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Fludd, Robert

1. Dates
Born: Bearsted, Kent, 1574
Died: London, 8 Sept. 1637
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 63
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry, Government Official
Sir Thomas Fludd was a member of the gentry and a governmental official--Receiver for the counties of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, and later Treasurer of war for Elizabeth in France and the low countries.
Fludd is described as coming from a well-to-do family. I do not see how this can mean anything short of wealthy. Among other things, note Fludd's six year tour of the European continent after Oxford.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., M.D.
Oxford University, St. John's College; B.A., 1596; M.A., 1598.
After his years on the continent he returned to Christ Church; M.D. 1605.
Fludd studied medicine, chemistry and occult sciences while travelling in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, 1598-1604. It is interesting that the accounts of these years do not so much as mention a single university on the continent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Questions were apparently raised about Fludd's orthodoxy because of his involvement in occult sciences, but Fludd always insisted on the religious dimension of his philosophy.
I think it is correct to say that he was specifically Anglican in name only. He saw himself as above sectarian differences, though always within the boundaries of Christianity.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Occult Philosophy
Subordinate: Medicine, Alchemy
Already as a student at Oxford Fludd rejected Aristotelian philosophy and embraced hermeticism.
Apologia . . .fraternitatem Rosea-Cruce, 1616, a defense of the Rosicrucians, inaugurated his career of publication. Tractatus apologeticus, 1617, was an expanded version of the Apologia. There followed a considerable series of publications in occult philosophy, which are too numerous to list. Apparently the most important was Philosophia moysaica, 1638. Alchemy was always a central part of the program.
As a Paracelsian, Fludd naturally related his occult philosophy to medicine, as for example, Medicina catholica, 1629-31.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Personal Means
Secondary: Schoolmastering
According to his own account, Fludd functioned as a tutor in various aristocratic families, such as the Guise, during his years on the continet.
A highly successful medical practice, 1605-37.
Inherited wealth from his well-to-do family connected with the court.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official
See the aristocratic families above.
He dedicated his History of the Microcosm, 1617, to James I. When the book around suspicions, partly on the part of James, Fludd succeeded in allaying them. He dedicated two other manuscripts (which however remained unpublished) to James, and he refered to James as his patron.
From my perspective, which is not informed by anything approaching exhaustive knowledge of Fludd, it appears that he lived mostly outside the patronage system. He always had more than enough money. He never married. He was apparently interested only in pursuing his philosophy and did not seek place and position. He made a career of offending people. For example, the College of Physicians rejected his applications three times, largely because of his arrogant rejection of Galenic medicine, at the very examinations for admission. I do not find many traces of patronage about him.
I do find references to two other dedications: Philosophia sacra, 1626, to John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln; and Medicina catholica, to Sir William Paddy, principal physician to Charles I. In light of the paragraph above, I am strongly convinced that I should not interpret these dedications as acts within the patronage system.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Mechanical Devices, Instruments
Medical practice.
He developed mechanical devices (which had an aura of the occult about them in the early 17th century): an automatic dragon, a bellowing bull, a self-performing lyre.
He developed an early thermoscope.
Fludd included sections on surveying and fortification in at least one of his books (I don't known which one). I have looked only cursorily at illustrations from these sections. They look neither extensive nor original, and I have decided not to list them.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
Informal Connections: Connection with the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross.
Royal College of Physicians, 1609-37. Censor, 1618, 1627, 1633 and 1634. Note that initially Fludd was rejected by the College at least wice because of his militant Paracelsianism.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 7, 348-50. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 150-3.
  2. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 2, 618-22. C.H. Josten, "Robert Fludd's Theory of Geomancy and his Experience at Avignon in the Winter of 1601 to 1602," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 27, 327-35. ART, AS122 .W2
  3. Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsans, (London, 1965), pp. 105- 27.
  4. _____, "Renaissance Chemistry and the Work of Robert Fludd," in Allen G. Debus and Robert Multhauf, Alchemy and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century, (Los Angeles, 1966), pp. 1-29.
  5. Serge Hutin, Robert Fludd (1574-1637), alchmiste et philosophe rosicrucian, (Paris, 1971).
  6. Joscelyn Godwin, Robert Fludd: Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds, (Bouler, CO, 1979).
  7. John Aikin, Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey, (London, 1780), pp. 271-5.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. William H. Huffman, Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance, (London: Routledge, 1988).
  2. C.H. Josten, "Truth's Golden Harrow. An Unpublished Alchemical Treatise of Robert Fludd in the Bodleian Library," Ambix, 3 (1949), 91-150.
  3. J.B. Craven, Doctor Robert Fludd (Robertus de Fluctibus), the English Rosicrucian. Life and Writings, (Kirkwall, 1902).
  4. Francis A. Yates, Theatre of the World, (Chicago, 1969).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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