This diploma of Doctor of Medicine, for John Wallace, Padua University, 1628 looks authentic. The leather binding, parchment pages, seals, decorations, illustrations and standard diploma text are all from the early 1600s.
But this diploma is a fake. The original owner was called Johannes (John). But someone, we do not know who, erased the surname and replaced it with Wallaceus (Wallace). If you look closely at the signature you can also see that the surname Wallaceus (Wallace) is written in different ink.
We also know that the date is faked. The last page of the diploma is signed by Fabrici d’Acquapendente, Adrian van de Spiegel and Santorio. However, by 1628 both d’Acquapendente and van de Spiegel were dead (in 1619 and 1625 respectively). Furthermore, by 1628, Santorio was no longer the chair of the Collegio Veneto – the post indicated on the diploma – nor was he teaching at the university. Based on these authentic signatures on the last page of the diploma, the true date was probably 1618.
Part of the date (probably an X, Roman numeral 10) has been rubbed out and XX (20) has been added outside the margins. You can still see the original Roman numerals of M (1000), D (500), C (100) and VIII (8) for the rest of the date.
The fake was clearly accepted as genuine for centuries and was catalogued in the RCP archives as genuine. The forgery was only discovered this year by Wellcome Trust Research Fellow, Dr Fabrizio Bigotti, while doing research on Santorio. However, this fake diploma didn’t necessarily help John Wallace further his career. He is not listed in any of the surviving sources as being a practising doctor in England in the early 17th century.
This is just one of the items on display in our current exhibition celebrating 800 years of royal authority, power and symbolism using charters, seals and deeds from the Royal College of Physicians collections.
Pamela Forde, Archives manager
‘Power and beauty: seals, charters and the story of identity’ runs until 23 December 2015