The founding charters of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Trinity Hall (number 13 on the map) was built in 1604 as a ‘house of correction’ by Dublin Corporation. By 1654 the building was empty, and in need of repair. It had been given to Trinity College in 1615 to be used as a student residence. Image courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive
Stearne’s proposal included an offer to cover the cost of repairing the building. Trinity agreed, appointed Stearne head of the new Fraternity of Physicians of Trinity Hall for life, and allowed him to live in the building.
One of Stearne’s reasons for establishing the Fraternity was to promote the study of anatomy, a relatively new and still controversial study. It has been suggested that Stearne wanted Trinity Hall as a base, so he could teach anatomy 'in privacy and without molestation’.
One of the earliest surviving records of the College are accounts for the costs of an anatomical dissection carried out in 1676. The College had to pay for soldiers to guard the body, to prevent the family reclaiming it before it could be dissected. They also provided the guards with drink.
One of the first acts of the new College of Physicians was to apply to the Ulster King of Arms for a grant of arms.
The arms, heavily based on those used in the College of Physicians in London, show the spiritual hand taking the pulse of the temporal hand. A clear reference to the medical act of taking a pulse, but also an indication of divine authority for the profession and the institution.
Underneath is the Irish harp, to distinguish the Dublin College from the London one.
The grant also provided the College with a motto, Reason and Experience.
In the late 1680s many Protestants fled Ireland, including several doctors. One of these was Patrick Dun, a Scot by birth, who had been practicing in Ireland since 1676. Dun returned to Ireland in 1689 as physician to the army of King William III. In 1692 he used his influence with King William to obtain a second, and more extensive, Royal Charter for the College of Physicians.
Granted by the duel monarchy of King William and Queen Mary, the charter also changed the name of the College to the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland.
The 1692 Charter, in making the College of Physicians independent from Trinity College, also made the Physicians homeless, as they had to move out of Trinity Hall. Although the Charter made provision for the Physicians to own a hall this did not happen. For the next 170 years the College of Physicians was essentially homeless.
In 1864 the College finally moved back into a home of its own, in the newly designed and built building at 6 Kildare Street. Medicine as a profession was flourishing in the mid-nineteenth century, and the physicians wanted a building to reflect their aspirations.
In 1864 the College of Physicians applied to the Ulster King of Arms for a new grant of arms.
The 1864 Grant of Arms seem to be based on the 1667. However, in making room for the crown to be placed over the harp, the temporal hands has been removed. Taking away the reference to the medical act of taking a pulse.
Twelve years later, in 1890, Queen Victoria again issued Letters Patent to the College, this time with just one provision;
‘that the Corporation of the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland shall henceforth be called and known by the name of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’
The Fellows of the College had, apparently, long felt the old name to be unnecessarily cumbersome.
Curation: Harriet Wheelock
Images: Davison & Associates and Andrei Vlad Vasilescu
Thanks to Dublin City Library & Archives for permission to use the image of Speed's Map of Dublin.
RCPI is very grateful to the Heritage Council and those of our Fellows who contributed to the restoration of the 1692 Charter.