John Craig ca.1550-?1620

From Book Owners Online

John CRAIG ca.1550?-1620

Biographical Note

Probably born in Edinburgh, son of Robert Craig (d.1575) and Katherine Bellenden fl.(1528-1578), brother to the lawyer Thomas Craig (1538?-1608). He matriculated at the University of Konigsberg in 1569, and at the University of Wittenberg in 1570, and at University of Frankfurt an der Oder in 1573, where by 1580 he was Professor of mathematics and logic. While at Frankfurt an der Oder, Craig received mathematical instruction from the astronomer and mathmetician Paul Wittich (1546-1585). In 1580, he also graduated MD from the University of Basel.

Craig returned to Edinburgh in 1582, where it is presumed he concentrated on medical practise. In 1603 he was appointed physician to James VI, and moved to London with him. In 1604 he was elected to fellowship of the College of Physicians, later named an elect in 1605, and consiliarius in 1609 and 1617.


The full extent of Craig’s library is unknown, but those that have been identified at the University of Edinburgh also belonged to James Douglas of Whittingehame and formed part of Douglas’ donation of books to the University of Edinburgh in 1635. One of these books is an edition of Euclid (Basel, 1568) (StEdU JY402), bound in contemporary pigskin binding, blind stamped with an unidentified German armorial, with the date “1567.” Craig’s surviving books are on mathematics and astronomy.

Craig owned and extensively annotated the 2nd edition of Corpernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Basel, 1566) (Dd.3.44). Owen Gingerich and Robert S. Westman’s examination of Craig’s annotations revealed that Craig had copied Paul Wittich’s new method of prosthaphaeresis – an algorithm for reducing labour of multiplying large numbers – into the blank spaces of his volume of De Revolutionibus It seems likely that on his return to Scotland, Craig discussed Wittich’s method with John Napier, the man generally credited with the invention of logariths.

Craig was a correspondent of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), who sent Craig an inscribed presentation copy of his work De mundi aetherei recentioribus phaenomenis (Uraniborg, 1588) (StEdU : Dd.5.50, which Craig had previously written a critique of.

Characteristic Markings

Surviving books of Craig’s are annotated extensively. He inscribed his name on the title page of his books: "Jo. Craygus" in manuscript at foot of title page (StEdU : Dd.3.44) “Ioan. Craigus” on title page of (StEdU JY402)

Inscription of John Craig (Edinburgh University Library Dd.3.44)


  • Gingerich, Owen. & Robert S. Westman, 'The Wittich Connection: Conflict and Priority in Late Sixteenth-Century Cosmology' Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 78, No. 7 (1988), pp. i-viii+1-148
  • Henry, John. "Craig, John (d. 1620?), physician." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.