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Brouncker, William

1. Dates
Born: Castle Lyons, Ireland, c.1620
Died: Westminster, 5 April 1684
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 64
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry, Government Official
Sir William Brouncker was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Charles I and held a number of governmental appointments.
His financial status is a bit unclear. It is reported that he spent all of his resources to buy an Irish peerage in 1645. However, this was during a time when he was probably cut off from the income of his Irish estate. His son lived well on the estate he inherited. I think that wealthy is the description before the Civil War impinged on him.
3. Nationality
Birth: Irish
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.D.
Oxford University, 1636-47; Doctor of Physick, 1647.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Music
Brouncker was the first to introduce continued fractions and to give a series for the quadrature of a portion of the equilateral hyperbola.
He translated Descartes's Musical Compendium, 1653, and prepared a new division of the diapason into 17 equal semitones.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Government
He inherited an estate from his father, including the title of viscount, in 1646.
The Office of Chancellor to Queen Catherine, 1662.
Commissioner for the Navy, 1664 until his death, with an interlude from 1679-81 because of the Popish Plot.
Comptroller of the Treasurer's Accounts (for the Navy), 1668-79.
Master of St. Catherine's Hospital, 1681-4. This position must have involved considerable income; Brouncker waged a long legal struggle to establish his right to it.
President of Gresham College, 1664-7. I do not know how to list this; it is not academic in my definition. I think it should be considered a governmental appointment; Charles appointed him. I also think it carried a salary.
8. Patronage
Type: Court Official
With the Restoration, Brouncker's fortunes bloomed; he had remained a loyal royalist. See the appointments above. The King also nominated him as the President of the Royal Society. (Source on patronage: Scott and Hartley, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 15, 147-157.)
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Navigation
In 1662 Brouncker had a yatch, designed by him and his friends along new lines, built for the King. Apparently it attracted some attention. In his diary Pepys mentions Brouncker's application of his mathematical knowledge (conics are mentioned) to the design of ships.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Correspondence with John Wallis, Samuel Pepys and others. He was an intimate friend of John Evelyn.
President of Gresham College, 1664-7.
Royal Society, 1660-84; President, 1662-77, nominated by the King.
  1. J.F. Scott and Harold Hartley, "William, Viscount Brouncker, P.R.S.
  2. (1620-1684)," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 15 (1960-1), 147-57.
  3. T. Birch, History of Royal Society, 4, 338. Q41 L86B62 Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 2, 613-14.
  4. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 2, 1377-8. Anthony Wood, Fasti oxonienses (attached, with separate pagination, to Athenae oxonienses), (London, 1813-20), ii (in 4 of Athenae), 98-9.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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