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Gunter, Edmund

1. Dates
Born: Hertfordshire, 1581
Died: London, 10 Dec. 1626
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 45
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
All we know is that Gunter was of Welsh descent.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., D.D.
Westminster School.
Oxford University, 1599-1615; Christ Church; B.A.,1603; M.A.,1605; B.D., 1615.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Gunter was ordained and was Rector of a church in Southwark.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Navigation, Instrumentation
Subordinate: Magnetism
Gunter is known as a competent but unoriginal mathematician, whose work was largely of a practical nature. He contributed devices that aided calculations, and indeed instruments of all sorts, and he contributed importantly to mathematically controlled navigation. Thus, New Projection of the Sphere, 1623, and Canon triangularum, 1620, the logarithms of the trigonometric functions primarily for use in navigation. This also came out in English immediately.
His Description and Use of the Sector, Cross-staffe, and Other Instruments, 1623, described, among other things, a precursor of the slide rule.
Gunter was the first to observe the secular variation of magnetic declination.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life, Academia
Rector of St. George's, Southwark, 1615-26.
Professor of astronomy at Gresham College, 1619-26.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Scientist, Court Official
He obtained his rectory through the patronage of the Earl of Bridgewater. Gunter is known to have made one of Oughtred's horizontal instruments for the Duke about 1618.
He owed his professorship to Briggs' recommendation.
At the request of Prince Charles (later Charles I) he wrote a book in 1624 on the sundials he installed in the Whitehall Gardens.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Applied Mathematics, Navigation, Cartography
Invented scientific instruments to simplify calculations: especially Gunter's scale or Gunter's line of numbers, the precursor of the slide rule. His Canon triangulorum was also primarily an aid to calculation.
Gunter was a major figure in the introduction of logarithms into navigational practice.
He developed a new quadrant (Gunter's quadrant) and a new cross staff. He may have invented the log line.
Finally there is Gunter's chain, which long remained one of the basic instruments in surveying. I did not find any reference to actual surveying by Gunter, but I have not been able to understand the chain without assuming such.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Intimate friendship with Henry Briggs and the Gresham group.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 8, 793. E.G.R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor & Stuart England, (London, 1954), p. 196.
  2. Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, (Oxford, 1965).
  3. David W. Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times, (London, 1958).
  4. John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, facsimile ed. (New York, 1967), pp. 77-81.
  5. John Aubrey, Brief Lives, (London, 1950), p. 116.
  6. Charles H. Cotter, "Edmund Gunter (1581-1626)," Journal of Navigation, 34 (1981), pp. 363-7.
  7. A.J. Turner, "William Oughtred, Richard Delamain and the Horizontral Instrument in Seventeenth Century England," Annali dell'Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienze, Firenze, 6.2 (1981), 109-10.
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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