As we join the nation in celebrating the coronation of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen, we explore the RCP’s history with the British monarchy, which dates back more than 500 years.
The RCP’s history has a very long association with the British crown, including the very beginnings of the College. In 1518, Thomas Linacre, the distinguished scholar and personal physician to Henry VIII, persuaded the king to found a college mirroring the great Italian academies of the day, which would regulate the practice of medicine in the City of London and surrounding area. Just five years later, the impact of the College was already clear and the king passed an act of parliament enabling the College to regulate the practice of medicine across all of England.
The impact of the college on the practice of medicine nationally was immediate and subsequent monarchs were keen to support its activities.
In 1565, Queen Elizabeth I signed the Charter for anatomies, giving the College the right to collect and dissect four bodies of hanged criminals each year. This provided leading physicians of the time with crucial insights into the inner workings of the human body and helped to pave the way for our modern understanding of anatomy.
Then after almost 150 years of progress, in 1667, King Charles II bestowed the college its royal prefix, providing the RCP with a level of prestige and recognition that helped to continue to establish it as one of the leading medical institutions in the country.
Throughout the centuries, members and fellows of the RCP have provided direct medical support to the British monarch, in a position known as the physician-in-ordinary.
Perhaps the most famous royal physician in history was Sir William Gull, who served as the personal doctor to Queen Victoria. Gull was a member of the RCP and his work with Queen Victoria further established the College’s reputation as a leader in medical research and innovation. Through Gull’s personal work, the then queen allowed the RCP to provide medical supplies directly to the royal household.
The world’s longest serving monarch, the late Queen Elizabeth II, visited the Royal College of Physicians three times during her more than 70-year reign. Her first visit in 1964 saw her formally open our Regent’s Park-based Grade I listed headquarters designed by renowned architect Sir Denys Lasdun. She then returned in 1986 to open the adjacent St Andrew’s Place Medical Precinct.
Most recently, however, the RCP had the honour of welcoming the late Queen in 2018, as we marked the RCP’s 500th anniversary since its founding by her predecessor. During the visit, Her Majesty unveiled the RCP500 charter that re-established the RCP’s commitment to its core value of maintaining and improving high standards of medical care for patients.
Now, upon the coronation of King Charles III – the 22nd monarch to take to the throne during the RCP’s history, we would like to congratulate His Majesty on his coronation and welcome him as Visitor – the equivalent of royal patron – of the Royal College of Physicians.
In a congratulatory letter to His Majesty, the RCP president Dr Sarah Clarke said: “The College is honoured that Your Majesty is our Visitor, and that many other members of the royal family are honorary fellows of the College.”