John Caius was born in the City of Norwich on 6th October 1510. It is not known when nor why he latinised his name from Keys but kept the old pronunciation.
When he was 19 years of age, in September 1529, he entered Gonville Hall, Cambridge. He graduated BA in January 1533, placed first in seniority of his year. He commenced MA in 1535 and held fellowship until September 1545. As a student, he was interested in theology and Hebrew but lack of sympathy with the Reformation led him to turn to medicine which he studied at Padua in Italy, from 1539. He graduated MD in May 1541 and held a professorship at Padua for about a year, lecturing on the logic and philosophy of Aristotle in the original Greek.
Leaving Padua in July 1543, Caius toured the major cities of Italy, visiting public and private libraries to gather complete and correct versions of the works of Galen and Hippocrates.
Returning to England, he was made a Fellow of the College of Physicians and for nearly 10 years he had a doctor's practice in London. He was held in high esteem in the profession and was nine times President of the College. Among his patients were Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. He was a pioneer lecturer in anatomy with a series of demonstrations in the Hall of the Barber- Surgeons. He rented a house just inside the entrance gate from Smithfield, which he retained from 1551 until his death. Caius never married.
During these busy years in London, Caius formed a plan for enlarging and improving his old college, Gonville Hall, and in 1557 he obtained a Charter of Foundation to the College. He then became the second founder and the college name was changed to Gonville and Caius. To mark this event, a new seal was struck.
At this time Caius bought three manors from the Crown - Runeton Holme and Burnham Wyndhams, both in the County of Norfolk; and the Manor of Croxley in Hertfordshire, worth œ23. He donated these manors to the college to provide an income to support the fellowships and scholarships which he had added with the charter. Caius then paid his first visit to his old college to formally open it and at a service held in March 1558, Caius dedicated gifts of a cushion, a wand, a book and a silver salver "to God, to the Blessed Virgin and to our society". The gifts were handed to the Master of the College at a grand feast following the service. In gratitude, the college made him MD on 1st April 1558.
A few months later the Master of the College, Thomas Bacon, died and the college affairs were found to be in a poor state. Reluctantly, Caius accepted the position of Master, being elected in January 1559, but refusing any emoluments. He then proceeded to put the college affairs in order and obtained a College Grant of Arms. With his own money he bought land for the college and erected new buildings, to make the college more spacious. He also constructed a new court, to bear his name. Caius was also of the opinion that the men of his college should enter in humility, live in virtue, and pass out to take their degrees and to a life of honour. He therefore adorned his new avenue and court with three gates, each representative of one of these symbols.
The domestic rule of Caius was not as successful and quarrels ensued. This was probably due to his having aged prematurely and suffering with poor health, which left him with a somewhat gloomy disposition. Being a Roman Catholic, he was not in sympathy with the religious outlook of the majority of the Fellows who had Puritan leanings and this made his domestic rule stormy.
Caius did not spend all his time at Cambridge and he continued his medical practice and duties as President of the College of Physicians. He continued spending his own wealth on the college and about 1570 he endowed it with his Dorset property at Bincome. Throughout his mastership, he spent much of his own money for the benefit of Gonville and Caius College.
Caius was never popular at the college and members of the college, influenced by the Bishop of London destroyed all his religious ornaments and vestments, as they did not hold with such symbols of faith. Shortly after this episode and in poor health, John Caius returned to London. In June 1573 he resigned his mastership and on 29th July of that year, he died at the age of 62.
Portraits of John Caius show him to be a man with a high forehead, long beard and stern mien, short of stature and soft voiced. Contemptuous of the indolence and indifference to learning which he saw in his juniors, he was a great lover of the past. He had little sympathy for the new religious, political or educational ideas.
The body of John Caius was carried to Cambridge and was met at Trumpington Ford by the new Master and Fellows of the College. He was buried the following day in his college chapel, according to his own wishes.
Dr Caius gave to the college his manor of Croxley & Snellshall near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire (at the same time as those of Runcton and Burnham Thorpe). It had formerly belonged to the Monastery of St. Albans and Dr Caius had bought it from the Crown (Philip and Mary) for œ461, being 20 years' purchase of its then annual value.
The free and customary rents of the manor amounted to œ12.6s.8d. The manor contained three tracts of common land, viz, Croxley Green, the Common Moor and the land at Cassiobridge.
- February 1990
- Published by the Council's Information and Press Officer at 46 High Street, Rickmansworth, Herts, WD3 1HJ (with acknowledgements to R. Stubington Esq. BA ALA; the Master & Fellows of Gonville & Caius College for the reproduction of the College's Coat of Arms and photograph of the Gate of Honour; and to Cambridge City Library for permission to reproduce the engraving of Dr Caius)