John Caius

Orfeas Katsoulis | Apr 13, 2023

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John Caius (Norwich, October 6, 1510 - London, July 29, 1573) was an English academic and physician. He was the second founder of what is now Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, co-titled after him.


Caius was born in Norwich and received his early education at Norwich School. In 1529 he was admitted as a student to what was then Gonville Hall in Cambridge, founded by Edmund Gonville in 1348, where he seems to have studied mainly theology. After graduating in 1533, he went to Italy, where he studied under the celebrated masters Montano and Vesalius in Padua. In 1541 he received his medical degree from the University of Padua.

In 1543 he visited different parts of Italy, Germany and France and then returned to England. On his return from Italy he Latinized his surname, in keeping with a fashion of the time.


From 1547 Caius practiced medicine in London, where he was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Physicians, of which he was president for many years.

In 1557 Caius, at that time Queen Mary's physician, enlarged his old college by building an entire new wing, changing its name from "Gonville Hall" to "Gonville and Caius College," and endowed it with numerous considerable properties. He accepted the post of rector of the college on January 24, 1559 upon Dr. Bacon's death, and held it until about a month before his death.

He was physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. From this position he was dismissed in 1568 because of his adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. He was incongruously accused both of atheism and of secretly keeping a collection of Roman Catholic ornaments and vestments. These were found and burned in the College Court.

He was elected nine times president of the Royal College of Physicians, a manuscript account of which he left in the Annales collegii medicorum 1520-1565.

He returned to Cambridge from London for a few days in June 1573, about a month before his death, and resigned. He died at his London home, at St Bartholomew's Hospital, on July 29, 1573. His body was taken to Cambridge and buried in the chapel beneath the monument he designed.

The question of whether John Caius was the inspiration for the character of Dr. Caius in Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Windsor has been debated at length by Arnold McNair, 1st Baron McNair.

Caius was an educated, active and benevolent man. In 1557 he erected a monument in St Paul's Cathedral to the memory of Thomas Linacre. In 1564 he obtained a grant for Gonville and Caius College to take the bodies of two malefactors each year for dissection; he was thus an important pioneer in the advancement of the science of anatomy. He probably devised, and certainly presented, the silver caduceus now in the possession of Caius College as part of its insignia.

Caius was also a pioneering naturalist, ready to make his own observations of nature rather than simply rely on accepted authorities. He was willing to make trips around the country to see and record unusual animals. As such he could also be considered a pioneer in zoology, not yet recognized as a science in its own right.

He corresponded with Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, with whom he had befriended on his return from Padua. He wrote a study on British dogs to send to Gesner as a (unused) contribution to the Swiss naturalist's Historiae animalium. He also sent Gesner drawings of dogs that were printed in later editions of the work. Caius's Catholic religious convictions did not prevent his friendship with the Protestant Gesner (in fact, the Historiae Animalium, to which Caius contributed, was included under Pope Paul IV in the Roman Catholic Church's index of forbidden books).

His last literary production was the History of the University of Cambridge, Historia Cantabrigiensis Academiae (London, 1574).


  1. John Caius
  2. John Caius
  3. ^ Caius is a Latinised version of Kees or Keys. The name of the college is today pronounced as 'Keys'.
  4. ^ (EN) A. D. Bayne, A Comprehensive History of Norwich, Jarrold and Sons, 1869, p. 726.
  5. ^ (EN) Lord McNair, Why is the doctor in the Merry Wives of Windsor called Caius?, in Med. Hist., vol. 13, n. 4, ottobre 1968, pp. 311–339, DOI:10.1017/s0025727300014769, PMID 4899813.
  6. Bayne, A. D. A Comprehensive History of Norwich (неопр.). — Jarrold and Sons, 1869. — С. 726.
  7. Ash, Edward C. Dogs: their History and Development. Ernest Benn Ltd, Лондон, 1927 г.
  8. ACAD ↓.
  9. A History of the County of Cambridge 1959 ↓.

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