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Moffett [Moufet, Mouffet, Muffet, Muffett], Thomas

1. Dates
Born: London, 1553
Died: Bulbridge, Wiltshire, 5 June 1604
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 51
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Also Thomas Moffett, the father was a London haberdasher of Scottish descent.
I do not see how to avoid the conclusion that the father was at least affluent. Moffett went to Cambridge as a Pensioner, and after Cambridge he was able to spend six years on the continent, three of them studying at Basle, and three travelling extensively.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.; Basel, M.D.
Merchant Taylor's School, 1564-9.
Cambridge University, 1569-76; initially Trinity, then Caius in 1572; B.A., 1573: M.A., 1576 (from Trinity).
M.D., 1578 at Basle.
Travelled on the continent, 1579-82.
M.D., incorporated at Cambridge, 1582.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Moffett's younger brother was the Rector of Fobbing, Essex.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Entomology
Subordinate: Medicine, Iatrochemistry
While in Basle he published several medical treatises, and later Nosomantica, 1588, a book on diagnosis.
He became a Paracelsian and published De jure et praestantia chemicorum medicamentorum dialogus apologeticus, 1584. Either with De jure or at much the same time, Epistolae quinque medicinales. Both of these were iatrochemical, Paracelsian works; both were included in Zetzner's Theatrum chemicum.
He is best known for Theatrum insectorum, which was published only well after his death, in 1634. He was also the author of The Silkewormes and their Flies, 1599. Raven has a very low opinion of Moffett as a naturalist. The book on insects, his best production as a naturalist, was the work of Gesner, Edward Wotton, and Thomas Penny, which Moffett received from Penny and put into its final form.
Health's Improvement, was also posthumous--1655. It is mostly about diet. It includes some natural history.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Patronage
Medical practice, 1584-1604. Wood says "a very great practice." It apparently included a number of the aristocracy.
Wood says that Moffett was much honored and beloved by Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d'Eresby. Moffett accompanied Lord Willoughby on his mission to Denmark, 1582.
Personal physician to the Earl of Essex during his campaign, 1591-6.
Physician to the Earl of Pembroke in Wiltshire, 1597-1604.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
Lord Willoughby and the Earl of Essex. He dedicated Nosomantica, 1588, to Lord Willoughby.
The Earl of Pembroke persuaded him to move to Wiltshire and secured for him a seat as Member of Parliament for Wilton in 1597. The Earl gave him the manor house of Bulbridge. Lady Mary Herbert, wife of the Earl of Pembroke, held Moffett in high esteem; she saw to it that the Earl gave Moffett a pension, which he received until his death. Moffett composed a life of Sir Philip Sidney (Nobilis, unpublished at the time); Sidney was the brother of Lady Herbert. To the Lady, Moffett dedicated Silkewormes, and to her son the life of Sidney.
Thomas Penny (who appears to have been more a colleague than a patron) encouraged his research, and Moffett dedicated his first book to Penny. (I am not listing this.)
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology, Agriculture
Moffett participated in the College of Physicians' project to compose a pharmacopoeia.
Silkewormes was consciously an effort to promote the planting of mulberry trees and the raising of silkworms in England.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
Informal Connections: Studied medicine at Cambridge under John Caius. Intimate friendship and cooperation with Penny.
Studied medicine at Basle under Felix Platter and Theodor Zwinger.
Moffet added a number of descriptionss and drawings from his own observations to Conrad Gesner's unpublished book, Theatrum Insectorum.
Royal College of Physicians, 1588-1604; Censor 1588.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50) 13, 548-50 William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 91-3 Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 1, 574-5. Wood mistakenly considered Moffett an Oxford man.
  2. Charles H. Cooper & T. Cooper, Athenae Cantabrigiensis, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1858-61), 2, 400-2, 554.
  3. C.E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckham to Ray, (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 172-91. John Aikin, Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey, (London, 1780), pp. 168-75.
  4. Victor Houliston, "Introduction," in Moffett, The Silkewormes and their Flies, (Binghamton, NY, 1989), pp. xi-xxvii.
  5. H.M Fraser, "Moufet's Theatrum Insectorum," Gesnerus, 3 (1946), 131.
  6. B. Milt, "Some Explanatory Notes to H.M. Fraser's Article about Moufet's Theatrum Insectorum," Gesnerus, 3 (1946), 132-4.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. W. Oldys, a life of Moffett in the 1746 edition of Health Improvement.
  2. W.H. Mullens, Thomas Muffett, Occasional Publications of the Hastings and St. Leonard's Natural History Society, No. 11 (1911).
  3. Reubin Friedman, "Thomas Moffet (1553-1604). The Tercentenary of his Contribution to Scabies," Medical Life, 41 (1934), 620- 35.
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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