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DR JOHN ARGENTINE – PHYSICIAN TO PRINCES

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King’s College Chapel.  Dr Argentine is buried in a chantry chapel on the south side close to the alter.

In Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, just south of the alter can be found the chantry chapel where Dr John Argentine, Provost of Kings College from 1501 until his death in February 1507/08, physician, astronomer and collector of books, lies buried.  A fine memorial brass covering his tomb depicts Dr Argentine in his doctors robes.

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Dr John Argentine’s funeral brass

Dr Argentine, who spelt his name variously as Argentem or Argentein (1) was born in Bottisham, Cambridgeshire 1443 into a family that were prominent supporters of the House of York and he is remembered mostly, thanks to Dominic Mancini, as being physician to Edward V, and, it could be assumed, also physician to Edward’s younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury.  Mancini described Dr Argentine as being among the last of those to visit Edward and Richard in the Tower of London before their mysterious disappearance around June/July 1483.  Mancini who spoke little if any English, would no doubt have been mightily relieved to meet someone who having spent a long time in his homeland, could converse easily with him in either his native Italian or Latin.

Mancini is responsible for passing on the learned doctor’s recollections of those visits to the Tower i.e. that the young Edward ‘like a victim prepared for sacrifice sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance’ (2) in the belief that death was staring him in the face.  Alternatively Edward  may have been merely suffering from low spirits and angst due to the fact that his  imminent Coronation had been cancelled and the crown firmly removed from his grasp.  Tellingly, Dr Argentine omitted any mention that Edward was suffering from a raging toothache which puts to bed any likelihood that the infamous urn in Westminster Abbey actually contains the bones of Edward and his brother, as the jaw bone of the oldest child shows clear signs of ‘a chronic and painful condition which led to deformities in the jaw bone … possibly either osteitis or osteomyelitis’ (3), a horrible disease which no-one would have failed to notice, especially his doctor but why let commonsense stand in the way of a good myth…, but I digress.

Dr Argentine, having served successfully under both Edward IV and Richard III went on to become physician and dean of the chapel to Henry VII’s son, Arthur, Prince of Wales and it is surely unfathomable that he was never asked, as far as we know, to examine that most convincing and troublesome of all the pretenders to the throne, Perkin Warbeck.

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                                                Arthur, Prince of Wales c1500

1) The Library of John Argentine, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Vo.2 (1956) pp 210-212.  Dr Argentine wrote in his own hand in several of his books..’Questo libro e mio Zouan (Giovanni) Argentein’ ‘ Questo libro e mio Johan Argentem’.

2) The usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini C A J Armstong p.93

3) Richard III The Maligned King Annette Carson p.219

 

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