Richard of Wallingford

(c. 1291–1336) English astronomer and mathematician
After the death of his father, a blacksmith of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, Richard was adopted by the prior of Wallingford. He was at Oxford University as a student from 1308 to 1314 and taught there from 1317 to 1326 before becoming the abbot of St. Albans. He is thought to have contracted leprosy in early life and there is a manuscript illustration of him in the British Museum that shows him with a spotty or scarred face.
Oxford at this time had gone through a minor renaissance. There were a number of scholars including Richard who were profoundly aware of the limitations imposed by traditional mathematical methods in dealing with virtually any problem of physics. It was Richard who introduced trigonometry into England in its modern form and in a series of manuscripts he produced the basic texts that could have initiated a mathematical revolution. (He was, however, two centuries too soon. The political troubles of the next 200 years and the Black Death were sufficient to smother any premature intellectual birth.) He was not just a theoretical mathematician for he designed and made his own instruments and, above all, he designed a marvelous clock for his abbey. It has been suggested that he introduced the work ‘clock’ into the English language, from the Latin ‘clocca’ for bell. His clock, the plans for which survive, probably predated that of Giovanni de Dondi in the use of an escapement. It showed the position of the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the state of the tide – in fact, it seemed, like most of the medieval clocks, to do just about everything except tell the time.

Scientists. . 2011.

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