Robert Greene

Robert Greene was the second in a whole series of medical Greenes who served the population of Newmarket throughout the 17th century, over four generations. He appears to have been the son of Richard Greene the chirurgian, and baptised in 1569 as ‘Robart Grene the sonne of Richard Grene’ (see The Greenes and below for more on the apparent Greene family structure). He would almost certainly have been apprenticed to his father, then worked with him until his father’s death in 1615, after which Robert would probably have been a contemporary of Nicholas Searle the barber-surgeon.

The main reference to Robert Greene is particularly fascinating. It’s written in Latin, dated 17th May 1617, and records ‘Roberto Greene de Newmarkett’ being licensed to practise medicine and surgery ‘medicine et chirurgia’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is written in the register of Archbishop George Abbot and is kept at the Lambeth Palace Library, London today (see image below).

Robert Greene's 1617 bishop's licence to practice medicine and surgery - underlining highlighting 'Roberto Greene de Newmarkett' and 'medicine et chirurgia' where mentioned (see below or click image for source and acknowledgements etc., ref. Image 1).

Robert Greene’s 1617 bishop’s licence to practice medicine and surgery – underlining highlighting ‘Roberto Greene de Newmarkett’ and ‘medicine et chirurgia’ where mentioned (see below or click image for source and acknowledgements etc., ref. Image 1).

The system of bishops issuing licences to practise was set up by Henry VIII in 1512*. The bishops issued such licences on the recommendation of other appropriate people such as other medics. Sometimes, however, licences were granted following the death of a senior medic on the testimonial of townsfolk etc., who could vouch for the fact that the junior had been working effectively with the senior for some time (perhaps for many years or decades even). Given the fact that Robert Greene was licensed just 2 years after the death of Richard Greene its likely a similar scenario happened here, and perhaps partly explains why Robert Greene appears not to have been licensed until he was 47 years of age! This system of regulation was by no means universal, although that had been the original intention, and it gradually fell into disuse (see The history of medical treatments, training, qualifications and regulation for more details). There is no evidence that any of the other medical Greenes were licensed. Perhaps also Robert felt it important to comply later in his career given the prominence of the royal court in town at that time! It’s interesting to note in passing that Archbishop George Abbot, who licensed Robert Greene, was a supporter of the reforming puritan movement and involved with the translation of the King James Bible of 1611, the classic English Bible translation that remained in common use for over three centuries (see The Greenes for the relevance of this).

Robert Greene’s licence and lineage put him at an interesting juncture in the evolution of medical training. His licence would define him as a surgeon-‘physician’, but there is no evidence that he had any university training, so he was not a physician in that more exclusive sense (again, see The history of medical treatments, training, qualifications and regulation for more detail). His apparent father Richard Greene,the chirurgian, was likely the same but unlicensed. The later Greenes were apothecaries (see below), with neither university training nor licences. They almost certainly acquired their skills from the earlier Greenes like Robert, whose ‘physic’ skills were essentially the same as those of an apothecary. All of the Greenes were likely in effect what was to become known as surgeon-apothecaries – the forerunners of GPs.

Whatever Robert Greene should be called, one of the most significant events in his career must have been the Newmarket plague of 1625, when as far as we know he and perhaps Nicholas Searle the barber-surgeon were the only medics in town. It appears something like a quarter of the population (just over 100 people) were wiped out in 1 year!

A Robert Grene/Greene features in the Newmarket manorial records of the early 17th century, alongside a Richard, Thomas and Lambert. It’s likely this is Robert Greene the medic, alongside his father Richard Greene and brothers Thomas and Lambert (who was a yeoman – will 1611). If so, there was another brother William who lived in Little Thurlow, although it’s possible Lambert and William were cousins not brothers of Thomas and Robert – see The Greenes for more discussion on this. It’s likely also that he was the Robert Greene buried on 9th April 1640 at St Mary’s church, Newmarket, when he would have been 70 years of age. No memorial remains, but a will does. It’s remarkably short, makes no mention of his occupation, and simply leaves everything to his wife Alice (whose later will of 1648 reveals more about their family). In it she mentions three children: Robert, Lambert (baptised 1611, ‘son of Roberti’ – note, the same year as Robert’s presumed brother Lambert died) and Joyce (married to Christopher Rowe**), and grandchildren Robert (son of Robert) and Alice Rowe (daughter of Joyce and Christopher Rowe). There were possibly also two other sons of Robert Greene (both called William) who died in infancy, mentioned in the 1619 archdeacon’s transcripts. Lambert junior (occupation unknown) was the father of Lambert Greene the apothecary, who was baptised in 1650 – after the death of Robert and Alice so this posthumous grandson is not mentioned in their wills. It’s interesting however that Lambert Greene the apothecary mentions in his will of 1678 his ‘Aunt Rowe’ who presumably was Joyce the daughter of Robert and Alice! Sadly Robert and Alice’s son Lambert died in 1650 aged 39, the same month as little Lambert Greene’s baptism, and Robert is mentioned posthumously as the father of Lambert in the St Mary’s burial records that year. Lambert’s widow Susanne is mentioned in the probate of Alice Greene’s will as relict and executor of Lambert Greene, who was supposed to be the executor of the will. Susanne married Francis Greene the apothecary in 1651 who brought up little Lambert as his step son, presumably training him as an apothecary, the fourth in the chain of Newmarket medical Greenes. Clearly Francis Greene must have been a member of this medical Greene family, but his relationship to Robert is unclear. He was not Robert’s son, or he would have been mentioned in Alice’s will. It’s very likely however that Francis Greene (the third in the chain of Newmarket medical Greenes) would have been trained by Robert, hence his mention here. Probably he was a nephew? The obvious guess would be that he was the son of Robert’s presumed brothers Lambert or William. Intriguingly though, in his will of 1611, Lambert mentions a daughter Frances but no sons, and William had a daughter Frances too, but not son! Likely Francis was the son of another brother of Robert’s, but probably not of Thomas (see The Greenes for why).

* This is sometimes referred to as the 1511 Act. That’s is because it was passed in February our 1512, their 1511 (see New Year change).

** This fact is a key clue to Robert Greene’s year of birth. Joyce Greene married Christopher Rowe in 1621. Since Joyce was the daughter of Robert and Alice, a date of birth for Robert of 1569 would be about right (26 years per generation). So the entry in the records for Robart son of Richard Grene being baptised in 1569 fits perfectly not only with this fact but also the medical occupation continuity, and the patterns observed in the manorial records.

 

Image sources and acknowledgements:-

Image 1: The register of archbishop George Abbot, volume 1, folio 201 (cropped – red annotations mine); image ©, reproduced with kind permission of Lambeth Palace Library, London.

Note: see comments regarding images and copyright © etc. on the Usage &c. page as well.

Relevant references in chronological order

1569, 24th December: Robart son of Richard Grene baptised, ‘The register of Newmarkett’. Reference: J502/2, microfilm of archdeacon’s transcripts, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1611: The will of ‘Lambert Greene of Newmkitt in the countie of Suff, yeoman’. Reference: R2/48/16 on microfilm, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: there is also a will in the 1611 Newmarket manorial records. Reference: 359/7 (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).]

1611, July: Lambert son of Roberti Greene baptised, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J502/14, microfilm of archdeacon’s transcripts, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1617, 17th May: Robert Greene of Newmarket licensed to practice medicine and surgery. Reference: Register of archbishop George Abbot, volume 1, folio 201, (Lambeth Palace Library, London). [Note: see image above.]

1619, 7th September: William son of Robert Greene buried, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J502/16, microfilm of archdeacon’s transcripts, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1619, 12th December: William son of Robert Greene baptised, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J502/16, microfilm of archdeacon’s transcripts, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1621, 25th April: Joice Greene married Christopher Rowe, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J502/17, microfilm of archdeacon’s transcripts, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1640, 13th March: The will of Robert Greene of Newmarket (probate April 1640). Reference: R2/58/132, on microfilm, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: click here for more details.]

1640, 9th April: Robert Greene buried, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J552/9, microfilm of Newmarket St Mary’s parish register, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1648, 26th November: The will ‘Alice Greene of New Markitt’. Reference: PROB 11/214/317, on microfilm, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: click here for more details.]

1649, 7th May: Mrs Alice Green (widow) buried, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J562/69, microfilm transcript, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1650, 6th October: Lambert son of Lambert Green baptised, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J552/9, microfilm of Newmarket St Mary’s parish register, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1650, 29th October: Lambert son of Robert Green deceased buried, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J562/69, microfilm transcript, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1651, 30th October: Mr Francis Green married Susan Green (widow), St Mary’s church, Newmarket. Reference: J562/69, microfilm transcript, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

1678, 10th May: The will of Lambert Greene of Newmarket in the county of Suffolk, apothecary. Reference: E3/10/12.2, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: there is also a copy in The National Archives, Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Reference: PROB 11/356/503.], [Note also, click here for more details.]

Some other sources consulted include:-

Abbot’s Hospital, founded 1619, making history today. Archbishop George Abbott. http://www.abbotshospital.org/history.htm?tab=0 (accessed 23rd August 2014).

Hore JP. The History of Newmarket and Annals of the Turf. Vol I. London: AH Baily and Co.; 1886.

Lambeth Palace Library. Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide. Medical Licences Issues by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1535-1775. http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/files/Medical_Licences.pdf (accessed 23rd August 2014).

May P. The changing face of Newmarket 1600 – 1760. Peter May Publications; 1984. [Note: See comments regarding this and other Peter May material on The Greenes page.]

Newmarket manorial records. Reference: 1476/6 and 359/5-8, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

Suffolk Medical Biographies. Profile for Greene, Robert. http://www.suffolkmedicalbiographies.co.uk/Profile.asp?Key=1776 (originally accessed pre October 2013, when this website listed his license as for surgery only, when in fact it is for medicine and surgery, as shown by the image above). [Note: see comments regarding this website on the Francis Greene page.]

The research notes of Peter May. Reference: HD1584, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: see comments regarding this and other Peter May material on The Greenes page.]

Wallis PJ, Wallis RV. Eighteeth century medics. [2nd ed.]. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Project for Historical Biobibliography; 1988. [Note: this points to the 1617 Lambeth Palace reference.]

Note: For published material referenced on this website see the ‘Acknowledgements for resources of published material’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page. The sources used for original unpublished documents are noted after each individual reference. Any census records are referenced directly to The National Archives, since images of these are so ubiquitous on microfilm and as digital images that they almost function like published works. Census records are covered by the ‘Open Government Licence’ as should be other such public records (see the ‘Copyright and related issues’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page for which references constitute public records, and any other copyright issues more generally such as fair dealing/use etc.).