Thomas Willis
Born: 27 Jan, 1621
Field: Physician; doctor
Location in the Abbey: North transept
Type of memorial: Grave

In the north transept of Westminster Abbey is the grave of the celebrated physician Thomas Willis. The current stone was dedicated in 1961 to replace the original. The Latin inscription can be translated:

"Mary, most beloved wife of Thomas Willis Doctor in Physick and daughter of Samuel Fell, D.D. and Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, valuable for piety, prudence and sweetness of manners, of all, but chiefly of her husband. She died loved and lamented on the vigil of All Saints 1670 and is buried here, expecting the eternal daybreak of that festival. In the same grave was buried their daughter Katherine, on the day after Michaelmas 1667. Here also lies the above mentioned Thomas Willis, most famous doctor of medicine, who died on the 11 November 1675 aged 54".

Thomas was born on 27 January 1621 at Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire, a son of Thomas (d.1643) and his wife Rachel (Howell). He was educated at Christ Church Oxford and in 1645 he enlisted in the army, supporting the Royalists during the English Civil War. He had a medical practice in Oxford and married Mary Fell on 7 April 1657. At the Restoration in 1660 he became Sedleian professor of natural philosophy at Oxford University and was Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1664 he published his Cerebri Anatome and is known for his 'Circle of Willis' in the brain. He made observations on many diseases and published several more works. Of his nine children only Thomas, Anne, Jane and Rachel survived to maturity. Thomas was born in 1658 and attended Westminster School. He married Alice Browne in Westminster Abbey on 20 May 1681 and their son was the celebrated antiquary Browne Willis. Dr Thomas married his second wife, Elizabeth widow of Sir William Calley, in the Abbey on 1 September 1672.


Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"Thomas Willis, his life and work" by J.Trevor Hughes, 1991.

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