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Burnet, Thomas

1. Dates
Born: Croft, Yorkshire, c.1635
Died: London, 27 Sept. 1715
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 80
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
It is known only that his name was John Burnet.
Burnet attended Clare Hall as a pensioner; the father had to be prosperous at least.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.
The Freeschool of Northallerton.
Cambridge, 1651-8.
Burnet enrolled initially in Clare Hall, where he was a pupil of Tillotson; in 1654 he moved to Christ's College, following Cudworth. B.A., 1655; M.A., 1658.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican, Heterodox
The treatment of Scripture in Archaeologiae philosophicae, 1692, forced Burnet to retire from his appointment at the court. Upon the death of Tillotson he was passed over for the Archbishopric of Canterbury because of doubts about his orthodoxy. Toward the end of his life he composed De fide et officiis christianorum and De statu mortuorum, more or less deistic books which Burnet forebore to publish during his life, although they were published after his death.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Geology
Burnet's most important book was Telluris theoria sacra, 1681. Also Archaeologiae philosophicae, 1692. Burnet was one of the first to look at the material world in terms of historical development.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Schoolmastering
Secondary: Patronage
Fellow of Christ's College, 1657-78.
He went abroad in 1671 as governor of the young Earl of Wiltshire. He then made a second tour with the Earl of Orrery, who was the grandson of the Duke of Ormonde. Apparently he was abroad until 1681.
Master of the Charterhouse, 1685- death.
Chaplain in ordinary to the King (William III) and Clerk of the Closet, 1688-92.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
His close relationship with the family of the Duke of Ormonde secured his mastership of the Charterhouse.
Dedicated first part of Telluris theoria sacra to Earl of Winchester, second part to Duke of Ormonde; first part of English translation to Charles II, entire English translation, when all published, to Queen Mary.
Dedicated Archaeologiae philosophicae to William III.
His intimate friend, John Tilloston, made him Chaplain in Ordinary to the King and Clerk of the Closet in 1688.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Close relationship with Ralph Cudworth, John Tilloston, and Henry More.
  1. M.H. Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, pp.184- 270. PR508 .N3N6 Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950) 3, 408-10. Mirella Pasini, Thomas Burnet: una storia del mondo tra ragione, mito e rivelazione (Pubblicazioni del Centro di Studi del Pensiero Filosofico del Cinquecento e del Seicento in Relazione ai Problemi della Scienza, 20), (Firenze, 1981). Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale, (Paris, 1857-66), 7, 858-9.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Ralph Heathcote, life of Burnet, prefaced to the 7th ed. of Sacred Theory of the Earth, 1759.
  2. John and John A. Venn, Alumni catagrigienses.
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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