whom he provided a bond of £500 for good behaviour in February 1661. Rainsborough had been charged in December 1660 with selling arms in his charge to civilians.

Barker was the author of numerous works concerned with the theory and practice of chemical medicine. He seems to have stayed in London during the plague, when he published Consilium Anti-Pestilentiale (London, 1665), dedicated to the Lord Mayor, Sir John Lawrence. In it, Barker proposed chemical remedies for the disease and claimed to have been practising in London for about fifteen years. Barker’s frequent altercations with the College of Physicians probably inclined him to speak fondly of the celebrated empiric William Trigge, whose lucrative practice he may have inherited. In 1665, he was employing Trigge’s kinsman, Timothy Woodfield, to prepare his medicines. He is probably the R. Barker and Ri. Barker, sometimes described as licentiate, who provided testimonials for William Williams (1664), John Dabbs (1665) and Francis Dye (1683), all candidates for medical licences from the Anglican authorities. Given the reference to himself as ‘licentiate’, he is probably the same as the Richard Barke, who was licensed to practise medicine in November 1663. Barker was, according to his colleague William Goddard, a founder member of the Society of Chemical Physicians which first began meeting in London in May 1664.

On 31 December 1673, Barker was appointed physician in ordinary, probably without fee, to Charles II. In 1678 he facilitated the meeting of Israel Tonge and Titus Oates at his house in the Barbican where the two men hatched the Popish Plot. Tonge shared Barker’s passion for chemistry as well as his detestation for Catholics, mutual interests that probably prompted Barker to finance and encourage the two men’s crusade. In 1678, for example, as patron of the living of Avon Dassett in Warwickshire, Barker sought to present Tonge as rector. Barker’s royal position and links with the chemical community at court probably helped to smooth the way for Tonge to meet the king and warn him of the threat to his life from a Catholic conspiracy in 1678.

Barker was well connected. He married Theodosia, the daughter of Sir John Wray of Glentworth, Lincolnshire, and MP in the Long Parliament. Wray had favoured the abolition of episcopacy. He was succeeded to the baronetcy by his son John, who sat in the 1654 Parliament. In 1666-7 Barker and his wife became involved in a legal battle over the custody of Theodosia’s lunatic brother, Sir Bethel Wray. Their daughter, Susanna, married Sir Francis Bridgeman, the son of Sir Orlando Bridgeman (d.1674), a prominent figure in Restoration legal circles who, as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, actively promoted schemes of religious moderation and reconciliation in the late 1660s. As his only surviving child, Susanna was the main beneficiary of Barker’s will.

Cook, Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London, p.129; CSPD, 1660-1661, p.505; Barker, Consilium Anti-Pestilentiale, sig.A5r; p.5; Bloom and James, pp.45, 74; LPL, VX 1A/10/192/1-2; Wellcome Library, MS 5334, sub nominum; TNA, C 10/477/110; TNA, LC3/27, f.46v; Tonge, ‘Journal of the Plot, 1678’, in Greene (ed.), Diaries of the Popish Plot; ODNB, sub Tonge, Israel; TNA, PC 2/68, p.272; CSPD, 1679-1680, p.176; Law Reports of Sir Edmund Saunders … Court of King’s Bench, 3 vols (London, 1799-1802), vol.1, case 8, Hilary Ch.II 18 & 19, Barker v.Thorold; Rylands (ed.), The Visitation of the County of Warwick, 1682-1683 (London, Harleian Soc., vol.62, 1911), p.15; TNA, PROB 11/383, ff.194v-195v [will of Richard Barker, undated; proved 1 June 1686].


Barker was a signatory to the ‘engagement’ of chemical physicians. He may be the same as the Thomas Barker of St Saviour’s, Southwark, Surrey, a surgeon, who signed various letters testimonial on behalf of candidates for archiepiscopal medical licences in 1683 and 1685. On the former occasion, he signed alongside one ‘Ri.Barker’, probably Richard Barker above.

Alternatively, he may have been the brother of Richard Barker (above), who died sometime between October 1683 and July 1684. At the time of his death, he was living in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate.

LPL, VX 1A/10/192/1-2; VX 1A/10/223/1-4; TNA, PROB 11/376, f.360v [will of Thomas Barker, 1 October 1683; proved 9 July 1684].


Barkley was a signatory to the ‘engagement’ of chemical physicians. He was in all probability the same as the Dr Berkeley, whom Samuel Hartlib described in a letter to John Evelyn in April 1660. Hartlib refers to ‘some amazing and in a manner miraculous cures lately performed’ by him, whom he describes as ‘lately come from Bermudas or N[ew] England’. He seems to have struck up a rapport with Hartlib’s son-in-law, the chemist, Frederick Clodius, with whom he was lodging in Axe Yard. One William Berckley was licensed to practise medicine and surgery throughout the province of Canterbury, 31 October 1665. He may have been attracted to England by fellow Bermudan adept, George Starkey (below). He was named by William Goddard (qv) as one of the founder members of the Society in May 1664, and was still alive in October 1666 when Goddard sought reimbursement from Barkley and others in order to pay their attorney, Thomas Dangerfield.

He may be the same as the William Berkeley, who described himself in his will of 1704 as ‘aged’ and a ‘practitioner in medicine’ in the parish of St Mary’s, Whitechapel. Unfortunately, there are few other clues in this will to his identity.

BL, Add.MS 15,948, ff 98A-98B; LPL, VG 1/1, f.185; Sheldon, f.210; TNA, C 10/477/110; TNA, PROB 11/488, ff.128v-129r [will of William Berkeley, 6 June 1704; proved 6 May 1706].


Bathurst was a signatory to the ‘engagement’ of chemical physicians. According to the Yorkshire antiquary Ralph Thoresby, Bathurst was employed as the duke of Buckingham’s chemist in 1673. He was also the brother-in-law of another of Buckingham’s protégé’s, Edward Bolnest (qv). Some time around 1662, Bathurst, describing himself as a physician, signed a testimonial on behalf of William Bruton Jnr, of Alwington, Devon, who was seeking a licence to practise medicine in the diocese of Exeter. Bruton’s application was also signed by five other physicians, three of whom, Edward Bolnest, William Burman and Robert Turner (qqv), were also signatories of the petition to erect a Society of Chemical Physicians in London in 1665.

Robert Bathurst of Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, was licensed to practise medicine and surgery in the diocese of Winchester on 18 July 1664, the same day as fellow chemist and protégé of the duke of Buckingham, Thomas Tillison (qv). Bathurst, like his brother-in-law Bolnest, was a founder member of the Society which first began to meet, according to fellow member William Goddard (qv), in May 1664

DRO, PR 518, sub Allington (sic); Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis, p.13; Wellcome Library, MS 5334, sub nominum; Bax, ‘Marriage and Other Licences in the Commissary Court of Surrey’, p.226; TNA, C 10/477/110.

Edward BOLNEST (fl.1656-1684)

Bolnest was a signatory to the Advertisement in 1665, when he gave his address as Jewen Street, in the parish of St Giles, Cripplegate. In residence here since the autumn of the previous year, according to his new landlord Bolnest and unnamed friends (presumably his fellow chemists) made numerous modifications to the property, including the construction of ‘severall furnaces of bricke in the upper roomes’, which threatened to destroy the house. As a founder member of the Society of Chemical Physicians, which first began to meet in May 1664, the property at Jewen Street may well have served as one of the Society’s main centres of chemical research and investigation. It subsequently became the focus of a legal dispute in which it was alleged that Bolnest had refused to enter into and sign a counterlease on the property. Under pressure, he was initially willing to quit the property in the spring of 1666, partly on the grounds that he was proferred a place as physician to the duke of Buckingham’s household, but he later changed his mind as property in London became scarce after the Great Fire.

According to the Yorkshire antiquary and natural philosopher, Ralph Thoresby, Bolnest (‘Edward Bonus Doctor of Physick in London’) was the brother-in-law of fellow chemist and client of the duke of Buckingham, Robert Bathurst (qv). Although he was chosen by Thomas O’Dowde and the chemists in 1665 to attend on victims of plague in Southampton, by order of the King, he failed to do so and probably remained in London, where his daughter, Isabella, died of the disease. Bolnest was the author of Medicina Instaurata, dedicated to his patron, George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham (qv). It contained a lengthy ‘epistolary discourse’ by fellow chemist, Marchamont Nedham (qv). In October and November 1666, he was recommended to Robert Boyle as a potential collaborator by another keen iatrochemist, Daniel Coxe, who claimed that Bolnest ‘hath great misteries to reveal which none excepting your selfe are worthy to bee acquainted withall’. He is almost certainly the same as the ‘Edward Boldnesse’ who was appointed chemical physician in ordinary to Charles II in November 1670. In 1672, he published a second work, Aurora Chymica, in which he described himself on the title-page as physician in ordinary to the king. The work itself was dedicated, like his first published work, to Buckingham and gives his new address as Queen Street, near the Guildhall. In it, he alludes to the imminent publication of a work called Fontina Salutis, available from his printer John Starkey, which does not appear to have survived. He was still living at Queen Street, in the parish of St Mary le Bow, in December 1678, when he put up sureties for Michael Warton, ‘a distiller of Waters’, who was accused of being a ‘recusant’ and refusing to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. In September 1687, Bolnest was summoned (but did not appear) before the heraldic visitation of the city of London, where he is described as living in the parish of St Pancras, Soper Lane.

Like many of his like-minded chemical colleagues, Bolnest frequently provided testimonials for fellow medics seeking episcopal or archiepiscopal licences to practise. In around 1662, he wrote one on behalf of William Bruton Jnr, of Alwington, Devon, where he described himself as ‘doctor and student of medicine, of King’s College, Cambridge’ (no record survives in the college annals). He did the same in 1684 for one George Penhellick, of Kidderminster in Worcestershire. On both occasions, he signed alongside fellow chemist William Burman (qv). Bolnest may also have supplemented his income as a physician by instructing students in the art of chemistry. William Thraster, the author of The Marrow of Chymical Physick (1669), claimed to have been taught the art of chemistry by Bolnest.

One of the earliest recorded references to Bolnest relates to his dispute with the alchemist and natural philosopher Thomas Vaughan, alias Eugenius Philalethes. According to a deposition taken in 1661, Vaughan claimed that Bolnest had approached him in about 1656-7 offering to pay £300 for instruction in ‘naturall philosophy and Chimicall physicke’, but paid only £20-£30. Bolnest subsequently brought soldiers to plunder Vaughan’s house and arrest him (Vaughan claimed that Bolnest was using connections at the Cromwellian court, having served under Cromwell in Ireland). Vaughan offered a bond from which Bolnest offered release in return for ‘a certain physicall receipt of great value’, to which Vaughan agreed. Bolnest later counter-sued him for £150. Vaughan retaliated by subpoenaeing Bolnest, who denied all Vaughan’s charges. Bolnest claimed he had lent Vaughan £250 to make the philosopher’s stone, which he had failed to accomplish. He also categorically denied any suggestion that he had sought instruction from Vaughan or that he was a former associate of ‘that late Traytor and Tyrant’ Cromwell, but he did admit to serving under his forces in Ireland. The outcome of the case is unknown.

He was almost certainly related to William Bolnest, of Whitechapel, who applied for a medical licence from the bishop of London in 1674 (one of his referees was Edward Bolnest’s student, William Thrasher or Thraster). Edward Bolnest was also a minor beneficiary under the will of the widow of his former colleague Thomas O’Dowde (qv) in 1665.

ODNB; TNA, C10/489/83; C10/477/110; Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis, p.13; Thomson, Loimologia, p.15; O’Dowde, Two Letters Concerning the Cure of the Plague; Bell, The Great Plague of London in 1665, p.147; Boyle, Correspondence, iii, pp.250-1, 268; TNA, LC3/26, f.142; Bowler (ed.), London Sessions Records 1605-1685, pp.207-8; Wales and Hartley (eds), The Visitation of London Begun in 1687, ii, pp.604, 651, 652; DRO, PR 518, sub Allington (sic); LPL, VX 1A/10/212/1-4; Thraster, The Marrow of Chymical Physick, sig.A2r; TNA, C7/354/45; Bloom and James, p.39; TNA, PROB 11/319, ff.239r-v.


William Burman or Boreman, of Wilmington, Kent, practised medicine throughout much of southeastern England in the second half of the seventeenth century. He first appears in about 1662, when he signed a testimonial (as ‘med.lic’) on behalf of William Bruton Jnr, of Alwington, Devon, a candidate for a licence to practise medicine in the diocese of Exeter. He did the same for George Penhellick of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in 1684, and for John Rallett of Braintree, Essex, in 1688. In the former, he described himself as a ‘royal physician’, though no record exists of his appointment to the court. He may, like his friend, John Pordage, have been appointed by the Board of Greencloth to minister to plague victims in London in 1665. In a case brought before the Court of Arches in 1683-4, Burman insisted that he was no ‘pretended doctor of physick’, but was approved and licensed by Sir Richard Chaworth on 10 October 1661 to practise medicine throughout the province of Canterbury

Burman seems to have specialised in diagnosing witchcraft or other preternatural ills. He twice appeared as an assize witness at witchcraft trials in Kent in 1681 and 1690. In addition, he was almost certainly the Dr Boreman who sought to exorcise a young maid at Orpington in Kent in 1679. Further evidence of his practice, in particular his specialisation in cases of diabolical possession, is provided by the detailed records of a case brought before the Court of Arches in 1683-4 in which he sought to defend his reputation from a charge, possibly politically motivated, of adultery with one of his possessed patients. According to the nonconformist physician, Henry Sampson, Burman was widely reputed to be a conjuror, many of whose cures were likened to a form of white witchcraft. Sampson added that he was a frequent visitor to London, keeping a chamber in Walbrooke, and grew rich from his London practice. His fame and reputation led Daniel Defoe to describe his practice in some depth in his A System of Magick. Burman’s view of witchcraft was highly politicised. He himself appeared before the Kent assizes in 1684 charged with asserting that the duke of York was a wizard, who rode about at night ‘in fiery charriotts to torment soules’ and predicted that ‘his witchcraft will lay the nation in blood and Popish slavery’. On another occasion, he recommended that the duke of Monmouth ‘make an interest in every county of England to be his friends’ to carry on his designs. In the aftermath of the duke’s failed rebellion in 1685, a government spy in Amsterdam reported that two of the duke’s sisters had lately arrived from Germany with a magical sword that contained ‘a Potent Talismanicall Spell’ before which all their brother’s enemies would flee. They would appear to have received the sword from ‘one Dr Boreman in or about London’, with whom they had consulted on other matters as ‘they both pretended to magicall Sciences, and something to the Philosophicall Stone’. Burman’s radical past is further attested by an earlier informant who in 1678 testified that Burman had told him at Sandwich that he was ‘for no king in England nor for any head of the Church but Jesus Christ’ and that he had formerly been acquainted with John Lilburne ‘and was privy to all his affairs and undertakings’.

Burman was an early associate of the Behmenist and Philadelphian, Jane Lead (1624-1704, who was responsible for funding and assisting with the publication of the posthumous works of Lead’s chief inspiration, John Pordage (d.1681). Dr Edward Hooker, who assisted Burman and Lead in this task, was one of Burman’s fellow witnesses at the witchcraft trial of Thomas Whiteing of How in Kent in 1681.

DRO, PR 518, sub Allington (sic); LPL, VX 1A/10/212/1-4; VX 1A/10/250/1-3; LPL, Court of Arches, A16, ff.426v, 442v-443r; B10/217; D324B; Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, pp.261, 263; Anon., Strange News from Arpington near Bexly in Kent; BL, Add MS 4460, ff.47v-48r; Defoe, A System of Magick, ii, ch.3; TNA, ASSI 35/127/7, m.203 [Cockburn (ed.), Calendar of Assize Records: Kent Indictments … 1676-1688, p.190]; CSPD, 1684-1685, p.268; BL, Add MS 41,812, ff.236r, 236v; CSPD, 1678, pp.394, 396, 401; TNA, SP 29/406/102, 122; Pordage, Theologia Mystica.

Edward CO(O)KE

Coke’s name appears as one of the ‘Chymical Students and Practitioners’ who pledged support for Thomson’s scheme to create a Society of Chemical Physicians. Along with Marchamont Nedham and William Goddard (qqv), Coke testified to the medical ability of Thomas O’Dowde in 1665. According to Goddard, Coke was a founder member of the Society, which first began to meet in May 1664. A surgeon of this name was active ministering to sick and wounded soldiers at Dover in 1658. Also, one of this name was a citizen and barber surgeon in London in 1671.

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Thomson, A Gag for Johnson, pp.30-1; TNA, C 10/477/110; CSPD, 1658-1659, pp.67, 79, 126-7; LMA, 0/214/001.

William CURRER (c.1617-1668)

Currer was originally from Yorkshire, graduating MD at Leiden in 1643 (incorporated at Oxford, 1646). In 1646, he was serving as physician to the army in Ireland, a post he reacquired at the Restoration, possibly through the intercession of his patron, James Butler, duke of Ormond (qv). In 1646, and again in 1652, he appeared before the London College of Physicians, being gently admonished on the latter occasion to submit himself to an examination if he wished to continue practising in the city. A year earlier, he compounded ‘for adhering to the King, not being sequestered’. Samuel Hartlib sheds a little more light on Currer’s activities prior to this date when he reported of him that he was ‘Inchiquin’s Physitian before hee wheeled about’ (the earl of Inchiquin commanded the parliamentary forces in Munster in southern Ireland before returning to his allegiance to the king in 1648). While in Ireland, Currer had made a collection of Irish medicines as well as composing a natural history of the island, but these papers were seized in the early 1650s by his political enemies.

Back in England, he seems to have devoted himself to two objectives: the pursuit of his career as a chemist and physician, and the attempt to recover his financial situation. With regard to the former, Hartlib’s correspondent Robert Child reported in 1652 that Currer, described as thriving in London, was a ‘reall and honest … and a very good Chymist’. He recommended him as a companion to the mercurial newcomer, George Starkey (qv). The two men do seem to have worked closely together, though in 1658 Starkey published a stinging rebuke of Currer, whose abilities as a spagyrist were unimpugned, but who was said to ‘hath his dark Intervals’. Using ‘unworthy malicious tricks’, Starkey accused Currer of perverting the course of justice in a law suit that Currer would appear to have brought against Starkey in 1657, and which led to the latter’s imprisonment. Currer was also a close friend of the alchemist Elias Ashmole, whom he first met in 1650. In August 1653, Ashmole accompanied Currer on a visit to Cornwall, ‘he going thither to open a myne for the Lord Moone’ [i.e. Warwick Mohun of Boconnoe, second Baron Mohun of Okehampton]. Currer’s financial situation would appear to have been alleviated through the success of his practice supplemented by the purchase of former crown lands in his native Yorkshire in 1653. He also owned property in Dublin and Barnoldswick, Yorkshire. At the same time, he was engaged in financial dealings with fellow royalist Richard Boyle, second earl of Cork, in relation to property and coal mines at Giggleswick in Yorkshire.

In addition to his chemical interests and medical practice, Currer was actively engaged in lexicographical work. In 1658, he assisted Edward Phillips in compiling his The New World of English Words: or a Generall Dictionary (London, 1658), and a year later contributed towards the cost of printing William Somner’s Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum (Oxford, 1659). Writing in 1662, John Ward claimed that Currer was the greatest physician in London, who ‘keeps an operator or two under him’. He was also named as one of the founder members of the IrishCollege of Physicians in 1667. In that year, he was accused by three other physicians of killing a servant of the duke of Ormond with one of his pills. Currer died in London on 16 September 1668, and was buried in the chancel of St Clement Dane’s, Westminster, on 1 October 1668. In his will, he bequeathed all his books, medicines and chemical glasses to his friend and fellow chemist, Nathaniel Henshaw.

ODNB; Innes Smith, p.61; Green, CPCC, iv, p.2780; SUL, HP 28/2/12A; 15/5/18B; Starkey, Pyrotechny Asserted and Illustrated, pp.161-4; Josten (ed.), Elias Ashmole, ii, pp.542, 654; Bodl., Rawlinson MS D 864, f.221; Ashmole MS 1459, ii, p.32; Gentles, ‘The Debentures Market and Military Purchases of Crown Land’, p.272; Bodl., Carte MS 154, ff.158v-159r; Lancashire Record Office, DDB/62/92; CH, Lismore MS 29, 27 December 1650, 29 December 1650, 28 January 1650/1 and passim; Lismore MS 30, no.46 [Currer to Cork, 1 December 1658]; CSP Ireland, 1660-1662, p.11; CSP Ireland, 1663-1665, pp.93, 106; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, p.14; ii, pp.524-6; Bodl., Carte MS 49, f.263; TNA, PROB 11/328, f.79v.

Joseph DEY (1615-1665)

A chemical physician, Dey was a native of Norwich who was educated at CaiusCollege, Cambridge (BA 1633, MA 1636) and proceeded MD at Padua in 1642. He subsequently became a licentiate of the London College of Physicians in 1645. Dey died of the plague in 1665. Of him, his fellow chemist George Thomson wrote that he ‘eviscerated and spent himself in toilsome Manual Operations, leaving the way of Riches [and] Honour his Colleagues trod in … whom he deserted … for Conscience-sake, abominating their indirect and destructive manner of Practice, knowing the Professors thereof … to be quite out of the Way of Curing Diseases’. In the early 1660s, he signed a certificate along with four other chemical physicians, including George Thomson and John Fryer (qqv), testifying to the expertise and experience of another fellow chemist, Thomas Horsington (qv), who was seeking a royal mandate for a Cambridge MD. Dey was the son of a Norwich apothecary, and was probably therefore related to Samuel Dey, a medical practitioner, who approved the practice of John Boothe of Norwich, a candidate for a Canterbury medical licence, in 1670. Among the other signatories was Lionel Lockier, a well-known associate of many of those chemists who signed the petition for the creation of a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665.

Munk, i, p.243; Venn, ii, p.23; Thomson, ΛΟΙΜΟΤΟΜΙΑ or the Pest Anatomized, pp.84, 96, 98-99; TNA, SP 29/66/27; LPL, VX 1A/10/22/1-4.

Sir Kenelm DIGBY (1603-1665)

Digby’s interest in chemistry and its medical applications was long-standing and pre-dated the civil war. During the 1630s, he practised chemical experiments at GreshamCollege in London and was taught in the art by the Hungarian adept, Johannes Banff Hunyades. Later in the 1650s he attended the chemistry lectures of Nicholas Le Fèvre or Febure (qv) in Paris. He was also involved with the planned sponsorship of the design to erect a ‘chemical council’ in interregnum England. At the Restoration, he was living in Covent Garden, where he had his own chemical laboratory. A member of the council of the Royal Society, of which he was a founder member, he left at his death in 1665 two volumes of chemical preparations which were subsequently published by his steward and laboratory assistant, George Hartmann. Digby was a Roman Catholic, who actively sought to obtain relief for his co-religionists in England in the 1650s.

ODNB; Petersson,  Sir Kenelm Digby: the Ornament of England 1603-1665; Webster, Great Instauration, pp.303-4; John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed.A.Clark, i, p.227; Digby, Choice and Experimented Receipts in Physick and Chyrurgery; idem, A Choice Collection of Rare Chymical Secrets and Experiments in Philosophy; B.Janacek, ‘Catholic Natural Philosophy: Alchemy and the Revivification of Sir Kenelm Digby’, pp.89-118; E.Hedrick, ‘Romancing the Salve: Sir Kenelm Digby and the Powder of Sympathy’, pp.161-86.


Floyd was a signatory to the ‘engagement’ of the chemical physicians. Possibly the same as the Mr Floyd, described in 1650 by Samuel Hartlib as surgeon to Oliver Cromwell, who claimed that there was ‘more reality in Paracelsus works then in Carte’s Philosophies’. Otherwise unidentified.

SUL, HP 28/1/44B-45A.

John FRYER (d.1672)

Fryer was a signatory to the ‘engagement’ to create a Society of Chemical Physicians, 1665. He was the son of the physician Thomas Fryer (d.1623) and graduated MD at Padua in 1610. A Roman Catholic, he became a candidate for membership of the London College of Physicians in 1612, but was never elected a fellow, probably as a result of his religion. In 1633, he was reproved by the College for using mercurial medicines and rebuked for making agreements with patients ‘which was not permitted to a physician’. In 1636, along with fellow physicians Thomas Cadyman, Robert Fludd and Piers Roche, he approved a manuscript treatise in defence of the legitimacy of the weapon salve written by a London doctor and fellow Catholic, Mark Bellwood. He was living in Little Britain in 1662, when John Ward recorded that he was worth £20,000. In 1663 and 1664, John Fryer MD supplied letters testimonial on behalf of two applicants for a Canterbury medical licence. He also signed a certificate on behalf of fellow chemist Thomas Horsington (qv), who was seeking a CambridgeMD, as well as supplying a testimonial for Jeremiah Astel (qv) in March 1663, an applicant for a medical licence from the bishop of London. His recent death is referred to in a letter to the Yorkshire physician and naturalist Martin Lister, in November 1672.

His wealth, as alluded to by Ward, was substantial. In his will of 1672 he left a series of generous bequests, made possible according to Fryer through large sums of money and investments in the Grocers and Goldsmiths companies in the city of London. He also owned various properties in Little Britain, many of them occupied by booksellers, as well as the manor of Harleton in Cambridgeshire.

BL, Sloane MS 172 [Fryer’s Padua MD diploma, 1610]; Gee, The Foot Out of the Snare, sig.Xr; RCPL, Annals, iii, ff.128b, 129b; Munk, i, pp.319-21; CUL, Dd.VI.10; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, pp.133, 165n; LPL, FII/4/1; FII/4/110a-b; TNA, SP 29/66/27; Bodl., Lister MS 34, f.70r [John Brooke to Lister, 14 November 1672]; Wellcome Library, MS 5334, sub nominum; TNA, PROB 11/340, ff.163v-165r.

William GODDARD (d.1670)

Goddard was the son of Thomas Goddard of Rudham, Norfolk, and was educated at CaiusCollege, Cambridge, which he left without graduating. He was awarded his MD from Padua in 1627, incorporated at Oxford in 1634. He became a fellow of the London College of Physicians in 1634, serving as censor in 1638, 1641 and 1644. He was dismissed from his fellowship, however, in November 1649, and subsequently appealed his case, unsuccessfully, to the Court of King’s Bench. At about the same time, he told Samuel Hartlib that he intended to ‘perfect himself and those studies that tend to the perfection of Medicina and Chymistry in a true Experimental Way [and] for which purpose he is about erecting of an excellent Laboratorie’. At the Restoration, he once again sought to be restored to his college fellowship, but after a lengthy court battle, failed in his mission. In February 1662, John Ward reported that Goddard had earlier lived with a kinsman, Lodowick Dyer, before going to Holland, ostensibly because of the poor quality of glass for distilling to be found in England. At the time, he was practising medicine in Westminster. In 1665, he gave his address as St John’s Close, near Clerkenwell. He was buried at St James, Clerkenwell on 13 January 1670. He is almost certainly the ‘Dr Godhard’ of whom fellow chemist George Thomson said that he ‘lost his own life to save his patients’.

Goddard was a founder member of the Society of Chemical Physicians. In October 1666 he was forced to go to law in order to seek reimbursement from his former colleagues who were being sued by one Thomas Dangerfield, an attorney in the Court of King’s Bench, for moneys spent on behalf of the group in their efforts to become incorporated. The outcome of the suit is not known. At the time of his death he owned a small property in Teversham, Kent, which he had purchased from his son-in-law Michael Pemberton of Gray’s Inn. In addition to a few small bequests, he made his widow Mary sole executrix.

Venn, ii, p.226; Munk, i, p.216; Cook, Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London, pp.116, 135; SUL, HP 28/1/27B; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, p.25; An Advertisement for the Society of Chemical Physitians; Thomson, A Letter Sent to Mr Henry Stubbe, pp.21, 26; TNA, C 10/477/110; TNA, PROB 11/332, ff.288v-289r.

Dr [Thomas] HORSINGTON (c.1618-1666)

Missing from O’Dowde’s original list of chemical physicians, Dr Horsington was included in a subsequent list compiled by George Thomson. Horsington had earlier entered Leiden as a medical student in December 1642, where he was described as aged 24, and of London. There is no record of his graduation, but he proceeded MD at Cambridge in 1663 on the recommendation of the king. His elevation probably owed something to the support which he received from George Thomson, who with four other physicians attested to Horsington’s fitness for medical practice a year earlier. In February 1662, he was said to be living in Cloke Lane, London. In June 1663, he signed letters testimonial on behalf of the staunch royalist physician, Silvester Richmond, of Liverpool, who was seeking a Canterbury medical licence. Horsington may have served with Richmond, a naval surgeon, in the navy, as the other testimonial was signed by a naval veteran, Dr Thomas Wilson, physician to General Penn’s fleet in the West Indies in 1655.

Intriguingly, Horsington’s passion for iatrochemistry was shared by his wife Sarah, who compiled a brief manuscript treatise entitled ‘Arcana or Mysteries, in the Theory of Physiology and Chemistry’ in 1666. These include a number of her husband’s medical receipts and prescriptions, as well as directions for making remedies taken from Robert Boyle. She may have been induced to write these down if her husband, along with numerous other chemically-inclinded colleagues, had died in the plague of that year.

Thomas may have been the brother of the surgeon, Captain Giles Horsington, of Westminster, who promised to obtain for James Long, FRS, ‘the relation of the killing by a brother of his and the discription of a flying serpent about one foote long, and as bigg as a ratt in the body. All under his Brothers hand’. Unlike Thomas, Giles would appear to have been disaffected to the restored regime of Charles II. In December 1660, he was accused of saying that General Monck had fomented the White Plot in order to precipitate another conflict. He was nonetheless commissioned as a captain in the earl of Manchester’s regiment of foot in 1667. He had earlier served the parliamentary forces in Munster, in southern Ireland, and in 1653 was involved in the sale of traitors’ lands.

Both men may have been related to the Samuel Horsington, alias ‘Paracelsus’, who, with others, petitioned the duke of Ormond in September 1663 for a licence to distil and sell strong waters in Ireland.

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Innes Smith, p.121; Venn, ii, p.410; BL, Sloane MS 1708, f.113; CSPD, 1661-1662, p.612 [TNA, SP 29/66/27]; CSPD, 1663-1664, p.151; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, p.7; LPL, FII/4/143; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, MS H817Z A668; Hunter, ‘Sisters of the Royal Society’, pp.191-4; Oldenburg, Correspondence, ii, pp.121-2; CSPD, 1660-1661, p.418; Commons Journal (1648-51), vi, p.282; CSPD, 1653-1654, p.314; Bodl., Carte MS 159, f.80v.


Horsnel’s name appeared in a list of ‘chymical students and practitioners’ compiled by George Thomson in 1665, all of whom, according to Thomson, were in favour of the creation of a Society of Chemical Physicians.  He may be the same as the H.Horsdeznell who appended a prefatory poem to the work of his friend, the astrological physician William Ramesay, in 1651. In the same year, one Henry Horsnell informed against enemies of the Commonwealth. In 1657, Sir Miles Hobart petitioned that Horsnell might be allowed to stay in England for a further three months (suggesting he was foreign, or perhaps French as in ‘Horsdeznell’?). In July 1663, James Compton, the earl of Northampton (qv) signed a certificate on behalf of Lt.Col.Henry Horzdesnell, attesting that he had loyally served the late King and had been imprisoned on several occasions by Cromwell.

Another possibility is Thomas Horsnell, who was appointed sewer of the chamber in extraordinary to Charles II, 10 October 1662.

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Ramesay, Vox Stellarum, or the Voice of the Starres; CSPD, 1651, pp.93, 424; CSPD, 1657-1658, pp.61, 158, 281; CSPD, 1663-1664, p.208; TNA, LC 3/26, f.120.


Jolly’s name appears on a list of chemical physicians appended to Thomas O’Dowde’s The Poor Man’s Physician (1665) who were seeking to establish an incorporated Society of Chemical Physicians. He was the eldest son of Major James Jolly (1610-1666), a retired clothier of Chester, who fought for Parliament in the civil war and was a staunch Independent in religion. He remained a committed dissenter after the Restoration, and was seized at a conventicle in Chester in July 1665, dying the following year. His son James studied at Cambridge and was made a fellow of TrinityCollege in 1649. There, he seems to have formed an attachment to the vice-master of the college, Alexander Akehurst. When Akehurst was accused in 1654 of a variety of offences, including blasphemy and atheism, Jolly wrote an impassioned defence of his mentor, claiming that he was suffering from some form of mental breakdown brought on by a spiritual crisis

The two men would appear to have shared an interest in both chemistry and radical religion. Akehurst may well have introduced Jolly to chemistry as he had a furnace built in his college lodgings and was described by Samuel Hartlib as ‘chymically given’. At the same time, Jolly shared Akehurst’s radical leanings. In 1654, after the arrival of the first Quakers in Cambridge, Jolly came close to joining the sect and resigning his fellowship. Following a change of heart, he nonetheless signed a profession of faith in which he rejected the University’s role as a seminary for priests and defended the mission of the Quakers. His mentor Akehurst did, briefly, join the Friends; after the Restoration he chose to practise medicine at Leatherhead in Surrey. The nonconformist minister Oliver Heywood (1630-1702), who studied with Thomas and James Jolly at Trinity, was almost certainly refering to the latter when he cited him as an example of one who had become a ‘degenerate plant of a strange vine’, and had turned Quaker ‘and a licentious creature at this day’. His brothers Thomas and John later became prominent nonconformist ministers in the north of England. James Jolly was still alive at the time of his father’s death, but was dead before October 1684.

Fishwick (ed.), The Note Book of the Rev.Thomas Jolly, pp.iii-vi; BL, Harleian MS 2161, p.200; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii, pp.457-8; Thurloe, State Papers, ii, p.464; SUL, HP 28/2/53A [Ephemerides, 1 January-1 March 1653]; FHL, Portfolio 36, f.154 [transcription in JFHS, 125 (1928), pp.54-5]; LPL, VG 1/1, f.183; Sheldon, f.203; Horsfall Turner (ed.), The Rev.Oliver Heywood, B.A. 1630-1702; His Autobiography, i, p.161.

Johann Sibertus KÜFFELER (1595-1677)

Kűffeler graduated MD at Padua in 1618, and was the son-in-law of the celebrated Flemish inventor Cornelius Drebbel (1572-1633). He first arrived in England in 1656, probably at the instigation of Samuel Hartlib, who was keen to promote his invention of the torpedo with the Cromwellian administration. He was assisted in moving from Arnhem to London through the grant of a loan of £100 made by one of Hartlib’s correspondents, Israel Tonge, who shared Küffeler’s passion for chemistry. Küffeler was later designated as one of the teaching staff at the new college at Durham in the 1650s and briefly served after the Restoration as physician to James, duke of York. His wife, Catherina, was still alive in 1663, when Robert Hooke reported that she had recently enquired of him about ‘an engine for distilling waters’. Kűffeler himself was an admirer of the alchemical adept Isaac Hollandus. In April 1659, Samuel Hartlib was busy promoting his cause as potential physician to Roger Boyle, lord Broghill. In 1666, he was again linked with the Boyle family when his old associate Tonge sought to promote him as a chemical assistant to Robert Boyle. He may be the ‘Mr.Cuffly’, whom John Ward tried to visit at Bow in 1662 on the recommendation of George Starkey (qv). Alternatively, this may be a reference to Kűffeler’s nephew, whom Hartlib described in 1658 as living at Straford-Laughton and working closely with another iatrochemical physician, Dr Thomas Ridgley. In March 1675, he, along with Augustus Kűffeler (possibly the same nephew) and others signed letters testimonial on behalf of Honoratus Le Beg, of Canterbury, Kent, a candidate for a Canterbury medical licence. Kűffeler’s death was erroneously reported by the chemical physician and friend of Locke, Dr David Thomas, in July 1666.

Webster, Great Instauration, pp.387-91, 530; Boyle, Correspondence, i, pp.285-6, 334; ii, pp.84, 101; iii, pp.116-7; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, p.23; SUL, HP 18/1/1A-2B; 29/5/72B; 29/7/6A; 53/5A-5B; 53/41/4A-5B; 66/18/1; LPL, VX 1A/10/76/1-2.

Nicolas or Nicaise LE FÉVRE (d.1669)

A chemist, of French origin, Le Févre (or Febure) studied at the University of Sedan prior to his appointment as demonstrator of chemistry at the Jardin du Roi in Paris in the 1650s. He was appointed professor of chemistry to Charles II in November 1660, as well as apothecary in ordinary to the royal household in which capacity he managed a laboratory at St James’ Palace. He became FRS in 1661. His Traicté de la Chymie (2 vols, Paris, 1660) was translated into English by P.D.C.Esq, ‘one of the gent[lemen] of the privy chamber’ as A Compendious Body of Chymistry. The translator was probably the French-born merchant Pierre de Cardonnel (1614-1667), an important and well-connected member of royalist circles in London and Paris in the 1640s and 1650s. It was republished in 1670, and also appeared in German and Latin translations. The work itself was largely derivative of other chemists, particularly Paracelsus, van Helmont and Glauber. In 1664 he also published his Discours sur le Grand Cordial de Sir Walter Rawleigh, which was translated into English by Peter Belon in the same year. Le Févre died in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in the spring of 1669

ODNB, sub Le Févre, Nicaise; Hunter, The Royal Society and Its Fellows, pp.152-3; Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp.259-316, esp.pp.281-4, 301, 314.


Originally a French Protestant from Geneva, Massonet was awarded his MD at Oxford by the King on 9 April 1646, on which occasion he was described as second, or under-tutor, to James, duke of York. Later that year, in August, on petitioning the the House of Lords, it was agreed that Massonet should be paid to leave for France. He may well have been back in England a year later, however, as in 1647 he subscribed an epistolary poem to his friend, physician and fellow countryman, Theophilus Garencières’ Angliae Flagellum. During the 1650s, he seems to have spied for John Thurloe, though he may have been acting as a ‘double agent’ (possibly the royalist spy, ‘Mr.Marsenat’, active in 1659). In 1663, he described himself as physician in ordinary to the duke of York. He does not appear, however, to have profited from the Restoration. Frequently requesting payment of arrears, by 1668 he was seemingly in dire financial straits. In that year, he petitioned Arlington, describing himself as ‘the saddest object of pity of all the king’s servants’. He claimed to have attended on the royal household as French tutor and writing master for thirty-two years, as well as holding the posts of clerk of the patents and foreign secretary. At the Restoration, however, he lost all but the former and was over £800 in arrears. His wife was acting as a royal laundress. Some reward finally did follow for in October 1672, Charles II appointed Massonet physician in ordinary, probably without fee, though it is doubtful the position was much more than honorific.

Foster, iii, p.985; Lords Journal, viii, p.463 [13 August 1646]; Thurloe, State Papers, ii, pp.328, 610; iii, p.493; CSPD, 1659-1660, p.22; CSPD, 1661-1662, p.292; LPL, VX 1A/10/1; CSPD, 1663-1664, pp.384, 526-7; CSPD, 1667, p.439; CSPD, 1667-1668, pp.444-5; CSPD, 1668-1669, p.129; TNA, LC3/27, f.46v; Firth, ‘Cromwell and the Insurrection of 1655’, pp.323-50.


An extremely prolific author of iatrochemical works after the Restoration, Maynwaring was a signatory to the chemist’s petition in 1665. He was the son of Kenelm Maynwaring (d.1661), the sequestrated rector of Gravesend in Kent, and was educated at St John’sCollege, Cambridge, where he proceeded B Med in 1652. From 1653 to 1660, he seems to have practised in Chester, though at some time during this period he visited America, where he developed a lasting friendship with Christopher Lawrence, MD, of Dublin. Maynwaring was created MD at Dublin in 1655. By 1663 he was living in London and dedicated his first two works to prominent patrons of Helmontian medicine, Prince Rupert and George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham (qqv). During the plague, he was placed in charge of the pesthouse in Middlesex, where he claimed to have cured an exceptionally large number of patients by using chemical medicines. He seems to have been on friendly terms with fellow chemical physicians, George Thomson and George Starkey (qqv). In other respects, he would appear to have been a more moderate supporter of the aims of the chemists who, despite his attachment to van Helmont, was reluctant to condemn completely academic or Galenic medicine. His Morbus Polyrhizos et Polymorphaeus (1665) was dedicated to another aristocratic supporter of the Society of Chemical Physicians, Montague Bertie, second earl of Lindsey (qv).

ODNB; Wal.Rev., p.221.

Sir John MENNES (1599-1671)

A naval officer, he was knighted by Charles I in February 1642 for safely conveying Queen Henrietta Maria to France and was soon after rewarded with the office of rear-admiral in the navy. At the outbreak of civil war, he transferred to the army and fought loyally for the King throughout the civil war. By 1648, he was back at sea in the king’s service and soon joined the exiled court abroad. During the 1650s, he was principally active as a secret agent, though he also served as medical adviser to the exiled cavaliers, claiming a special gift in the cure of venereal diseases. At the Restoration, he was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber and received other minor rewards. In 1661, he was appointed comptroller of the navy, an office for which he was ill-equipped. He was also made a member of the council for foreign plantations (1661), master of Trinity House (1662), a member of the Tangier Company (1662) and a founder assistant of the Royal Fishery Company (1664). According to Anthony Wood, Mennes was ‘well skill’d in Physic and Chymistry’, a judgement shared by his naval associate Samuel Pepys. It seems likely, therefore, that he was a competent judge of the claims made by the chemists in 1665. He is perhaps better known today for his poetry and contribution to royalist genres of writing such as ‘drollery’.

ODNB; Wood, Ath.Ox., ii, cols 350-1; Latham and Matthews (eds), Diary of Samuel Pepys, iv, pp.218, 334; v, pp.241-2; Raylor, Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith, and the Order of Fancy.

Marchamont NEDHAM (1620-1678)

Best known as a political pamphleteer and journalist, who changed sides with alarming regularity throughout his life, Nedham seems to have possessed a life long interest in medicine, which he first began studying and practising in the 1640s. He was an early convert to the new chemical medicine, and became a consistent and outspoken advocate of its therapeutic benefits. According to William Goddard (qv), he was a founder member of the Society of Chemical Physicians, which first began to meet in May 1664. In 1665, he published Medela Medicinae, dedicated to the Marquis of Dorchester, in which he claimed to have been practising medicine for about twenty years. In it, he defended the claims of the iatrochemists over their Galenic and collegiate rivals, and repeated these views in a lengthy ‘epistolary discourse’ appended to Edward Bolnest’s Medicina Instaurata (1665). In 1675, he also contributed a preface to the English edition of Franciscus de la Boë Sylvius’ New Idea of the Practice of Physic. A year earlier, with other chemical physicians, he supplied letters testimonial on behalf of John Langford of London, a candidate for a Canterbury medical licence. Given Nedham’s long-standing interest in iatrochemistry, it is just possible that his friend James Thompson, ‘attorney and fellow wit’, was the same as the man of that name who published a defence of Helmontian medicine in 1657. Marchamont’s son, TempleNedham, later became a physician.

Attempts to locate any consistency in Nedham’s religious and political views have proved both difficult and controversial, though he does seem to have retained a consistent animus against Presbyterianism. At the Restoration, he was reported by government spies to have largely turned his back on political activism and radical sectarianism and to be concerned purely with seeking the king’s good grace. By 1676, however, he was enticed by the government to once again enter the political fray, and over the next three years produced three pamphlets designed to tarnish the reputation of the earl of Shaftesbury.

Nedham, like Bolnest (qv), was a minor beneficiary under the will of the widow of former colleague Thomas O’Dowde (qv) in 1665.

ODNB; TNA, C 10/477/110; Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England, pp.17, 48n, 77; Thompson, Helmont Disguised; Lyon Turner, ‘Williamson’s Spy Book’, p.253; Wood, Ath.Ox., ii, col.626; Boyle, Correspondence, iii, pp.11-14; LPL, VX 1A/10/60; TNA, PROB 11/319, ff.239r-v.


A Mr Thomas Norton is listed as one of the ‘Chymical Students and Practitioners’ supportive of the attempt to create a Society of Chemical Physicians in George Thomson’s Loimologia (1665). He is probably the same as the Thomas Norton, who was appointed physician in extraordinary to Charles II on 18 March 1668. Otherwise unknown.

TNA, LC 3/26, f.143.

Thomas O’DOWDE (d.1665)

O’Dowde was a leading figure in the attempt to establish a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665. Like a number of his colleagues, he succumbed to the plague in the same year. The fullest account of his life is provided by his daughter Mary Trye, who inherited his practice. According to Trye, following the death of his Irish father, Thomas O’Dowde lost his Irish inheritance as a result of the Catholic rebellion of 1641. Thereafter, he became a servant of Charles I, frequently undertaking spying missions to England which led to frequent terms of imprisonment and exposure to other dangers. Banished from England by Cromwell, he once again returned and was imprisoned at Nottingham some time around September 1658. He seems to have taken up medicine around this time, having an ‘inclination leading him from his Childhood to medicinal Scrutinies and Chymical Curiosities’. O’Dowde himself added some further details in the various editions of his The Poor Man’s Physician. Here, he describes his practice at Langley in Derbsyhire, where he went under the name of Dr Brown for about four and a half years. Immediately prior to this, he claimed to have lost his employment as an agent for the king’s maritime affairs at the port of Dunkirk. It also mentions cures performed on, and witnessed by, several of his acquaintances and friends, including Colonel Robert Werden, Henry Peck and Ralph Whitfield (qqv). In addition to these gentlemen, O’Dowde was probably involved in a scheme to search out concealed lands in Surrey in 1663 with fellow groom of the bedchamber, Edward Progers (qv).

Further evidence of his role in espionage, and links with future signatories of the chemists’ petition, can be found in the examination of the royalist turncoat Thomas Coke in 1651. According to Coke, O’Dowde (or Doud/Dowd as he commonly refers to him) was acting in 1650 as a go-between for the king in Scotland with Sir George Booth and his royalist friends in Cheshire. Here, he almost certainly encountered Robert Werden and Geoffrey Shakerley (qv).

At the Restoration, O’Dowde was appointed groom of the great chamber. At the same time, he petitioned for the office of Assay Master, or Comptroller of the Mint, a post then held by another chemical physician, the Helmontian Aaron Gurdon. In 1663 he was seeking restitution of his father’s estates in Ireland, and in 1665 he gave his address as next to St Clement’s church in the Strand, where he had a laboratory. His own status as a medical practitioner was guaranteed by the grant of a licence to practise medicine in the diocese of Winchester, dated 8 June 1665.

The will of his widow, Jane, dated 24 August 1665, named Colonel Robert Werden (qv) as joint executor. He and his two sons, Robert and John, were also beneficiaries. O’Dowde’s friendhsip with Colonel Werden is also evident from Jane’s statement that it was ‘my deare husbands intentions and will’ that she bequeathed ‘all my husbands Turneing Engines and Tooles’ to him. Other beneficiaries of small legacies were O’Dowde’s two colleagues, Edward Bolnest and Marchamont Nedham (qqv).

Trye, Medicatrix, pp.26-31; Linden, ‘Mrs Mary Trye, Medicatrix’, pp.341-53; O’Dowde, The Poor Man’s Physician; CSPD, 1663-1664, p.101; HMC. Thirteenth Report, Appendix, Part 1: MSS of the Duke of Portland, vol.1, pp.577, 579, 580, 582-3, 585, 590, 592; TNA, LC 3/24, f.11; CSPD, 1660-1661, p.11; Bodl., Carte MS 67, ff.36v, 46r, 46v; Bax, ‘Marriage and Other Licences in the Commissary Court of Surrey’, p.238; TNA, PROB 11/319, ff.239r-v.

Thomas SMART

Chemist and signatory to the chemical physicians’ petition in 1665, Smart first came to prominence in the 1650s as chemical assistant to the marquis of Dorchester at his laboratories in Vauxhall. In 1655, Samuel Hartlib reported that he had performed ‘a very strange and wonderful cure of one that was to bee cut of the stone in the bladder by Spirit of Salt’. In 1657, he also noted the recent appearance of an advert for Smart and his medicines in the Publick Adviser. After the Restoration, he was reported to be living with one ‘Molter’ near Clerkenwell, and later in the house of Duke Hamilton (possibly Sir George Hamilton, qv) near Mill Bank. In a letter to Robert Boyle in 1663, the physician Samuel Collins referred to Smart as ‘a drudging operator’ from whom he purchased supplies of arsenic and ‘a striking sulphurous balsam, that I have used with miraculous success in sore eyes’. Boyle himself recorded in his work diaries for the 1650s numerous medical recipes attributed to Smart. In February 1664, he wrote a short printed pamphlet (unpublished), addressed to Sir John Lawson, commander in chief of the navy, in which he extolled the merits of his auram purgans and advocated its use for naval surgeons.

Webster, Great Instauration, p.304 and n.; SUL, HP 29/5/17A, 18B; Boyle, Correspondence, i, p.230; ii, pp.106-7, 108; RS, B[oyle] P[apers] 8, ff.140r-v, 143v, 147v; B[oyle] P[apers] 25, pp.347-57; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, pp.89, 208; Hampshire Record Office, 18M51/636/22.

John SPRANGER (d.1685)

Probably the Dr Spranger appended to a list of ‘chymical doctors’ in favour of the creation of a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665. Educated at Cambridge in the 1640s, where he proceeded B Med in 1649, Spranger was the son of Richard Spranger of North Weald, near Epping, in Essex. He graduated MD at Leiden in 1656, writing a thesis on diseases of the lungs. In 1660, he was living at Haley Hall, Amwell, Hertfordshire, and in the following year he was probably the doctor ‘Spraynger’, who was appointed physician in extraordinary to Charles II. He may also have been the Johannes Spranger, who was ordained deacon by bishop Humphrey Henchman (qv) in September 1671. He died in September 1685.

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Venn, iv, p.137; CSPD, 1655-1656, p.581; Innes Smith, p.220; TNA, LC 3/26, f.143; Guildhall Library, MS 9531/16.

George STARKEY (1628-1665)

Probably the most well-known of the various chemical physicians who supported the plan to create a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665, Starkey was born in Bermuda and educated at HarvardCollege in Massachusetts. He emigrated to England in 1650, where he was enthusiastically received as a young adept in alchemical circles. During the 1650s, he published two major works espousing the virtues of Helmontian medicine and became a fierce critic of the Galenists. Closely associated with the circle of scholars and educational reformers surrounding Samuel Hartlib, Starkey played an important role in encouraging Robert Boyle’s early interest in chemistry. He seems to have fallen out of favour with Hartlib and many of his supporters by the middle of the 1650s, when he fell into debt, was imprisoned, and was accused by some of excessive drinking and loose morals. He lived and worked briefly in Bristol between 1655 and 1656, but returned to London, where he lived until his death in 1665. At the Restoration, he wrote several pamphlets celebrating the return of Charles II and, as a Presbyterian, advocated an alliance with moderate episcopalians. He also became engaged in prolonged disputes with other physicians and empirics such as Richard Matthews and Lionel Lockyer over the provenance and merits of their pills and chemical potions. The chemically-inclined Restoration clergyman John Ward recorded numerous conversations or ‘chymical discourse’ with him in 1662, but ultimately concluded that he was ‘a careless idle fellow [and] one that is given to tipling and spending too as I hear’. Starkey died in the plague of 1665, his death attributed by his friend George Thomson (qv) to his consumption of excessive quantities of beer which counteracted the effect of his own medicines. In an alternative version, fellow chemist John Allin claimed that Starkey had become infected with six other chemical physicians after carrying out dissections on the bodies of plague victims.

Starkey also wrote under various pseudonyms, including Eirenaeus Philalethes, in which guise he may have performed chemical experiments before Charles II. However, most of these works of alchemical scholarship were not published until after his death in 1665.

ODNB; Newman, Gehennical Fire; Newman and Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire; SUL, HP 28/1/58A, 80A, 82B; 28/2/6A; 29/5/47B, 86A-B;  McGrath (ed.), Merchants and Merchandise, pp.114-5; ESxRO, FRE 5466 [John Allin to Philip Frith, 14 September 1665]; D’Arcy Power, Diary of John Ward, i, pp.6, 7, 10, 15, 23, 24, 29, 111-12, 141, 144.

George THOMSON (1619-1677)

Like his medical mentor, the apothecary-cum-physician Job Weale, Thomson was active in the royal cause during the civil war and suffered a brief period of imprisonment after his capture at the battle of Newbury in 1644. After receiving an MA from Edinburgh University, he was examined by the College of Physicians in London in December 1647 and January 1648, but was rejected ostensibly because he was unable, or unwilling, to pay the requisite fees. On his third appearance in February 1648, the censors advised him ‘to employ himself studiously in reading the books of physicians’. He subsequently went to study medicine at Leiden, where he graduated MD in 1648. During the 1650s, he practised medicine in Essex and became a convert to the medical philosophy of van Helmont. By 1659, he was living in London, where he had established a medical practice based on strict Helmontian principles. During the plague, he remained in London, where with like-minded friends he treated the sick poor as well as performing autopsies on plague victims (an able anatomist, he claimed to have performed the first splenectomy in the previous decade). He was clearly on close terms with fellow Helmontian George Starkey (qv), and was largely responsible, along with the court empiric, Thomas O’Dowde (qv), for fostering support for the embryonic Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665 (he was a founder member of the group, which first began to meet in May 1664). Thomson subsequently became an inveterate opponent of the London College of Physicians, and its domination by Galenists, and wrote numerous polemical works attacking the College’s monopoly. Thomson subsequently became involved in a war of words with the College chemist William Johnson, and later with Henry Stubbe. Thomson died in London in 1677, and some of his unpublished works appeared in the press in 1680 under the imprimatur of his pupil, Richard Hope.

In his will, Thomson stipulated that Hope should receive £20 if within six months of his death he attempted to instruct his brother, Edward Thomson, in the art of making his ‘true Stomack spirit and Pyle Polychrest’. In the event, it does not appear that Edward took up the offer. Hope, however, did continue in practice as a chemical physician as did his son, also Richard (d.1725), for whom he provided a testimonial for a diocesan licence to practise at Cranbrook in Kent in 1685

ODNB; Thomson, A Letter Sent to Mr Henry Stubbe, pp.4-5; RCPL, Annals, iv, ff.11a, 12a; Innes Smith, p.232; Oldenburg, Correspondence, ii, pp.578-9 [Oldenburg to Boyle, 24 October 1665]; TNA, C 10/477/110; An Elegy upon the Death of … Doctor Thomson; TNA, PROB 11/353, ff.271v-272v; CCAL, DCb/L/B/361 [6 April 1685]; Allan, ‘“The Coming of the Doctor”, pp.1-15.


Thornly’s name appears on a list of ‘chymical students and practitioners’ supportive of the attempt to create a Society of Chymical Physicians in 1665. Otherwise unidentified.

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17.


Tillison was a signatory to the petition seeking to create a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665. He is probably identical with the Thomas Tillion, who described himself as ‘a Philosopher by fire to the Duke of Buckingham’ in prefatory verses addressed to the duke’s astrologer, John Heydon. Tillison was licensed to practise medicine and surgery in the diocese of Winchester on 18 July 1664, the same day as another chemist and protégé of the duke of Buckingham, Robert Bathurst (qv).

O’Dowde, The Poor Man’s Physician (3rd ed., 1665), unpaginated appendix; Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Heydon, The Wise-Mans Crown; Wellcome Library, London, MS 5339; Bax, ‘Marriage and Other Licenses in the Commissary Court of Surrey’, p.226.

John TROUTBECK (d.1684)

Of Hope Hall, Bramham, Yorkshire, Troutbeck spent a brief spell at Cambridge without graduating in the early 1630s. He may be the same as the John Troutbeck, who in June 1642 was prosecuted for speaking contemptuous words of the King at Knaresborough, Yorkshire. During the 1650s, when Troutbeck served as surgeon to the parliamentary forces in Scotland and the north, he began accumulating leases to the estates of sequestered royalists in Yorkshire. Having served under the command of John Lambert, he joined Monck (qv) in Scotland in 1659 having heard that the king ‘would restore the people to their former liberties’. He was clearly a close and trusted associate of Monck, later duke of Albemarle. Pepys described the two men as drinking companions, and Troutbeck later served under the latter’s command in the second Dutch War. For his services in promoting the Restoration as a member of the Coldstream regiment, he was appointed surgeon in ordinary supernumerary, without fee or allowance, to Charles II in July 1660, this as compensation for the loss of £2,000 of crown lands that he had acquired in Yorkshire in 1653 (when he described himself as of York, esquire). However, as various petitions dating from 1666 suggest, Troutbeck had gained little from this royal appointment, no moneys having been paid him on account of his inability ‘to procure the passing of his warrant’ for the post. He was finally granted a pension of £200 a year in 1667, paid for out of the tenths of the clergy in the diocese of Lincoln. In 1672, he was included in a list of officers proposed for the duke of Buckingham’s regiment. His pension, however, was in arrears by July 1676.

As further reward for his services in promoting the Restoration, Troutbeck was granted a CambridgeMD by royal dispensation in 1661. He was later granted a licence to practise medicine by the bishop of London on 9 March 1678. His interest in chemistry is attested by the fact that in 1672 the nonconformist Charles Hotham bequeathed all his chemical iron tools to Troutbeck. He also supplied three plates, depicting his own designs for furnaces and chemical vessels, to the revised and enlarged second edition of the Medulla Chymiae (1683) written by his friend John Francis Vigani (d.1712). In the preface to this work, a mutual friend T.R. (probably Thomas Robson, a former army colleague of Troutbeck) applauded Troutbeck as the equal of the celebrated German chemist Otto Tachenius. He would also appear to have been well thought of as an anatomist. In 1672, his Yorkshire friend, the Presbyterian physician Robert Wittie (1613-1684), referred to his presence at the autopsy of an unidentified ‘Noble Peer of this Realm’ (possibly his old friend, Albemarle), and he was likewise employed, along with his brother, Joseph, to embalm a member of the Cavendish family in 1680

Troutbeck was also responsible for the translation into English of Thomas Erastus’ The Nullity of Church Censures. The translator, probably Troutbeck’s young nephew and clerical controversialist Edmund Hickeringill (1631-1708), dedicated the work to his patron, John Troutbeck of Hope, ‘late Chyrurgion-Generall in the Northern Army’, which, he claims, ‘was done at your Direction, and in your Service received its Birth’. Hickeringill, who shared his uncle’s erastianism and hatred of the overweening power of the bishops, later referred to the fact that Troutbeck had altered the terms of his will ‘lest any of the lawn-sleeves [i.e. bishops] should lay their fingers on’t’. The rebarbative tone and outspoken nature of Hickeringill’s assault on the clerical establishment, however, may have been too excessive even for Troutbeck for in May 1683 Hickeringill wrote to him apologising for any offence caused by his ungovernable temper, and disowning all his scandalous principles to be found in his published writings.

Troutbeck died in the parish of St Martins-in-the-Fields in London on 19 July 1684. He may have been related to John and Robert Werden (qqv) as he mentions a sister, Dame Isabella Werden of Preston, in his will. Though his will was altered, I have found no ostensible evidence to support Hickeringill’s assertion that this was done as an affront to the dignity of the Church. Troutbeck’s son Thomas, who entered Cambridge in 1661, may have been a co-signatory of the chemists’ petition in 1665 (see below).

Venn, iv, p.268; TNA, ASSI 45/1/4/57-8; Green CPCC, iii, pp.2229-30, 2242-3; WSxRO, PHA/682 [Troutbeck to Capt John Phips, March 1656]; CSPD, 1657-1658, p.85; TNA, LR2/266/29-30; C54/3749/32; C54/3751/8; E121/5/5/30; LC 3/26, f.144; LC 3/2, f.24; Latham and Matthews (eds), Diary of Samuel Pepys, vii, pp.79, 354; viii, pp.52, 198; CSPD, 1665-1666, p.386; CSPD, 1666-1667, pp.156, 355, 475, 579; CSPD, 1667, pp.474-5; CSPD, 1670, with Addenda 1660-1670, p.339; CSPD, 1672, p.252; CSPD, 1676-1677, p.236; Lincolnshire Archives, MON/7/11/62; Bloom and James, p.32; Cal.Rev., p.279; Wittie, Scarbroughs Spagyrical Anatomizer Dissected, p.51; Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/4P/36/7; Hickeringill, Works, iii, p.117; LPL, MS 930, nos.158, 184 [Hickeringill to Troutbeck, 8 May 1683]; TNA, PROB 11/377, ff.320v-321v; 11/378, ff.276v-277v.


Dr Thomas Troutbeck was listed as one of the ‘chymical doctors’ in favour of the creation of a Society of Chemical Physicians in 1665. This was probably an error on George Thomson’s part for John above. Alternatively, this may be Thomas Troutbeck, the son of John, who entered Cambridge in 1661 but does not appear to have graduated, or to have been awarded a medical degree. A third possibility is that this is an error for John’s brother, Joseph Troutbeck, a surgeon to the duke of Buckingham’s regiment in 1673, and later a surgeon in the Coldstream Guards in the 1680s. As surgeon of Lord Craven’s regiment of the king’s guard, Joseph provided a testimonial on behalf of the Helmontian physician Albertus Otto Faber in 1677.

Thomas was originally bequeathed an annuity of £12 for life in his father’s will, but this was altered shortly before his death, and a new bond issued allowing him £40 for life

Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; Venn, iv, p.268; Dalton (ed.), English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714, i, pp.160, 272, 318; CSPD, 1673, p.568; CSPD, 1679-1680, p.426; Faber, De Auro Potabili, p.8; TNA, PROB 11/377, ff.320v-321v; 11/378, ff.276v-277v.


A chemical physician and hermetic philosopher, Turner was a prolific translator of works of occult natural philosophy and medicine, including several works by Paracelsus. Born at Saffron Walden in Essex, Turner was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he proceeded BA in 1639. His translation of Ars Notoria in 1657 became the subject of complaint in Parliament in January 1657, when some MPs sought to ban it on the grounds that it contained ‘witchcraft and blasphemy and free will’

He was licensed to practise medicine by the bishop of London in March 1661, and subsequently provided testimonials for other candidates for episcopal licences in July 1661, 1662 (with fellow chemists and co-signatories Edward Bolnest, William Burman and Robert Bathurst, qqv), 1663 and in June 1666 (on the latter occasion on behalf of fellow iatrochemist, Abraham Hargrave). He dedicated one of his last works, ΒΟΤΑΝΟΛΟ΄ΤΙΑ, or TheBrittish Physician (1664), to Sir Richard Chaworth, vicar general to the province of Canterbury and chancellor of the diocese of London.  In the same year, he supplied an ‘advertisement to the reader’ to John Heydon’s Theomagia (1664). In 1665, he advertised a cure for the plague, to be sold at the shop of the bookseller Samuel Speed in London. He would seem to have resided at Holshot in Hampshire in the 1650s

ODNB; Venn, iv, p.276; Rutt (ed.), Diary of Thomas Burton, I, pp.305-7; Bloom and James, pp.29, 54, 71, 70, 82-3; DRO, PR 518, sub Allington [sic]; Wellcome Library, MS 5337, sub Minors, Thomas [not included in Bloom and James]; Kephale, Medela Pestilentiae, advertisement appended at rear.


Signatory of the chemist’s petition, Warner was educated at Cambridge and Padua, proceeding MD from the latter in 1648. On the morning of 12 October 1660, his friend Elias Ashmole showed the King two young children that Warner had preserved in a special liquid. Later the same day, Ashmole presented Warner before the King, who rewarded him with an antique gold ring. Ashmole records that Charles ‘commended very much his Invention of the Liquour’ that had preserved the children. Warner was presumably already known to the King for in September 1660 he had been appointed physician in ordinary supernumerary, though Warner was consistently overlooked when vacancies arose. In 1664, he was made an honorary fellow of the London College of Physicians, an appointment that must have jarred with his support for the chemists in the following year. From 1664 to June 1683, Warner also held the post of physician to Colonel John Russell’s regiment of guards, and was made physician to the general of the armed forces in May 1678. It was presumably in the former capacity that Warner was able to recommend the radical Behmenist John Pordage (d.1688) for a Canterbury medical licence in 1669. In his testimonial, Warner attested that the latter provided medical care to the royal household as well as the regiment of foot guards under the command of Colonel Russell during the late plague. Pordage undoubtedly shared Warner’s chemical interests, as did another of his associates, the Helmontian Major John Choke or Chalk, whose teething bracelet for children was approved by Warner in September 1675. Four years later, in 1679, he provided a testimonial for the royalist projector, ironmaster and chemist, Dud Dudley (d.1684), a friend of Ashmole, who was seeking a Canterbury medical licence

Warner’s links at court may also have extended to Prince Rupert for in 1676 Warner was involved in a scheme to empower the Prince and others to prosecute the forgers of debentures and public faith bills issued under the Commonwealth. In June 1682, he was described as still eager ‘to drive on that interest of false bills and debentures’. In 1678, he also used his court connections to claim sanctuary from arrest and to escape the attentions of various creditors. On this occasion, he was ultimately unsuccessful as the King ordered him to be forcibly removed from the court by the Lord Chamberlain, the earl of Arlington, and to appear before a judge to answer the charges brought against him. By 1682, he may have been in dire financial straits for in July of that year he petitioned the King ‘showing that he was sworn and admitted physician in ordinary to his Majesty in August 1660 but without fee, to come in with fee on the first vacancy and, having received no benefit thereof, praying that his Majesty would take his age and low condition into consideration’ 

Venn, iv, p.338; Munk, i, p.332; Josten (ed.), Elias Ashmole, ii, pp.795-6 [Bodl., Ashmole MS 826, f.75]; TNA, 3/25, f.51; 3/26, f.141; CSPD, 1667-1668, pp.135, 395; Dalton (ed.), English Army Lists, pp.46, 236; CSPD, 1663-1664, p.668; CSPD, 1678, p.149; LPL, VX 1A/10/243; VX 1A/10/126/1-3; CSPD, 1675-1676, p.300; TNA, SP 29/390/23; TNA, PC 2/66, pp.324, 339, 342; CSPD, 1682, pp.241, 312.


Signatory (as John Wilkisson) to the engagement of the Society of Chemical Physicians, 1665. In all probability, this is John Wilkinson of York, who graduated MD from Leiden in 1662. His thesis, on military fevers, was dedicated to his cousin John Topham. He was the son of Christopher Wilkinson of Burnsall, Yorkshire, and spent a brief period at Cambridge in 1652 without graduating. Given the nature of his doctoral thesis, he may be the same as the John Wilkinson, who was appointed surgeon to Colonel Roger Alsop’s regiment in August 1659.

Innes Smith, p.249; Venn, iv, p.411; CSPD, 1659-1660, p.151.

Sir Thomas WILLIAMS (c.1621-1712)

Signatory to the chemists’ petition, Williams, a founder member, would appear to have played a central role in the counsels of the fledgling Society of Chemical Physicians. In correspondence with the otherwise unknown chemist John Read, Williams asked Read to consider becoming an ‘operator’ for the Society, as well as acting as a go-between with Robert Boyle. He also wanted Read to share some of his chemical secrets with him. In a later letter, Read refers to Williams’ role in the Society, and his compilation of a catalogue of fifty-three chemical medicines purveyed by the Society. At the time, Williams was living at Two Cranes Court in Fleet Street, and was a kinsman of fellow Helmontian Thomas Sherley, who was created physician in ordinary to Charles II in 1675.

Prior to the Restoration, Williams was practising medicine at Elham, Kent. He was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians in London in February 1660. His career, both as physician and speculator, really took off in the late 1660s, when he came into royal favour. In 1667, he was appointed chemical physician to Charles II, as well as physician in ordinary supernumerary. He was clearly highly valued by the King, the warrant for his appointment (not confirmed until 7 May 1669) referring to Charles’ wish to ‘encourage so important an art … hearing of the extraordinary learning and skill which he shows in compounding and inventing medicines, some of which have been prepared in the royal presence’. Accordingly, Williams was given the right to ‘make experiments in all his Majesty’s laboratories’. By 1674, he was drawing £1,000 a year for laboratory equipment. In November 1668, he was granted the reversion of the office of Assay Master of all coinages of tin in Devon and Cornwall, and in March 1669, he was jointly granted the office of the examiners and registrars to the Commissioners of Bankrupts in London. In the same month, the King recommended that Williams should be awarded a CambridgeMD, dispensing with all the normal requirements.

Around the same time, Williams began plans for a political career, establishing a base in Herefordshire and his native Breconshire. In 1670, he prepared to contest Leominster and finally prevailed at nearby Weobley in a by-election in 1675. Initially, he seems to have been on friendly terms with George Villiers, duke of Buckingham (qv), who shared Williams’ passion for chemistry. By 1674, however, it was widely reported that Williams had overheard the duke say that the king was an ‘arrant knave’ and ‘unfit to govern’. Moderately active in Parliament, he was seen as court voting fodder and marked as ‘thrice vile’ by Shaftesbury. An anonymous opposition pamphlet described him in 1677 as ‘a poor quack chemist, now the king’s chemist, [who] has got at least £40,000 by making provocatives for lechery; and yet at this time all his land is under extent, and his protection only keeps him out of prison’. He eventually lost his seat in 1678. Williams’s garrulity got him into further trouble in 1678, when three witnesses attested that he had carried false messages between Titus Oates and the Duke of York. Another reported him to have said that ‘he knew enough of the Plot to breake the Dukes Neck and his whole partie, & that if the said Duke should anger him he … would declare all in due time’. ‘It was plain’, commented Sir Robert Southwell, that he ‘had been blowing other coals than what concerned him in the profession of a chemist’. Despite attempts to revive his political career, he did not stand again for election to Parliament and was removed from the commission of the peace in 1680. He did, however, retain his place at court, and was reappointed to his post as chemical physician to James II in 1685. It is possible that he now converted to Roman Catholicism. Following the Revolution, he lost all his offices, and obtained protection from creditors only by describing himself as the menial servant of the earl of Suffolk. He died on 12 September 1712 and was succeeded to the baronetcy by his son, John, who had earlier been appointed joint chemical physician to Charles II in 1679.

Henning, iii, pp.726-7; TNA, C 10/477/110; Boyle, Correspondence, iii, pp.2-14; CSPD, 1673-1675, p.605; Munk, i, p.297; TNA, LC 3/24, f.16; 3/26, f.145; 3/30, f.42; CSPD, 1668-1669, pp.73, 98, 224, 245, 315; Harris, ‘Lady Sophia’s Visions’, pp.144, 146; Venn, iv, p.418; Anon., A Seasonable Argument, p.10; TNA, PC 2/68, pp.231, 237.

Mr [George?] WILSON

Mr.Wilson signed as one of the ‘chymical students and practitioners’ listed by George Thomson in his Loimologia. In all probability, this is George Wilson (c.1631-1711), chemist, of whose origins little is known. By his own account, he lacked ‘the great blessings of academical education’ save what he ‘fetched out of the fire’ in his laboratory. Shortly before 1665, he was established in London at the sign of Hermes Trismegistus in Watling Street, where he made and sold chemical medicines. During the plague of 1665, he was busy supplying potions to doctors, among them George Starkey (qv), from whom he acquired the recipe for his famous ‘compound soap pills’. In the 1670s, Wilson developed a popular ‘anti-rheumatick tincture’, and with these two nostrums he began to acquire wealthy and well-connected patrons such as William Paston, second earl of Yarmouth (himself an amateur chemist) and James, duke of York, later James II. Because of his connection with James, his laboratory was destroyed by a mob in December 1688, the crowd believing that it was being used to prepare ‘the Devils’ Fireworks, purposely to burn the City and Whitehall’. His customers also included the political activist and philosopher, John Locke, who in 1679 was asked by his friend, physician and fellow chemical enthusiast, David Thomas, to get ‘Mr Willson’ of Watling Street to send him ‘Bezoard mineral’

In the 1690s, he moved to an address in West Smithfield, where he began to give courses of lectures in chemistry, mainly to physicians and medical students. As a complement to this activity, in 1691 he published A Compleat Course of Chymistry, which was illustrated with engravings of chemical apparatus. The third edition of 1709 gives his age as 78. He died in 1711 and was buried in the parish of St Bartholomew the Less.

ODNB; Thomson, Loimologia, p.17; ODNB; Gibbs, ‘George Wilson, 1631-1711’, pp.182-5; Locke, Correspondence, ii, pp.128 and n. [where De Beer mistakenly suggests that this is the chemist, Thomas Wilson].


Signatory to the ‘engagement’ of the chemical physicians in 1665. Otherwise unidentified.