With great interest I read John Tepper Marlin´s article ‘What’s your blazon?’ in the current edition of Oxford Today. As an old member of Linacre College, I was particularly intrigued by the description of the College’s coat of arms with reference to Thomas Linacre, the founder of the College. Marlin rightly mentions Linacre’s service as physician to the King and founder of the Royal College of Physicians. Given the alpha and the omega on the shield, symbolizing Christ in the Book of Revelation, I was surprised Linacre’s Catholic faith was omitted. In fact, he resigned his position as King’s physician in 1520 to become a priest. Then he used his fortune to found the Royal College of Physicians.My Response
Thanks for pointing out that the alpha and omega charges in the Linacre College coat of arms suggest Thomas Linacre's lifetime ecclesiastical ties and his late vocation to priesthood. That should be said - as should also, for an Oxford audience, the fact that his fortune was used to endow professorships in Greek medicine at Oxford and Cambridge. Linacre's path to full College status should be of great interest to other Permanent Private Halls, like St. Benet's and Blackfriars. I have a special interest in St. Benet's because it is a foundation of Ampleforth Abbey and College, where I spent three years as a student (1952-55).
I just wonder whether calling Linacre a "Catholic" priest, as you have done and is done in the Catholic Encyclopedia, gives a misleading impression, i.e., that he was protesting on behalf of Rome against his King. But Henry VIII was loyal (Fid. Def.) to Rome until 1534 when the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Linacre never had to chose between Rome and his King because he died in 1524, a decade before Henry's split with Rome. Linacre dedicated two pieces of writing to the King in 1517 and 1519.
The long biography of Linacre in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica indicates that he had several ecclesiastical appointments during his years as a physician, and his resignation as a physician was more retirement than protest. He is identified as taking "priest's orders". He reportedly became Rector of Wigan in 1520, and died within four years. I would prefer to say that Linacre retired in 1520, took Holy Orders and for four years became a much-in-demand pastor or cleric.
Pia Jolliffe - Followup Information on Linacre
Coincidentally, my husband William also studied at Ampleforth, 1980-85. Pre-Reformation Christians in England were "Catholics", but they would not have been referred to as such before Henry VIII split with Rome and established the Anglican Church. As you say, Thomas Linacre never had to choose between King and Rome as did his fellow clerics after 1534.
James J. Walsh, in his introduction to Catholic Churchmen in Science (1906 edition in the Blackfriars Library), notes that all of the men in his book "were Catholic clergymen of high standing, and none of them suffered anything like persecution for his opinions."
Walsh agrees that Linacre's strong religious ties preceded his call to the priesthood: "Dr. Linacre, who besides being the best known physician of his time in England, was the greatest scholar of the English Renaissance period, yet had all his life been on very intimate terms with the ecclesiastical authorities and eventually gave up his honors, his fortune, and his profession to become a simple priest of the old English Church" (p. 80). Linacre's students and admirers included Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.
Linacre's four-year priesthood was surely an atypical whirlwind. "[H]e was ordained by Archbishop Warham of Canterbury, or by Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop of York. He received his first appointment from Warham by whom he was collated to the rectory of Mersham in Kent. After a month installed as a prebend in the Cathedral of Wells, and by an admission to the Church of Hawkhurst in Kent which he held until the year of his death." (p. 103). In 1517 Linacre was prebend in the Collegiate Chapel of St. Stephen Westminster, and in the following year he became prebendary of South Newhold in the Church of York. In 1519 he received the high-status appointment as presenter to the Cathedral of York, for which he was indebted to Cardinal Wolsey.
Coat of Arms vs. Crest Harris Manchester Linacre