John Caius Biography (1510-1573)

physician, scholar

Caius (the Latin form of his name that he adopted, which has at least 10 alternative spellings) is best known for his 1552 book A Boke or Counseill against the Disease commonly called the Sweate, or Sweatyng Sicknesse, considered one of the first original descriptions of an epidemic. He was also noteworthy as a physician to three English monarchs, King Edward VI, Queen Mary,and Queen Elizabeth, and a founder of Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge, England's first school for formal medical education. Caius was a notable man of letters, translating and lecturing and publishing on subjects ranging from British dogs to philosophy, to the origins of universities.

Born in Norwich in 1510, he started studying the humanities at Cambridge University's Gonville Hall at the age of 18. It is believed his initial intentionwas to become a cleric. He switched to medical studies in 1539 but remainedinterested in theology and church matters for the rest of his life.

Caius went to Italy and studied at the University of Padua, living for eightmonths under the same roof as the famed anatomist Andreas Vesalius. He was awarded his M.D. degree at Padua in 1541. Caius traveled throughout Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and France before returning to England. In London,he commenced teaching and practicing medicine in London.

In 1547 Caius became a Fellow of the College of Physicians of London. He waselected president of the group nine times between 1555 and 1571. In that post, he successfully lobbied for the right to dissect the bodies of executed criminals and fought a bid by surgeons to administer internal remedies.

Caius's account of the English "sweating sickness" was the first descriptionof a disease written in the English language. After observing an epidemic atShrewsbury in 1551 and 1552, he recorded symptoms including difficulty in breathing, severe prostration, delirium, and rapid heartbeat. Death could occurjust three hours after symptoms first appeared. Neither physicians nor historians agreed on the illness. Speculation has ranged from influenza to plague,to relapsing fever, and to acute rheumatic fever. Caius originally wrote thisaccount in English to warn "everye personne" about the disease. Later, he revised it and had it published in Latin for his medical colleagues.

Caius is considered a founder of Cambridge's Gonville and Caius College, eventhough the institution that was then named Gonville Hall was already more than 180 years old at the time of his study. After he became successful and wealthy, Caius learned that his old college had fallen into disrepair. He arranged a new charter from Queen Mary, provided a generous endowment, and enlargedthe buildings.

To signify elements of academic excellence, Caius arranged for the symbolic construction of the three famous gates at the college. To this day, newcomersenter the institution through the low-ceilinged Gate of Humility. While studying there, they daily pass through a handsome portico named the Gate of Virtue, and after receiving their degrees, they leave through the Gate of Honor.

In 1559, Caius was named the college's master, a post he continued to occupyuntil just before his death in 1573. However, his religious beliefs caused him considerable difficulty at Cambridge. Henry VIII had started the English Reformation in 1534 by creating the Church of England, headed by himself. Caius, however, retained sympathy for the Pope. It is believed that Elizabeth I dismissed him as her physician for that reason in 1568. In 1572 the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University (who later become the Archbishop of Canterbury)ordered that Caius's rooms be raided. A variety of "popish" garments and books were seized and burned. After his death in 1573, however, Caius was buriedin the chapel at Gonville and Caius College.

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