Gilbert Primrose (surgeon)
Mural monument at the tomb of Gilbert Primrose in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh
18 April 1616|
Gilbert Primrose (c.1535 -18 April 1616) was a Scottish surgeon who became Surgeon to King James VI of Scots and moved with the court to London as Serjeant-Surgeon to King James VI and I on the Union of the Crowns. He was Deacon of the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers of Edinburgh on three occasions.
Early Life and education
Gilbert Primrose was born c.1535, at Culross, Fife, Scotland. He was the son of Duncan Primrose, of the Primroses of that Ilk and Helen Primrose, and was a member of the family from which the Earls of Rosebery are descended. On 6 June 1558 he was admitted to the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers of Edinburgh as apprentice to Robert Henrysoun, one of the founder members of the Incorporation.
The name Gilbert Primrose first appears in the Edinburgh burgh records in 1558 when Scotland was threatened by an invasion from “the auld inemies of Ingland”. The craft guilds were required to list those men who could be mustered in the event of an attack and Gilbert Primrose was one of the 27 nominated by the Incorporation. Primrose went on to become Surgeon to King James VI of Scotland. He was a friend of Dr Peter Lowe, the co-founder of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, who dedicated the first edition (1597) of his surgical textbook The Whole course of Chirurgerie (which was renamed Discourse of the Whole Art of Chirurgerie for the 2nd and 3rd editions) to Gilbert Primrose. He was subsequently elected Deacon of the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers on no fewer than three occasions. Whilst he was Deacon in 1581 the Surgeons became first in the order of precedence of the 14 crafts of the City of Edinburgh. When he was elected Deacon for the third time in 1602 his status was such that he was able to impose considerable discipline on the Incorporation. Under his leadership all members of the Incorporation swore that they would uphold all aspects of the Seal of Cause (the Charter of the Incorporation) and any violations were punished. Primrose was also responsible for passing new Laws which sought to maintain even higher standards within the craft. Admission and examination fees were established and each member of the Incorporation was required to pay a subscription. The Incorporation thrived under his leadership. As principal surgeon to King James VI he accompanied the Court to London on the Union of the Crowns in 1603. He became Serjeant-Surgeon or chief surgeon to the King, now James VI and I and Queen Anne.
First name on Fellows’ Roll
Whilst the names of the earliest members of the Incorporation appear in the Edinburgh Burgh records, the assignation of a roll number for Members and Fellows starts from 1581 when the Deacon of the Incorporation was Gilbert Primrose. His name is first in the Roll of Fellows which has continued in an uninterrupted sequence ever since.
Surgeons’ Hall Museum has a treasured relic of Gilbert Primrose. It is labelled “a replica of the mortar used by Gilbert Primrose, an ancestor of the Earl of Rosebery and a Deacon of the Chirurgeon-Barbers in 1581”. This mortar was presented to the College by Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, a descendant of Gilbert Primrose in December 1909. The original is held in the National Museums of Scotland.
His brother Archibald Primrose became 1st Laird of Burnbrae. Other brothers included David Primrose, Henry Primrose, Duncan Primrose and Peter Primrose. He married Alison Graham. Their son Gilbert Primrose (c1580–1641) became a Calvinist pastor. Other children included Dame Marion Primrose (1566-1637), David Primrose and Robert Primrose.
Gilbert Primrose died at Westminster, London on April 18, 1616 but was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh where his monument stands to this day. His grave carries the Latin inscription translated as:
To Gilbert Primrose, Chief Surgeon to James and Anne, King and Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland. His heirs erected this monument. He lived happily 80 years. To the end of his life he was Chief Surgeon to the King, and died, adorned with testimonials of public sorrow from Prince and people, in the year of our Lord 1616 on the 8th of April.
Great Gilbert Primrose shut his mortal eyes
Full fraught with honours as with length of days
My will and life to Christ I still resign'd
Hence neither life nor death did bitter find
- "Gilbert Primrose, principal surgeon to James VI of Scotland".
- Douglas, Robert. The peerage of Scotland: containing an historical and genealogical account of the nobility of that kingdom. Edinburgh : Printed by George Ramsay and Co. for Archibald Constable and Co., Edinburgh p575 https://archive.org/details/peerageofscotlan02douguoft
- Comrie, J.D. History of Scottish Medicine to 1860. London, Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, 2nd ed, 1932 p 174 https://archive.org/details/b2045711x
- Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557-1571. 10 June 1558. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/edinburgh-burgh-records/1557-71/pp15-26
- Lowe P. The whole course of chirurgerie ... Compiled by Peter Lowe Scotchman, Arellian, Doctor in the Facultie of Chirurgerie in Paris, and chirurgian ordinarie to the most victorious and christian King of Fraunce and Nauarre. London:Printed by Thomas Purfoot; 1597.
- Donaldson, IML. ‘Peter Lowe’s Whole Course of Chirurgerie…1597’. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 2013;4:374-376 https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/Journal/peter-lowe%E2%80%99s-whole-course-chirurgerie%E2%80%A61597
- Dingwall, Helen. A famous and flourishing Society ; The History of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 1505-2005. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University press, 2005. p15 ISBN 978-0748615674
- Cresswell, CH The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Historical Notes from 1505 to 1905 . Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1926 p 9
- Cresswell, CH The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Historical Notes from 1505 to 1905 . Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1926 p 19
- Cresswell, CH The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Historical Notes from 1505 to 1905 . Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1926. p19
- Comrie, J.D. History of Scottish Medicine to 1860. London, Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, 2nd ed, 1932 p 175.https://archive.org/details/b2045711x
- "Dame Marion Primrose".
- Monteith, Robert. Collection of Epitaphs and Monumental Inscriptions: Chiefly in Scotland. Glasgow. Printed by D Macvean. 1834 https://archive.org/details/collectionepita00macvgoog