Jenner is often called "the father of immunology", and his work is said to have "saved more lives than the work of any other human". In Jenner’s time, smallpox killed around 10 percent of the population, with the number as high as 20 percent in towns and cities where infection spread more easily. In 1821 he was appointed physician extraordinary to King George IV, and was also made mayor of Berkeley and justice of the peace. A member of the Royal Society, in the field of zoology he was the first person to describe the brood parasitism of the cuckoo. In 2002, Jenner was named in the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest Britons.
Edward Anthony Jenner was born on 17 May 1749 (6 May Old Style) in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, as the eighth of nine children. His father, the Reverend Stephen Jenner, was the vicar of Berkeley, so Jenner received a strong basic education.
He went to school in Wotton-under-Edge and Cirencester. During this time, he was inoculated for smallpox, which had a lifelong effect upon his general health. At the age of 14, he was apprenticed for seven years to Daniel Ludlow, a surgeon of Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, where he gained most of the experience needed to become a surgeon himself.
In 1770, Jenner became apprenticed in surgery and anatomy under surgeon John Hunter and others at St George's Hospital. William Osler records that Hunter gave Jenner William Harvey's advice, well-known in medical circles (and characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment), "Don't think; try." Hunter remained in correspondence with Jenner over natural history and proposed him for the Royal Society. Returning to his native countryside by 1773, Jenner became a successful family doctor and surgeon, practising on dedicated premises at Berkeley.
Jenner and others formed the Fleece Medical Society or Gloucestershire Medical Society, so called because it met in the parlour of the Fleece Inn, Rodborough (in Gloucestershire), where members dined together and read papers on medical subjects. Jenner contributed papers on angina pectoris, ophthalmia, and cardiac valvular disease and commented on cowpox. He also belonged to a similar society which met in Alveston, near Bristol.