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Recorde, Robert

1. Dates
Born: Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, c.1510
Died: London, 1558 His will was proved on 18 June 1558.
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 48
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
The only information is the statement that Thomas Recorde came from a good family. This could mean gentry, but I don't care to guess.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Welsh (British)
Career: English, Irish
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford; Cambridge, M.D.
Oxford, 1525-31; B.A., 1531.
Cambridge, M.D., 1545.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Protestant
He must have begun adult life as a Catholic. There is some evidence that he adopted the Protestant cause. He seems too early to use the word Anglican.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Medicine, Astronomy
Recorde was the founder of the English school of mathematics. The Ground of Artes, 1552--arithmetic. The Pathway to Knowledg, 1551--a translation and rearrangement of the first four books of Euclid. The Gate of Knowledge, apparently completed but never published--measurement and use of the quadrant. The Castle of Knowledge, 1556-- construction and use of the sphere, elementary Ptolemaic astronomy (including one brief favorable mention of Copernicus). The Whetstone of Witte, 1557--elementary algebra.
As a physician he also published The Urinal of Physick, 1547, a traditional medical work.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Government
Secondary: Academia, Schoolmastering
Fellow of All Souls, 1531- ?.
He is said to have taught mathematics privately both at Cambridge and at Oxford, 1545-7.
Recorde was practicing medicine in Oxford as early as 1533, that is, before his medical degree. He then practiced in London with the degree, 1547-9. He is sometimes said to have been physician to Edward VI and Mary in London, 1547-9, but there is no evidence of this.
Comptroller of the Bristol mint, 1549-51.
Surveyor of the Mines and Monies in Ireland, 1551-3, 1556.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Eccesiastic Official, Merchant
He owed his governmental positions to the King (or the Court).
He dedicated The Grounde of Artes to Edward VI.
He dedicated Castle of Knowledge to Queen Mary, and its Latin version to Cardinal Pole.
He dedicated Whetstone of Witte to the Muscovy Company, whose advisor he was.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Metallurgy, Cartography, Navigation
As Surveyor of Mines and Monies in Ireland he was in charge of silver mines at Wexford. He entered vigorously, though apparently not effectively, into their operation. They ultimately proved abortive. Recorde died in prison; though the whole episode in shrouded in obscurity, it may well have stemmed from the management (or perhaps mismanagement) of the mines.
Recorde was the source of the English tradition of practical mathematics. Although The Gate of Knowledge does not survive, it is evident from Recorde's descriptions of its contents that it dealt partly with surveying. Recorde also spoke of a new quadrant that he invented (I don't know whether for mensuration or for navigation), but I will not list it because no other word of it survives.
Taylor states that Recorde was an advisor to the Muscovy Company and that he planned a textbook on navigation.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 16, 810-12. F.R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England, (Baltimore, 1937).
  2. F.R. Johnson and S.V. Larkey, "Robert Recorde's Mathematical Teaching and the Anti-Aristotelian Movement," Huntington Library Bulletin, No. 7 (1935), 59-85.
  3. Francis Marguerite Clarke, "New Light on Robert Recorde," Isis, 8 (1926), 50-70.
  4. E.G.R. Taylor, Mathematical practioners of Tudor and Stuart England, (Cambridge, 1954), p. 167.
  5. John Aikin, Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey, (London, 1780), pp. 72-5.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Edward Kaplan, Robert Recorde: Studies in the Life and Works of a Tudor Scientist, Ph.D Dissertation, New York University, 1960.
  2. D.E. Smith, "New Information Respecting Robert Recorde," American Mathematical Monthly, 28 (1921), 296-300.
  3. William B. Ober and Robert M. Hurwitz, "Robert Recorde, M.D.
  4. (1510?-1558): Tudor Physician, Mathematician, and Pedagogue," New York State Journal of Medicine, 69 (1969), 2159-67.
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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