Timeline for Admission to Fellowship of the College of Physicians 1660-1800


To practice legally as a physician in London and within the seven-mile radius a physician had to be a Licentiate, a Candidate or a Fellow of the College of Physicians.

For a physician to become a Fellow of the College through the normal procedure, he had first to become a Candidate.  To become a Candidate, he had to present a M.D. degree from an English University, pay a hefty fee, and pass an examination.  The time from becoming a Candidate to becoming a Fellow varied, but it was typically one year.  The wait shortened after the turn of the 18th. century.  [Ferris, p. 103]

The Natural Philosopher Walter Charleton, F.R.S. who had an D.M. from Oxford and was appointed physician-in-ordinary to Charles I in 1643 became a Candidate in 1650 but failed to become a Fellow in 1655, apparently because the other Fellows were uncomfortable with his Helmontian or Epicurean interests. That's the only instance I know of where a Candidate was actually denied a Fellowship. Charleton finally became a Fellow in 1676.

The requirements for an M.D. ranged from none (for an honorary degree) to almost none (testimonials) to many years of residence and study.  A physician who had a degree from a foreign university but not a Scottish university could "incorporate" his degree at an English University by presenting his diploma, paying a fee, and meeting the other requirements, including the oaths as indicated below. Oxford, however, very rarely awarded degrees by mandate or incorporation.   Dublin degrees could also be incorporated or awarded ad eundam gradum (at the same rank) in England.

To obtain a license from the College, a physician had to pay a fee and pass an examination.  The College could (and did) refuse to administer the examination.  Licentiates did not have to have an M.D. but most College licentiates did.

Foreign physicians in London who practiced exclusively among their fellow countrymen did not have to become licentiates or fellows.  Neither did physicians who only practiced obstetrics.

Practitioners in England beyond the boundary of the College jurisdiction could obtain a license from a Bishop. In theory, to be valid, even  Bishops' licenses were supposed to be based on an examination by the President and three elects of the College, but the College did not have the power to enforce this rule.

Opportunities for non-conformists to become Fellows of the College varied throughout the period as indicated below.  Some non-Anglicans were willing to subscribe or take the oaths; others were not.  Two especially questionable cases were those of Hans Sloane, who did not have to swear an oath to become a Fellow because he was named in the Charter of James II but received an Honorary M.D. from Oxford in 1701 as recompense for substantial donations to the Bodleian library and Mark Akenside (M.D. Leyden 1744) who became a licentiate in 1751, obtained a Cambridge degree literae regiae and became a fellow in 1754. Both men seem to have been raised as presbyterians.  Did they have to subscribe and take the oaths?  If so, did they become loyal Anglicans to do so or remain occasional conformists?  The biographies of both men are silent on this topic, although Sloane does seem to have considered himself an Anglican in later years. Richard Mead (M.D. Padua 1695), a congregationalist, received an M.D. from Oxford in 1707 and became a Fellow in 1716 but he had apparently become an Anglican about the turn of the century.  Further information would be very much appreciated.

Because of varying dating systems (regnal year, calendar year Old Style, calendar year Old Style adjusted to start the year on January 1, calendar year New Style), the dates given in different sources vary.


1647 Ms. College statutes state that graduates of foreign universities seeking admission as Candidates of Licentiates were to pay double the fees charged to English university graduates and provide evidence of their diplomas and incorporation of their degrees in an English University. These evidently reiterated existing procedures.[Ferris, pp. 89-93]

1658 College admits Henry, Marquess of Dorchester, as its first honorary Fellow. 

1661 Corporation Act requires that government officials take oaths of allegiance (swearing allegiance to the Monarch) and supremacy (supporting the rule of the monarch over the Church and renouncing that of foreign powers) and provide certificate of attendance at Anglican communion.[1]  

Thomas Finch and Thomas Baines, non-practicing physicians, elected as “extraordinary” Fellows without examination.

1662 Uniformity Act.[2] Nonconformist ministers may not remain in parishes after 1664. Requires teachers to take Anglican Communion and requires an oath supporting the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles for students in the English Universities. This prevents Catholics and Nonconformists from graduating and from incorporating their foreign degrees to obtain English M.D.s.[3]   

1663 New College of Physicians Charter raises number of fellows from 30 to 40. College fellows must take the oaths. College Boundaries extended to 7 miles from city of Westminster in addition to London. Disputes over the College’s powers to be resolved by “visitors”, not by the common law courts. College given right to grant licenses to “extra-licentiates” practicing beyond the 7-mile boundary but number declined sharply between 1664 and 1674. Five new fellows named over heads of existing candidates, who protested.  This Charter fails to pass Parliament and is never implemented. In October 1663, seven additional fellows are named from ranks of candidates, disregarding cap on number of fellows.[4]   

1664 College resolves to name honorary fellows through a majority vote in the Comitia (College Council).  These would be senior doctors and scholars who would receive a license to practice and the same privileges as other fellows.  They are to be exempt from examinations but cannot vote, carry out dissections, consult with empirics, or divide profits with apothecaries.  Seventy-three honorary fellows are named including several Catholics and country practitioners.

Bishops regain right to issue licenses to practice medicine.

1668 Charles II sends letter to Cambridge stating heretofore he had conferred degrees without requiring recipients to subscribe (to Thirty-Nine Articles) and pay duties but hereafter anyone bearing a royal mandate for a degree must subscribe, pay customary fees and fulfill statutory requirements for acts and exercises. (I have not found an equivalent letter directed to Oxford, although a copy of the letter to Cambridge is in the Oxford archives)

1671 Oxford awards an M.D. to James Alban Gibbes, an English Catholic physician resident in Italy.  Gibbs had studied at Padua.

1674 Charles II sends letter to College of Physicians stating that they may not admit as fellows anyone who had not received an education in Physic in Oxford or Cambridge or “that is not encorporated and licenced there, having first taken the Oathes of Allegiance and Supremacy and having been by you examined…” This prevents dissenters from becoming honorary Fellows.

1680 College resolves to create honorary fellows by examination, circumventing the royal letter of 1674.  Thirteen doctors including two nonconformists admitted.  

1682 First time that a list of the members of the college is printed. 

1683 Licenses to refugee aliens are restricted to those who provide written evidence of religious persecution.  These licenses will not be granted by examination alone. 

1685 Honorary fellowships restricted to Oxford and Cambridge graduates.[5]

1686/7 James II issues new charter raising maximum number of fellows to eighty and adding thirty-six named individuals to fellowship while omitting four existing fellows and several honorary fellows.  College passes 15 new statutes (statuta nova). Physicians-in-Ordinary to the King, Queen and Prince were to be admitted as honorary physicians. Candidates for fellowship must be doctors of physic, Britons by birth and have practiced medicine for four years. An additional statute, in force for 3 years, bars anyone who has practiced a lesser art (surgery) or served an apprenticeship in a shop. 

1688 James II proclaims that charters granted after 1679 are annulled causing confusion and disputes over which charter determines membership.  

“After the Revolution” an agreement is reached that the king will issue mandate (mandamus) M.D. degrees by royal letters literae regiae only when a majority of the heads of colleges in the relevant English University agrees on the candidate.[6]

1689 House of Lords orders College to send names of papists, reputed papists or criminals: College names seven papists/criminals and includes seven other names in their place in a Bill to confirm the new Charter: two of the latter are candidates, four are honorary fellows and one is a licentiate.[7]  The Bill does not pass. A special meeting of the College votes to suspend the statute requiring a degree from Oxford or Cambridge for the fellows admitted under James II’s Charter. The Charter is quietly allowed to lapse. Everyone retains membership. 

1689 Toleration Act passes but does not remove requirement for University oaths and subscription.[8]  

1700 Christopher Love Morley, a Jacobite, delisted as a fellow of the College. 

1701 After a group of Oxford graduates claim the right to practice as physicians anywhere in England without taking College examinations, Sir J. Holt, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench rules that a university graduate could not practice physic in London or within seven miles without a license from the College of Physicians. 

1701 (Munk) 1702/3 (Clark) After a long hiatus caused by the Oxford case, the College admits several new fellows.[9]

1703: Sir David Hamilton (a Scottish dissenter) admitted as a fellow because he was physician to the Queen.

1711 Occasional Conformity Act bars Dissenters from taking Anglican Communion to qualify for office

          College statute establishes fee schedule for licenses and extra-licenses

1716  Richard Mead (M.D. Padua, 1695) becomes a Fellow after having obtained an M.D. from Oxford by incorporation in 1707 and becoming a Candidate in 1708.

1716/7 Court of King’s Bench in case of Thomas West again upholds requirement of College License for practitioners of physic in London even if they are graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.

1717 At a royal visitation to Cambridge (Comitia Regia), Thomas Bainbrigg and Robert Eaton receive degrees by royal mandate.

College admits Duke of Montagu who has honorary MD from Cambridge as fellow

1718 Occasional Conformity Act repealed; Eaton fails College examination

1719 College cites Bainbrigg for practicing without passing College examination.

1721/2 Bainbrigg passes College examination.  University of Cambridge agrees to enforce statutory rules for medical degrees. College of Physicians agrees to appoint fellows only from among Doctors with English University MDs. 

College resolves to create Honorary Fellows among those with “foreign” M.D. degrees.  Four Honorary Fellows are created.10]

College decides that in future no examinations for licenses are to be conducted in English without the prior approval of the College.  Extra-licentiates could still be examined in English. 

1725 John Bamber becomes M.D. Cambridge by royal mandate; becomes fellow 1726

1726 Honorary fellowship statute of 1721/2 is repealed

1728/9 Duke of Richmond is admitted as a fellow

1728 George II holds Comitia Regia at Cambridge, confers by royal mandate thirty-two M.D. degrees and one M.B. degree; thirteen eventually become Fellows.[11]   

1732 College admits James Sherard, who has an honorary M.D. from Oxford, as a fellow without examination or fee.

1736 New College Statutes fix number of fellows at maximum of eighty

Joseph Letherland (M.D. Leyden, 1724) receives Cambridge M.D. degree literae regiae , becomes fellow 1737 

1737 William Bedford receives Cambridge M.D. degree literae regiae, becomes fellow 1738.

1738 Charles Cotes (D.C.L Oxford) receives M.D. Oxford by diploma, becomes fellow

1739 Matthew Morley receives Cambridge M.D. degree literae regiae, becomes fellow

1744 John Fothergill, an Englishman, becomes the first Edinburgh medical graduate permitted to take the examination and become a licentiate.

1750 Cambridge heads of colleges resolve not to grant petitions for mandamus MD degrees to any person not recommended by the London College of Physicians and to provide a mandamus to any person recommended by the college or any twelve fellows. First doctor recommended is Peter Shaw, a licentiate. 

1752 College adopts statute De Candidatis stating that Fellows must be MDs of Oxford or Cambridge, strengthening or clarifying ban against Scottish graduates.

William Schaw becomes the first Scottish graduate of Edinburgh to be allowed to take the licensing examination and become a licentiate. He receives a mandamus M.D. literae regiae in 1753 and becomes a fellow in 1753 (Clark) or 1754 (Munk)

1753 Refusal of jurisdiction by court in Schomberg case ensures that English University graduates cannot claim a right to become Candidates and Fellows.

College elects six candidates, five of whom are licentiates; one of the licentiates has an Oxford diploma; the other four had obtained mandamus MDs from Cambridge in 1752 or 1753.[12] 

1763 Sir John Pringle (M.D. Leyden, 1730) elected fellow speciali gratia (by Special Grace)

1765 New College statutes require examinations in Latin.  No one can become a candidate who is not entitled to rights of a British subject by birth.  Dublin graduates may become candidates after incorporating in England. Honorary and mandamus degrees and degrees obtained by “extraordinary privilege” no longer accepted for candidates.  College Statutes printed and made public for first time.

1771 College elects four licentiates as Fellows Speciali Gratia.[13]

New College statutes require that licentiates have studied at a university for 2 years. Any Fellow may propose a licentiate of seven years standing and 36 years old or more as a candidate.  He is to be examined in Greek on Hippocrates, Galen and Aretaeus.  If he passes, he can be elected by a ballot of the fellows.  The president may create one fellow speciali gratia each year.  Obstetricians are banned.  Physicians practicing as apothecaries are banned.  No licentiates are promoted under these rules for 12 years.

1774 First fellow admitted following an examination in Greek.[14]

1783 On opinion of counsel, College drops requirement for two years’ university education.  It resolves that in future all examinations will be in Latin. Licenses for obstetrics only introduced. 

1784 College allows President to propose two licentiates of ten years’ standing each year for election as fellows until the number of fellows reached fifty. Two licentiates are elected.[15]  The statute is repealed with proviso that one licentiate may be promoted. None is, but in the following three years, three Scots are promoted.[16] One more is named two years later.[17]

1790 College resolves to allow promotion of one licentiate every two years.   One more licentiate is elected Fellow before 1800.[18]




English Religious Laws passed from 1660 to 1728 (chart on this site) http://www.contagionism.org/english_religious_laws.htm

Janes Wyatt and Cook and Barbara Collier Cook, Man-Midwife, male feminist: the life and times of George Macaulay (Ann Arbor, Michigan: 2006) 

Charles Henry Cooper, Annals of Cambridge Vol. 3 (Cambridge: 1845) 

[Daniel Cox] A Letter from a Physician in Town to his Friend in the Country, Concerning the disputes at present subsisting between the Fellows and Licentiates of the College of Physicians in London (London: 1753) 

George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London Vol. 1 (Oxford: 1964), Vol. 2 (Oxford: 1966)  

Samuel Ferris, A General View of the Establishment of Physic as a Science in England, by the Incorporation of the College of Physicians, London (London: 1795) 

Sidney Low and Frederick Sanders, “Articles of Religion” Dictionary of English History (London, Paris and Melbourne, 1884, rev. ed. 1897) 

William Munk, The  Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. 1, 1518-1700 and Vol. 2, 1701-1800 (London: 1861) 

John Strype “The College of Physicians” in A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, (London, 1720) book 1  (electronic edition Version 1.0) (ISBN: 0-9542608-9-9) published by The Stuart London Project, Humanities Research Institute, The University of Sheffield, retrieved June 14, 2012 from http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/strype/TransformServlet?page=book1_130&display=normal.  This includes a list of members of the College in 1704.

 E. Ashworth Underwood, Boerhaave’s Men at Leyden and After (Edinburgh: 1977)

Adam Wall, An Account of the Different Ceremonies Observed in the Senate House of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: 1798)

Charles Webster, "The Medical Faculty and the Physic Garden" in L. S. Sutherland and L. G. Mitchell eds., The History of the University of Oxford, Vol. 5: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford: 1986), pp. 683-723 

Christopher Wordsworth, Scholae Academicae (London: 1877, rpt. New York:  1969)




[1] 13 Car II stat. 2 c.1.

[2] 13 and 14 Car. II c. 4.  This reinstated provisions of the Act of Uniformity of 1603.

[3] Subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles had been required of Oxford students at matriculation in 1581; in 1616 Cambridge had required subscription by anyone taking a University degree. Low and Pulling, “Articles”.

[4] Clark, vol. 1, pp. 304-5.

[5] Clark vol. 1, p. 348.

[6] Clark, vol. 2, p. 463. This phrase without a definite date was also used by both the sources listed by Clark for this statement. For a discussion of the difference between mandamus degrees issued by royal letters (literae regiae) at the initiative of the candidate and during a royal visit (comitia regia) at the initiative of the crown or the king's advisors, see Underwood Boerhaave's Men, note, pp. 68-9.

[7] The seven who were delisted included Edward and John Betts (father and son), William Waldegrave, Dr. Mendez, papists, Dr. Gray and Dr. Eliott, criminals (i.e. Jacobites).  The seven who were added included the 4 honorary fellows: Burnet, Coxe, Gibson and Grew. Clark p. 372. 

[8] 1 Will & Mary c 18 

[9] Clark, Vol. 2  p. 476 says “five new fellows” were admitted on 22 March 1702/3  but Munk Vol. 2, pp. 1-12, only lists four:  John Wright (MD Cambridge), John Woodward (M.D. Archbishop of Canterbury), George Colebrook (M.D. Cambridge), and Gideon Harvey (? M.D. Leyden).  Sir David Hamilton (M.D., Rheims or Paris), a Scottish dissenter, became a fellow on June 25th. 1703 as Physician to the Queen.  Munk lists an additional two: Humphrey Brooke (M.D. Cambridge 1694) and John Branthwait (M.D. Cambridge 1700) as having  become fellows December 22, 1701.

[10] James Douglas (MD Rheims), James Campbell (M.D. St. Andrews), John Birch (M.D. Leiden), Richard Middleton Massey (M.D. Aberdeen).  Clark, Vol 2, p. 510

[11] 1729: Alexander Stuart (M.D. Leyden 1711),  John Beauford, Cromwell Mortimer (M.D. Leyden 1724),  John Coningham, (M.D. Rheims, 1719),  Robert Nesbitt (M.D. Leyden, 1721),  Richard Watts, Francis Clifton (M.D. Leyden, 1724),

1730: John Oldfield

1735: William Whitaker (M.D. Leyden, 1718),  Matthew Clarke

1736: Benjamin Hoadley (M.B. Cambridge, 1727)

1737 Samuel Horsman (M.D. Leyden, 1721),  Renald Comarque (M.B. Cambridge 1728),

[12] Peter Shaw, William Schaw, Nicholas Munckley and Mark Akenside; the Oxford MD was Thomas Wilbraham.   Mark Akenside was a Dissenter. Clark, vol. 2, pp. 557-8 says at the "spring comitia" of 1753; Munk vol. 2, pp. 168-69 has April 8, 1754 which would be 1753 O.S.

[13] Isaac Schomberg, Richard Jebb, Donald Monro and James Greive.  Clark, Vol. 2, p. 564.

[14] Henry Revell Reynolds.  M.D. Cambridge 1772, Candidate 1773. 

[15] William Watson  and Richard Huck Saunders.  Clark, Vol. 2 p. 911

[16] Robert Knox, 1786, George Fordyce 1787, James Carmichael Smith, 1788

[17] William Saunders, 1790

[18] John Hunter, 1793.  This was a physician, not the famous surgeon of the same name.  Clark, Vol. 2. 572.


Margaret DeLacy, 2012

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