William Butts

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Portrait of William Butts aged 59 by Hans Holbein the Younger (circa 1543)

Sir William Butts (c. 1486 – 22 November 1545) was a member of King Henry VIII of England's court and was the King's physician.[1][2]

His portrait was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1543, and he was knighted in the following year. His granddaughter Anne was married to the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper.


Margaret Butts, portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger

According to recent sources, William Butts was the son of John Butts, auditor of Crown Revenues and later a Custodian of Wards,[3] and his wife Elizabeth, and he was born in Norwich, Norfolk,[4] although his family was also connected with Fulham, Middlesex.

He was educated at Gonville Hall in the University of Cambridge. He took his B.A. in 1506-07, his M.A. in 1509 and was awarded his M.D. in 1518.[5][6] He was admitted a Member of the College of Physicians in 1529.[7][8] He worked with George Owen and Thomas Wendy.


Sir William Butts played an important role in King Henry's relations with Thomas Wolsey, while the Cardinal lay sick at Esher in 1529/30.[9] He was a known Protestant and close associate of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and of Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII.[10] His family later became significant leaders of the Puritan faction in Norfolk.

He died on 22 November 1545. The Fulham historian Faulkner identified Butts's original monument as an altar-tomb or tomb-chest of English marble against the south wall of the chancel of All Saints Church, Fulham, on which was his brass effigy in armour as a knight, with a brass scroll on one side inscribed "Myn Advantage". His arms were shown at each corner of the stone, "Azure 3 lozenges gules, on a chevron or, between 3 etoils or".[11]

William Butts with a Memento Mori

His epitaph in Latin verse, conceived by John Strype to have been composed for Butts by his dear friend Sir John Cheke,[12] was at first mounted on the wall of the church, but had become so worn out by 1627 that it was restored by Leonard Butts, Esq., of Norfolk. It contains six lines of elegaic Latin:

"Quid medicina valet, quid Honos, quid gratia Regum:
Quid popularij Amor, mors ubi saeva venit?
Sola valet PIETAS, quae structa est auspice Christo:
Sola in morte valet, caetera cuncta fluunt:
Ergo mihi vitâ fuerit quando omnia Christus,
Mors mihi nunc lucrum vitaque Christus erit."[13]

("What helpe be Physick, Honours, what the Thanks of Kings,
What help the Peoples Love, when cruel Death shall come?
PIETY vaileth alone, in Christ propitious made:
This onlie stands in death, all else doth flie away:
So then since Christ in Life was all in all to me,
So Death to me my gain and Christ my life shall be.")


Tomb of Sir William Butts the younger, at Thornage (1583)

Sir William Butts married Margaret Bacon of Cambridgeshire.

They had three children,

  • (Sir) William Butts of Thornage, Norfolk (c1506 - 1583)[14] (m. Joan Bures).[15] Butts was a patron of literature. After his death a collection of poems, A Book of Epitaphes (1583) was published in his memory by Robert Dallington.[16] He is also the subject of a notable portrait by Holbein. His tomb at Thornage has (above) a heraldic quartering for Butts with Bacon, shown also on the tomb-chest, dexter: for his wife, sinister, is a quartering for Bures, "Per chevron indented sable and ermine, in chief two lions rampant or". The central blazon on the tomb chest is the impalement of Butts with Bures.
  • Thomas Butts of Great Ryburgh, Norfolk (m. Bridget Bures), who participated in the 1536 voyage of Richard Hore to Newfoundland, and survived to tell the story to Richard Hakluyt.
  • Edmund Butts of Barrow, Suffolk (m. Anne Bures). They had been seven years married when he died in 1548:[17] he was buried at Barrow, and Anne survived him as a widow for 61 years, dying in December 1609. She is buried with a fine monumental brass effigy with verses and a fillet inscription set in black marble in the church at Redgrave, Suffolk. Their daughter Anne Butts married Sir Nicholas Bacon, 1st Baronet, of Redgrave (c. 1540-1624).

The three wives were sisters, the daughters of Sir Henry Bures (died 1528) of Acton, Suffolk, and his wife Anne, daughter of George Waldegrave and Anne Drury. Their mother remarried c. 1528 to (Sir) Clement Heigham (died 1571), whose stepdaughters they became.[18][19]


  1. ^ C.T. Martin, 'Butts, Sir William (died 1545)', Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900), Vol. 8.
  2. ^ E.L. Furdell, The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts (University of Rochester Press, New York/Woodbridge (UK) 2001), pp. 26-27 (Google).
  3. ^ A.L. Wyman, 'Fulham Doctors of the Past', Medical History Vol. XVI Part 3 (July 1972), pp. 354-65, at pp. 254-55 (semantic scholar pdf).
  4. ^ R. O'Day, The Routledge Companion to the Tudor Age (Pearson Education 1995/Routledge, London and New York 2010), p. 1564 (Google); also Davies, O.D.N.B.
  5. ^ J.A. Venn and J. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Vol. I Part 1 (Cambridge University Press 1922), p. 276.
  6. ^ C.H. Cooper and T. Cooper, Athenae Cantabrigienses, I: 1500-1585 (Deighton, Bell & Co., Cambridge 1858), p. 87 (Google).
  7. ^ Martin, 'Butts, Sir William', Dictionary of National Biography.
  8. ^ 'Sir William Butts', in W. Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd, revised edition, 3 vols (The College, London 1878), I, pp. 29-30 (Google).
  9. ^ George Cavendish, 'The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey', in R.S. Sylvester and D.P. Harding (eds), Two Early Tudor Lives (Yale University Press, New Haven/London 1962), at pp. 123-25 (Google).
  10. ^ R. Hutchinson, The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracy, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant (William Morrow, 2005), p.135.
  11. ^ T. Faulkner, An Historical and Topographical Account of Fulham: Including the Hamlet of Hammersmith (T.Egerton, &c., London 1813), pp. 77-79 (Google).
  12. ^ J. Strype, The Life of the Learned Sir John Cheke, Kt. (new, corrected edition), in Collected Edition: Historical and Biographical Works (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1821), pp. 26-30 (Google).
  13. ^ Monumental Inscription, All Saints' Church, Fulham: "Epitaphiū D. Guilielmi Buttij Equitis Aurati et Medici Regis Henrici, qui obijt Ao Dni 1545 17 Novemb:" (the death-date is supposed incorrectly copied). "Epitaphiū hoc primitus inscriptum pariete et situ iam penè exesum, sic demum restituit Leonardus Butts Armiger, Norfolciensis Oct 30 1627."
  14. ^ Will of Sir William Butts of Thornage, Norfolk (P.C.C. 1583, Butts quire).
  15. ^ N.M. Fuidge, 'Butts, Sir William (1513-83), of Thornage, Norf.', in P.W. Hasler (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, (from Boydell and Brewer, 1981), History of Parliament Online.
  16. ^ R. Dallington, A Booke of Epitaphes Made Upon the Death of the Right Worshipfull Sir William Buttes Knight: Who Deceased the Third Day of September, Anno 1583 (Henrie Midleton, London ?1583), Full text at (eebo/tcp1).
  17. ^ Peter Le Neve (Norroy) recorded Edmund Butts' brass memorial inscription at Barrow, "Here lyeth Edmonde Butts Esquyer, which deceased ye Vij day of May in the yere of our Lord God a MDXLij", (1542), but it must have been defective at the end, for the monumental inscription of his widow adequately establishes the date of his death as 1548. See J. Gage, The History and Antiquities of Suffolk. Thingoe Hundred (Samuel Bentley, London/John Deck, Bury St Edmunds 1838), p. 26 (Google).
  18. ^ 'Ryburgh Magna', in F. Blomefield, ed. C. Parkin, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Volume VII: Gallow and Brothercross Hundreds (William Miller, London 1807), pp. 162-67, at pp. 164-65 (Google).
  19. ^ Will of Sir Clement Heigham of Barrow, Suffolk (P.C.C. 1571, Holney quire). Full transcript and note in J.J. Howard (ed), the Visitation of the County of Suffolke, 2 vols (Whittaker & Co., London/Samuel Tymms, Lowestoft 1868), II, pp. 248-51 (Internet Archive).

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