Lives of the fellows

Thomas Penny

b.? d.1589
AB Cantab(1551) AM(1559) MD FRCP

Thomas Penny, M.D., was of Trinity College, Cambridge, as a member of which house he proceeded A.B. 1551, A.M. 1559. He received ordination in the Church of England, and on the 2nd March, 1559-60, became prebendary of Newington, in the church of St. Paul’s. He was sworn fellow of his College in 1560. Having been appointed to preach one of the Spital sermons in 1565, Archbishop Parker objected to him, believing him to be ill affected to the establishment. Soon afterwards he travelled into various parts of Europe, residing for some time in Switzerland, where it is supposed he was at the death of Conrad Gesner, in December, 1565, and it has been conjectured that he assisted Wolf in arranging the plants and memorials of their deceased friend. He also visited the island of Majorca. Mr. Cooper, from whose Athenæ Cantabrigienses, vol. ii, p.78, I derive the above, thinks it probable that he took the degree of M.D. abroad.

He was practising physic in London in January, 1570-1, when he came before the comitia minora for examination, but at that time failed to satisfy the Censors of his fitness to practise. He must have done so, however, at a subsequent period, although there is no record of it in the Annals, nor of his admission as a Fellow of the College, which he certainly was in 1582. On the 25th May, 1577, he with eight others subscribed a letter to Thomas Cartwright, commending his conduct with respect to ecclesiastical matters. About the close of the same year he was deprived of his prebend for non-conformity.

Dr. Penny married Margaret, daughter of John Lucas, Esq., of St. John’s, near Colchester, Master of Requests to Edward VI. She died in November, 1587, and was buried in the church of St. Peter-le-Poer. (1) Dr. Penny died in 1589. He “was indubitably a man of great attainments in the natural history and especially in the botany of his time.” Gerard styles him “a second Dioscorides for his singular knowledge of plants.” “That he had diligently searched both the northern and southern parts of England is manifest from the variety of rare plants discovered by him, and communicated to Lobel and Gerard. He was personally known to Gesner and Camerarius, and frequently supplied them with rare plants. There seems to be no doubt that he was also intimate with Crusius, whom he furnished with a variety of curious articles, inserted in his Rariores and in the Exoticæ. Dr. Penny brought from Majorca the hypericum balearicum, which Crusius named myrtocistis Pennæi, after him, as he did a gentian, now the swertia perennis. The same of the geranium tuberosum. The cornus herbacea, that beautiful native of the Cheviot Hills, was first revealed to the curious by this industrious naturalist.

He was also one of the first Englishmen who studied insects.” (2) He left behind him certain entomological collections, which with those of Gesner and Dr. Edward Wotton, formed the basis of Muffet’s Theatrum Insectorum. He was the author of Latin verses on the restitution of Bucer and Fagius, 1560; Letters to Camerarius, 1585. In Trew’s collections.

William Munk

[(1) Seymour’s Survey of London, vol. i, p.378.
(2) Athenæ Cantabrig., vol.ii, p.78.]

[Sotheby 18th June 1968.
Second Day 106 Tuesday, 18th June, 1968
381 PENNY (THOMAS, doctor of medicine, botanist and entomologist) A.L.s., 1 page, folio, London, 12 June, 1587: two years ago I resolved to write to you to make friendship with you, and to ask you if you possessed any observations which might assist in illustrating and finishing a history of Insects. I beg you to have the tarantula, or any other rare insect you may possess, accurately sketched for me…,address on verso Gerard in his Herball calls Penny “a second Dioscorides”. £35 Kraus]

(Volume I, page 82)

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