The Tudor Society

1 April – William Harvey, his experiments and blood circulation

On this day in Tudor history, 1st April 1578, English physician William Harvey, was born in Folkestone, Kent. Harvey has gone down in history as being the man who discovered the circulation of blood, and he was also physician extraordinary to King James I and King Charles I.

How did Harvey work out that the heart pumped the blood around the body and how was his challenge of Galen's work received?

Find out more about William Harvey's work, and also his role in the pardoning of women accused of witchcraft, in today's talk.

Harvey’s work “On the motion of the heart and blood in animals” can be found at

Also on this day in Tudor history, 1st April 1536, imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys recorded King Henry VIII courting a woman who wasn’t his wife, the woman was Jane Seymour. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1538 – Death of Sir Amyas (Amias) Paulet, soldier and landowner, at Hinton St George. In Henry VIII's reign, he served as a Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and steward of the Estates of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Henry VII chose him to meet Catherine of Aragon as she travelled to London to marry his son, Arthur.
  • 1570 – Death of William Alley, Bishop of Exeter. He was buried in Exeter Cathedral.
  • 1571 – Death of Sir Thomas Cusack, Anglo-Irish judge, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, Keeper of the Great Seal, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland, Lord Chancellor and Lord Justice. He was buried in Trevet, county Meath.
  • 1572 – Death of John Cawood, Queen's Printer to Mary I, in London.
  • 1577 – Death of Anthony Rush, Dean of Chichester. He was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor.
  • 1578 – Death of Sir Arthur Champernowne, soldier, naval commander, member of Parliament and Vice-Admiral of the West. Edward VI knighted him for his service in France, and he was also involved in putting down the Prayer Book Rebellion.
  • 1604 – Death of Thomas Churchyard, author and soldier, in Westminster, London. He was buried in St Margaret's Church, Westminster. Churchyard started writing in the reign of Edward VI and some of his poems were published in “Tottel's Miscellany”. His literary works include “The Firste Parte of Churchyardes Chippes”, “A Generall Rehearsall of Warres”, “Churchyardes Chance”, “Churchyardes Charitie” and “Churchyardes Charge”. Churchyard was also an active soldier, serving with the Duke of Somerset in Scotland and fighting as a mercenary for Protestants in Europe.


On this day in Tudor history, 1st April 1578, English physician William Harvey, was born in Folkestone, Kent. Harvey has gone down in history as being the man who discovered the circulation of blood, and he was also physician extraordinary to King James I and also served his son, King Charles I in this position.

Let me tell you a bit more about his work on the heart and circulation.

In 1615, William Harvey was elected to the Lumleian lectureship in the College of Physicians and so prepared a course of lectures. His preparation included vivisectional experiments on the heart. As his biographer Roger French notes, Harvey’s findings were “inconsistent with the Galenic doctrine that blood moved into the arteries as the heart passively contracted after its forcible diastole.” “Harvey concluded”, explains French, “that the active phase of the heart's action was a forceful systole—its rising up in the vivisected animal—which produced the pulse by pushing the blood into the arteries as it contracted.”

Of course, the doctrine of Galen, the famous Greek physician and scholar, had been long accepted, so Harvey’s findings were greeted with scepticism for quite a time, although by his death in 1657 they’d been accepted.

Now, I’m not a scientist at all, so here’s an explanation of Galen’s theory from the National Geographic magazine:
“According to Galen, dark, venous blood formed in the liver and then travelled through the veins throughout the body to deliver nourishment and build and maintain tissues. Some blood would come into contact with air in the lungs and go to the heart. From there, this bright red blood went to the brain to form “pneuma,” a substance responsible for sensation and feeling. According to Galen’s theory, the blood did not return to the liver or the heart. Instead, it would be consumed by the body, which meant that it needed to be constantly replenished.”

Galen believed that the liver could produce too much blood and that this had to be alleviated by blood-letting.

Harvey challenged Galen’s doctrine, by laying out the evidence for his view that blood moved throughout the body in a circle. It circulated. His experiments on live animals had shown him their beating hearts and this observation caused him to conclude that it was the heart that was responsible for moving the blood around the body and that it did this by pumping it. The heart moved the blood out through the arteries and the blood was pumped back to the heart through the veins. After rigorous research and experiments, Harvey published his findings in 1628 in his book “On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals”, which was first published in Latin.

This wasn’t actually new. Centuries before that, manuals on Chinese medicine had mentioned blood being pumped around the body by the heart in a circle” and a 13th century Arab doctor had written about circulation. In England, however, Galen’s doctrine was still believed.
Harvey also did experiments like applying tourniquets to the arm and showing that there must be valves in the veins.

Harvey was also responsible for another medical work, this time on embryology, a book called “On Animal Generation”.

Harvey died on 3rd June 1657 from a stroke.

Here’s a bit of William Harvey trivia. In Charles I’s reign, he was involved in investigations into alleged witchcraft. As a physician, he examined some women from Burnley who were accused of being witches, but they were pardoned after he and his colleagues concluded that they were normal women without extra nipples to feed their familiars. In one witchcraft trial, he dissected a toad to prove that it was a normal dead toad and not a demon in disguise.

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1 April – William Harvey, his experiments and blood circulation