Owen, George (d.1558) (DNB00)

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OWEN, GEORGE (d. 1558), physician, was born in the diocese of Worcester, and was educated at Oxford. He became probationer-fellow of Merton College in 1519 (Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College, p. 251), and graduated M.A. in 1521, M.B. in 1525, and M.D. in 1528 (Oxford Univ. Register, Oxford Hist. Soc. i. 20). In 1525 he received a license to practise his profession, and apparently at first settled at Oxford; but soon after his graduation he was appointed physician to Henry VIII, and frequently visited the court. He, together with John Chambre and William Butts, attended the birth of Prince Edward, afterwards Edward VI, in 1537, and signed the letter to the council announcing the serious condition of the child's mother, Jane Seymour. The statement that he performed the Cæsarian operation upon her is untrue. Through 1537 and 1538 he was often summoned to prescribe for the prince (cf. Nichols, Lit. Remains of Edward VI, pp. xxv, xxxv). The king proved a generous client, and made him many grants of lands and houses in Oxford and its neighbourhood, to which Owen added by extensive purchases. In 1537 he was given the manor of Yarnton, Oxfordshire. In 1541 he received the site of Rewley Abbey, which soon passed to Christ Church; and he acquired Inn Hall and St. Alban Hall, which had formed part of Cardinal Wolsey's property. These buildings were subsequently sold to Merton College. In 1546 he acquired Cumnor Place. Godstow Abbey also fell into Owen's hands, and there he often resided. He was one of the subscribing witnesses to the will of Henry VIII, who left him a legacy of 100l. (cf. Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd ser. iii. 233).

Edward VI continued him in his office of royal physician, and treated him with as much liberality as his father. In 1550 he bought the rectory and chapel of St. Giles, Oxford (Wood, City of Oxford, ii. 70). By letters patent, dated 4 Feb. 1552–3, Edward gave to him, jointly with Henry Martin of Oxford, Durham College, which they sold a year later to Sir Thomas Pope for the site of his projected Trinity College (ib. p. 274). On 25 Oct. 1552 he received a royal grant of land of the value of 20l. a year.

Meanwhile he was taking a prominent place in his profession, and was held in esteem by the public. Leland addressed an ‘Encomium,’ ‘Ad D. Audoenum Medicum Regium;’ and, according to his friend Thomas Caius [q. v.], he and Queen Catharine Parr joined in inducing Caius to translate into English Erasmus's paraphrase of St. Mark's Gospel. He was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians on 25 June 1545; an elect in 1552, in place of Dr. John Chambre, deceased; and on 2 Oct. 1553 was elected president, to which office he was reappointed in the following year. At the same time he was nominated royal physician on Mary's accession, and in the first year of the new reign he was instrumental in obtaining an act for the confirmation and enlargement of the powers of the College of Physicians. Two years later, when a difference arose between the College of Physicians and the university of Oxford concerning the admission by the latter of Simon Ludford and David Laughton to the degree of bachelor of medicine, Cardinal Pole, then chancellor of the university, directed that body to consult Dr. Owen and Dr. Thomas Huys, the queen's physicians, ‘de instituendis rationibus quibus Oxoniensis academia in admittendis medicis niteretur.’ Owen and his colleague suggested an agreement which the chancellor approved and ratified. Owen remained till his death on friendly terms with Queen Mary. In the spring of 1555 she sent him to Woodstock to report on the health of the Princess Elizabeth. At the new year of 1556 he presented the queen with ‘two pottles of preserves’ (Nicolas, Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary). He died of an epidemic intermittent fever on 18 Oct. 1558, and was buried on 24 Oct. at St. Stephen's Church, Walbrook (Machyn, Diary, p. 177). He was the author of a treatise named ‘A meet Diet for the New Ague, set forth by Mr. Dr. Owen,’ fol. London, 1558 (Tanner).

Owen left two sons, and two daughters, Lettice and Elizabeth. The elder son, Richard Owen of Godstow, married Mary, daughter of Sir Leonard Chamberlaine of Sherborne, Oxfordshire, and had issue. William, the second son, was, with his wife Anne, daughter of John Rawley of Billesby, Northamptonshire, residing at Cumnor Place when Amy Robsart met her death there in 1560 [see under Dudley, Robert, Earl of Leicester]. William Owen sold Cumnor to Anthony Forster in 1572, and in the same year was elected M.P. for Oxford (Turner, Records of Oxford, pp. 338–9). He seems to have retained his father's property at Godstow, and resided there.

John Owen, described in 1615 as a Roman catholic, of Godstow, was Richard Owen's grandson, and great-grandson of the physician. He achieved some notoriety in 1615 by being charged with using the treasonable expression that it was lawful to kill the king, since he was excommunicate. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and sentence of death was passed; but, after remaining in prison in the king's bench for three years, Owen was liberated and pardoned on 24 July 1618, at the request of the Spanish ambassador, on condition of his leaving the country within twenty days (State Trials, ii. 879; Gardiner, Hist. ii. 304–5; Cal. State Papers, 1611–18, pp. 548, 558).

[Visitation of Oxfordshire, 1566 and 1574 (Harl. Soc.), pp. 127–8; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 36; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 274; John Chambers's Worcestershire Biographies, pp. 59 sq.; Tanner's Biogr. Brit.]

S. L.