Thomas Harriot 1560-1621

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Thomas HARRIOT 1560-1621

Biographical Note

Born in Oxford; BA St Mary Hall, Oxford 1580. He was quickly noted as a skilled mathematician, and by 1584 he was in the service of Sir Walter Ralegh to help study navigation. He travelled to Virginia in 1585 and was in Ireland in 1589-90; during the 1590s he was introduced to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, who gave his an estate house at Syon near Isleworth, and a salary to continue his scientific and mathematical research. He was caught up in the misfortunes of his patrons (Ralegh and Percy were both imprisoned for many years, and Ralegh's execution in 1617 was witnessed by Harriot), and underwent various investigations for atheism or treason, but continued to live at Syon, supported by Percy, for the rest of his life. He was widely respected as a leading European mathematician, and connected with the scientific networks of the time, though his lack of published output diminished his subsequent reputation.


Harriot's will reveals that he owned a substantial library, together with scientific and alchemical equipment. His extensive papers, left to Percy, survive in the British Library and at Petworth.