Elizabethan Science

By Christopher W. Taylor

Greece and Alexandria were the centers of learning in the classical times. In the dark ages of Europe, however, the Arabic people were the only major learning countries in the world. By 1200 to 1300 C.E., Europe was, again, the center of learning (Dampier 252).

In the Elizabethan Age, what we now call science was known as natural philosophy. After Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, the person who was mostly responsible for the revolution in science was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). Thomas Digges (d. 1595), an English engineer and mathematician, adopted the Copernican view of the heavens as an immense space with stars. Elizabeth had an influence on science when she appointed John Dee (1527-1608), a Welsh astrologer and mathematician, to consider a reform of the calendar (Dampier 254).

Elizabethan England’s most prominent naturalist was Edward Wotton (1492-1555), who collected data on plants and animals. Because of the increasing interest on nature, more books were published on botany and gardens were flourishing. William Turner, an early field naturalist, for example, published books on herbals from 1551 through 1568.

William Gilbert of Colchester (1540-1603) was one of the first Englishmen to experiment in the physical sciences. In his book De Magnete, he discussed contemporary ideas on electricity and magnetism. One of his experiments involved showing that a magnetic needle would dip towards the north pole when freely suspended. He also was responsible for coining the word electricity. Elizabeth appreciated his work enough to give him a pension to carry out his work (Dampier 255).

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is one of the most important Elizabethan “scientists.” Bacon believed that by acquiring all available data from observations from a particular problem, general laws could be formulated (255). This, according to him, was man’s way of reclaiming the knowledge and power over nature that was given to him by God (“The Birth of Science,” par. 1). Among other things, Bacon is usually credited with bridging the gap between theory and practice (par. 4).


Works Cited

Dampier, William Cecil. “Science.” The Character of England. Ed. Ernest Barker. London: Oxford UP, 1947. 252-79.

“The Birth of Science.” Francis Bacon Society, Incorporated. 16 Apr. 2007. <http://www.baconsocietyinc.org/birth%20of%20science.htm>.