The Tudor Society

Robert Recorde

On this day in history, 18th June 1558, the will of Robert Recorde, the Welsh mathematician, physician and mint administrator, was proved. His date of death is not known, but is thought to have been mid-June 1558.

Robert Recorde was born c.1512 and was the second son of Thomas Recorde of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, and his wife, Rose. Recorde graduated BA from Oxford in 1531 and, in the same year, became a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He is thought to have taught Mathematics before studying medicine at Cambridge, where he received his MD in 1545. He wroteThe Urinal of Physick, a urological treatise, and had it published by Reynolde Wolfe in 1547. He also wrote a book on anatomy.

Recorde was a mint administrator in the reign of Edward VI, acting as comptroller of Bristol Mint in 1549 and also the mint at Durham House, in London. In 1551, he was appointed surveyor of the mines and moneys in Ireland, but was recalled to England in 1553.

Recorde is known for introducing the "equal to" sign, i.e. "=". He published several mathematical works, including The Grounde of Artes, teachings the Worke and Practise, of Arithmeticke, both in whole numbers and fractions in 1543, which was the first book on Algebra published in England, and The Whetstone of Witte, whiche is the seconde parte of Arithmeteke: containing the extraction of rootes; the cossike practise, with the rule of equation; and the workes of Surde Nombers, in which he introduced the "=" sign.

You can read The Whetstone of Witte online at Archive.org and pictures and information on The Grounde of Artes at http://www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/mathematical-treasures-the-grounde-of-artes-by-robert-recorde. You can also read The Urinal of Physick online on Google Books.

If you want to read more about Recorde, the book Robert Recorde: The Life and Times of a Tudor Mathematician edited by Gareth Roberts and Fenny Smith looks good, as does Robert Recorde: Tudor Scholar and Mathematician by Gordon Roberts.

Notes and Sources

  • Johnston, Stephen. “Recorde, Robert (c.1512–1558).” Stephen Johnston In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, January 2008.

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. G /

    The Dictionary of Welsh Biography (National Library of Wales – online) has an up-to-date entry on Robert Recorde. It can be accessed at http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s11-RECO-ROB-1558.html

    Excellent reproductions of all five of Recorde’s extant works have been published by TGR Renascent Books and are available on Amazon.

    1. < / Post Author

      Thank you so much for that, Gordon, I appreciate you sharing that link.

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Robert Recorde