Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Henry VIII was king of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. During his reign he broke away from the established Church, separating the Anglican Church from Roman authority. In the 1530s his Dissolution of the Monasteries saw monasteries closed and their property passed to the state. This reformation of religious order permanently closed many monastic foundations and hospitals that provided shelter and aid to the sick.
In response to these actions, the citizens of London petitioned the king in 1538 for permission to re-establish some hospitals themselves. These included St Thomas’s and St Bartholomew’s. Nothing was done for six years, when the king returned the buildings to the city for the use of the people. However, he did not return the funds necessary for the hospitals to reopen. St Bartholomew’s was offered only about £330 a year. Finding this insufficient, the citizens of London raised another £1000 and refitted the hospital with 100 beds.
In 1540 the London Guild of Surgeons joined the rival barbers’ guild, or Company of Barbers, to form a united Company of Barber-Surgeons. The Company of Barbers was a trade organisation for barbers, who frequently performed surgical and medical tasks. The new company was created by an act of parliament. It was memorialised by the painter Hans Holbein the Younger. His painting of the event shows King Henry VIII handing the actual act to Thomas Vickery, the first master of the new company. In depicting this ceremony, Holbein’s painting clearly suggests Henry VIII supported the medical welfare of his subjects.