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Turner, William

1. Dates
Born: Morpeth, Northumberland, 1508
Died: London, 7 July 1568
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 60
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
Turner is believed to have been the son of another William Turner, a tanner.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English, German
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.; Ferrara, Bologna, M.D.
Cambridge University, Pembroke Hall, 1526-33; B.A. 1530; M.A., 1533.
Studied medicine in Italy, at Ferrara Bologna, 1540-2. M.D. at one or the other. He was later incorporated M.D. at Oxford.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
Already at Cambridge he embraced the Reformation, apparently under the influence of Latimer and Ridley; as a mature man he was never a Catholic. In 1540 he began travelling about preaching until he was arrested. He then went into exile to study medicine. He returned when Edward succeeded to the throne and went again into exile under Mary. If not before, he became a Calvinist at this time, and when he returned with Elizabeth's succession he wanted to bring the English church into agreement with the reformed churches of Germany and Switzerland. He was suspended for nonconformity in 1564.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Botany, Zoology
Subordinate: Pharmacology
Quite early in his career Turner became interested in natural history and set out to produce reliable lists of English plants and animals. He is known as the father of English botany. Libellus de re herbaria, 1538. The Names of Herbes, 1548. New Herball, 1551-68. He is also called the first ornithologist in the modern scientific spirit. Avium praecipuarum historia, 1544. An edition of Longolius, Dialogue de avibus et earum nominibus. Turner composed an essay on fish, primarily a list of English fish, which Gesner published.
Turner was always interested in the pharmacological uses of plants. He composed as well a treatise on baths, especially Bath, a book on wines (concerned with their medicinal value), and an essay on triacles (medicines).
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life, Patronage, Medicine
Secondary: Acd:
Fellow of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, 1530-c.40; Junior Treasurer, 1532; Senior treasurer, 1538.
While still on the continent after completing his medical degree, he became physician to the Earl of Emden.
Back in England he became Chaplain and physician to the Duke of Somerset, and through Somerset's influence he obtained eccelsiastical preferment; Dean of Wells Cathedral, 1551-3, 1560-4 (worth 151 in all), and Prebend of Botevant in York Cathedral, 1550. The position as Somerset's physician also led to practice among upper society.
In Weissenburg, 1553-8, during the Marian exile, he supported himself as a physician.
Some claim that he was a member of Parliament under Edward. The evidence looks very thin to me.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Government Official, Eccesiastic Official
The New Herball says that Turner (the son of a tanner) enrolled in Pembroke Hall under the patronage of Thomas, Lord Wentworth. To Wentworth he dedicated a religious work in 1538, and to Wentworth's son the second part of the New Herball in 1562.
Turner states in the New Herball that he was physician to the Earl of Emden, Lord of East Friesland, during the mid 40s.
Duke of Somerset (who incidentally was related to Lord Wentworth). To him Turner dedicated the first part of the New Herball in 1551. Turner owed his Prebend at York and the Deanship of Wells Cathedral at least partly to Somerset.
It was, however, the Archbishop of York who installed him in the prebend. Turner also dedicated a religious book to Latimer in 1551.
He dedicated Aevium prasecipuarum historia, 1544, to Prince Edward (later Edward VI).
The preface to The Names of Herbes, 1548, appeals to William Cecil, who had been a fellow student at Cambridge, for patronage to carry on his natural history, and several letters (quoted by Jackson) discuss possibly preferments. These letters certainly suggest that he was Cecil's client. Later he dedicated the New Boke of Wines, 1568, to Cecil.
He dedicated A New Book of Spiritual Physick, 1555, to several prominent aristocrats--but I gather the book hectored them, so that I doubt that we should see this dedication as patronage.
He dedicated his Book on the Nature and Properties of Bathes, 1562, to the Earl of Hertford, Somerset's son.
Elizabeth restored Turner to his positions; he dedicated the completed New Herball, 1568, to her.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Turner's work in natural history was always slanted toward medicinal usage. He intended the New Herball for apothecaries, and he included in it his book on baths. A New Boke on the Natures and Properties of all Wines, 1568, had pharmacological intent behind it, as also the included treatise of triacle.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Intimate friendship with Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. In Italy he studied with Luca Ghini, by whom he was much influenced. Friendship with Hugh Morgan, an apothecary and herbalist, and with John Rich, an apothecary, both of London. Friendship with Konrad Gesner. Correspondence with Leonhart Fuchs. He may also have met Valerius Cordus. One of the interesting aspects of Turner is his connection with a number of natural historians, a vestige of a nascent scientific community.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 19, 1290-3. C.E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckam to Ray, (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 48-137. A. Arber, Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution, (Cambridge, 1938), pp. 119-24.
  2. John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, facsimile ed. (New York, 1967), pp. 129-31.
  3. John Aikin, Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey, (London, 1780), pp. 79-87.
  4. Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, (London 1790), 1, 56-76.
  5. Thomas P. Harrison, "William Turner, Naturalist and Priest," University of Texas Studies in English, 33 (1954), 1-12.
  6. James Britten, B.C. Jackson, and W.R. Stearns, introductory matter to Libellus de re herbaria, 1538. The Names of Herbs, 1548, (London, 1965).
  7. William Turner, A Book of Wines, facsimile ed. (New York, 1941).
  8. William Turner, Turner on Birds: A Short and Succinct History of the Principal Birds Noticed by Pliny and Aristotle, ed. and tr. A.H. Evans, (Cambridge, 1903).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. William Turner, A New Herball: Part I, George T.L. Chapman and Marilyn N. Tweddle, eds. (Cambridge, 1994).
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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