John Radcliffe (physician)

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John Radcliffe
John Radcliffe.jpg
Member of Parliament for Bramber
In office
20 March 1690[1] – 11 October 1695[1]
MonarchWilliam III
Preceded byJohn Alford
Succeeded byNicholas Barbon with William Stringer
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
In office
12 November 1713[2] – 1 November 1714[3]
MonarchAnne I
Preceded byThomas Chapman
Succeeded byAlexander Denton and Abraham Stanyan
Personal details
John Radcliffe

Wakefield, Yorkshire, England
Died1 November 1714(1714-11-01) (aged 63–64)
Political partyTory
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford, Lincoln College, Oxford

John Radcliffe (1650 – 1 November 1714[3]) was an English physician, academic and politician. A number of landmark buildings in Oxford, including the Radcliffe Camera (in Radcliffe Square), the Radcliffe Infirmary, the Radcliffe Science Library, [4] Radcliffe Primary Care and the Radcliffe Observatory were named after him. The John Radcliffe Hospital, a large tertiary hospital in Headington, was also named after him.


Radcliffe was born the son of George Radcliffe and Anne Loader, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where he was baptised on 23 January 1653. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and Northallerton Grammar School and graduated from the University of Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner at University College tutored by Obadiah Walker, to become a Fellow of Lincoln College. He obtained his MD in 1682 and moved to London shortly afterwards. There he enjoyed great popularity and became royal physician to William III and Mary II.

In 1690 he was elected Member of Parliament for Bramber, Sussex[1] and in 1713 member for Buckingham.[2][5]

On his death in the following year, his property was bequeathed to various charitable causes, including St Bartholomew's Hospital and University College, Oxford, where the Radcliffe Quad is named after him. The charitable trust founded by his will of 13 September 1714 still operates as a registered charity.[6]

Anecdotes of Radcliffe[edit]

1. Among the many singularities related of Radcliffe, it has been noticed that, when he was in a convivial party, he was unwilling to leave it, even though sent for by persons of the highest distinction. Whilst he was thus deeply engaged at a tavern, he was called on by a grenadier, who desired his immediate attendance on his colonel; but no entreaties could prevail on the physician to postpone his revelry.

"Sir," quoth the soldier, "my orders are to bring you." And being a very powerful man, he took him up in his arms, and carried him off per force. After traversing some dirty lanes, the doctor and his escort arrived at a narrow alley.
"What the Devil is all this," said Radcliffe, "your colonel doesn't live here?"
"No," said his military friend, "my colonel does not live here – but my comrade does, and he's worth two of the colonel, so by God, doctor, if you don't do your best for him, it will be the worst for you!"[7]

2. To confer medical authority upon themselves, doctors of the day often published their theories, clinical findings, and pharmacopoeia (collections of "receipts" or prescriptions). Radcliffe, however, not only wrote little but also took a certain iconoclastic pride in having read little, remarking once of some vials of herbs and a skeleton in his study: “This is Radcliffe’s library.” However, he bequeathed a substantial sum of money to Oxford for the founding of the Radcliffe Library, an endowment which, Samuel Garth quipped, was "about as logical as if a eunuch should found a seraglio."[8]

3. Physician to King William III until 1699, when Radcliffe offended the King by remarking "Why truly, I would not have your Majesty's two legs for your three kingdoms."

Medical institutions named after Radcliffe[edit]

The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford is named after John Radcliffe, as was the former Radcliffe Infirmary, now being redeveloped for academic use by Oxford University as the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.


  • Pharmacopoeia Radcliffeana: or, Dr. Radcliff's Prescriptions, Faithfully gather'd from his Original Recipie's To which are annex'd, Useful Observations upon each Prescription. The Second Edition Corrected. . Rivington, London 2nd Ed. by Edward Strother 1716 Free EBook digitized by Google
  • Pharmacopoeiae Radcliffeanae Pars Altera: Or, The Second and Last Part of Dr. Radcliff's Prescriptions, with useful Observations, &c. To which is annex'd, An Appendix, Containing a Body of Prescriptions, answering the Intentions requir'd in all Diseases Internal and External, with useful Cautions subjoin'd to each Head, and a complete Index to the Whole. Being a Work of General Use to all Physicians, Apothecaries, and Surgeons. . Rivington, London. by Edward Strother 1716 Free EBook digitized by Google
  • Dr. Radcliffe's practical dispensatory : containing a complete body of prescriptions, fitted for all diseases, internal and external, digested under proper heads . Rivington, London 4th Ed. by Edward Strother 1721 Digital edition by the University and State Library Düsseldorf

Further reading[edit]

  • Hone, Campbell R. (1950) The Life of Dr. John Radcliffe, 1652–1714, Benefactor of the University of Oxford. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Guest, Ivor (1991) Dr John Radcliffe and His Trust. London: The Radcliffe Trust, 595 pages ISBN 0-9502482-1-5


  1. ^ a b c "The History of Parliament, 1690". The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b "The History of Parliament, 1713". The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  3. ^ a b "RADCLIFFE, John (1653–1714), of Wolverton, Bucks., and Carshalton, Surr". The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  4. ^ "History of the Radcliffe Science Library and Collections". Bodleian Libraries. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  5. ^ "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  6. ^ Charity Commission. Dr Radcliffe's Trust, registered charity no. 209212.
  7. ^ The Selector; and literary notices of new works. Anecdotes of the Faculty. The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. Project Gutenberg. 22 September 1827. p. 204.
  8. ^ Otto L. Bettmann, A Pictorial History of Medicine (Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1956), 192.
Parliament of England
Preceded by
John Alford
Member of Parliament for Bramber
With: Nicholas Barbon 1690–1695
Succeeded by
Nicholas Barbon
with William Stringer 1695–1698
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir Richard Temple, 4th Bt
Thomas Chapman
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
With: Thomas Chapman
Succeeded by
Alexander Denton
Abraham Stanyan