OWEN, George (by 1499-1558), of Oxford and Godstow, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. by 1499. educ. Merton, Oxf. BA 1519, fellow 1520, MA 1521, MB 1525, MD 1528. m. (1) by 1532, Lettice of Suff. wid.; (2) Mary; 3s. 2da. prob. by 1st w.2
Keeper of Bourgchier chest, Oxf. 1520-1, Chichele and Audley chest in 1521, Danvers chest 1522-4; 1st bursar, Merton, 1524-5, 3rd 1525-6; R. physician by 1537-d.; fellow, College of Physicians by Oct. 1538, an elect 1552, pres. 1553-5; receiver-gen., duchy of Lancaster 3 Sept. 1547-d.; j.p. Oxon. 1547, q. 1554; commr. relief 1550.3
George Owen was born in the diocese of Worcester and educated at Oxford, where he settled. Of obscure origin, he seems to have been destined for the Church, but on his marriage he took up medicine after first trying to trade as a white baker without becoming a freeman of Oxford. He had been appointed one of Henry VIII’s physicians by 1537 when he was one of the six signatories to the letter informing the Privy Council of the grave condition of Queen Jane Seymour after the birth of Prince Edward. The recipient of an encomium by Leland, he joined Queen Catherine Parr in persuading Thomas Caius to translate Erasmus’s paraphrase of St. Mark’s gospel into English. He witnessed the will of Henry VIII in which he was bequeathed £100. Edward VI retained his medical services and he was present at the young King’s death, as he had been at his birth, and was the last to speak to him. Following Mary’s accession he was elected president of the College of Physicians and in that capacity he promoted the Act (1 Mary St. 2, c.9) for the enlargement of the college’s powers. Two years later his proposals regulating admission to medical degrees at Oxford were ratified by Cardinal Pole as chancellor of the university. In 1554 he certified that Princess Elizabeth was well enough to answer the Queen’s summons to London after Wyatt’s rebellion, and later he was sent to Woodstock to attend Elizabeth during an illness. In the last year of his life he published the treatise A meet Diet for The new ague.4
Owen was generously treated by his successive royal patients. Henry VIII gave him New Hall and St. Alban Hall in Oxford and a fee of £100, and in 1537 he was able to purchase the manor of Yarnton, Oxfordshire. In November 1538 the abbess of Godstow wrote to Cromwell, ‘We have obeyed your letters for the preferment of Dr. Owen to our demesnes and stock’, and the nunnery itself thus gained a brief respite from suppression, but in March 1540 Owen purchased it for £558. In 1541 he paid £1,174 for the manors of Walton and Wolvercote and the house and site of Rewley abbey, and in October 1546 he joined with Dr. John Bridges to purchase for £1,300 lands at Cumnor. From 1547 he was apparently able to use the duchy of Lancaster’s money as his own. Later acquisitions included the manor of Congresbury, Somerset, and Durham College, Oxford. Some of these he later resold. The appropriate conclusion to this accumulation of property was Edward VI’s grant of arms to Owen.5
These grants made Owen the greatest landowner immediately to the north-west of Oxford and brought him into conflict with Sir John Williams over rights in Wytham woods, and with the city over common rights and jurisdiction in the region of Port Meadow. Suits continued after Owen’s death between the city and Richard Owen, and Richard Fiennes was asked to arbitrate between them. But if he was on bad terms with the city, Owen was able to marry his children into one of the county’s leading families. His eldest son married Mary, daughter of Sir Leonard Chamberlain, Mary’s leading supporter in Oxfordshire after Sir John Williams, and one of his daughters, first married to another duchy receiver Thomas Mathew, later married Chamberlain’s third son and eventual heir, John. Owen’s second son, William, married a Fettiplace so that Owen could claim a connexion with John Denton who as sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire in 1557-8 returned him to Parliament. Such alliances must have made him acceptable to the Oxfordshire freeholders in 1558 and his position at court to the Queen. Nothing is known about his part in the work of the House and he died of an intermittent fever on 18 Oct. 1558 during the prorogation, being buried in St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, London, six days later. By a will made a month earlier he provided for his wife and family and named his son Richard, Secretary Boxall, Sir Leonard Chamberlain and Thomas Wendy executors. At his death, Owen owed £3,265 to the duchy of Lancaster and on 26 June 1559 his widow Mary and two of his sons contracted to repay it by instalments; the sum being finally discharged in December 1580. No trace of a by-election to replace him in the brief, second session of the Parliament of 1558 has been found.6