Mathematics at Balliol College, Oxford

The Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Thomas Bradwardine (1290-1349)

A man known throughout Europe as "Doctor Profundus", Bradwardine wrote four books on pure mathematics: Arithmeticae Speculativa, on the theory of numbers, Tractatus de proportionibus, Geometria speculativa, and De quadratura circuli on geometry. The first statutes for Balliol required students to leave after graduating, and Bradwardine, like several other mathematicians, subsequently moved to Merton College. The "Merton School", which became famous for its study of dynamics and anticipated some of Newton's laws of motion, took their inspiration from Bradwardine's De proportionibus velocitatum in motibus of 1328. This work was also important for its study of non-linear power laws. He was Professor of Theology at Oxford, then Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, and died of the Black Death shortly after becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Further information about Bradwardine

Richard Swyneshed (13??-1355)

Richard Swyneshed, known as calculator acutissimus became a Fellow in 1344. He developed techniques which could be interpreted as summing infinite series geometrically. His ideas were widely known on the Continent, and Leibniz, at the end of the seventeenth century, praised Swyneshed as the man who introduced mathematics into philosophy.

Simon Bredon (13??-1372)

Simon Bredon was one of the earliest European mathematicans to work on trigonometry. He also wrote on arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

Cuthbert Tonstall (1472-1559)

Tonstall worked on arithmetic and wrote the first book devoted purely to mathematics to be printed in Great Britain, De arte supputandi libri quattuor (1522), in which he expounded the latest methods of commercial arithmetic. Tonstall's friend, Sir Thomas More, described him in the Utopia as "that incomparable man Cuthbert Tonstal...[whose] learning and virtues are too great for me to do them justice".

Further information about Tonstall

Robert Recorde (c1510-1558)

Elected a Fellow at All Souls in 1531, circumstantial evidence also links Robert Recorde, one of the most influential English mathematicians of the sixteenth century, with Balliol. Recorde, who besides teaching and writing on mathematics also studied medicine and was physician to Edward VI and then Queen Mary. He died in prison, having been incarcerated for debt, and possibly other, unspecified, offences. Recorde published one book on medicine and four on mathematics: The Grounde of Artes, The Castle of Knowledge, The pathewaie to knowledge and The whetstone of witte In this last book Recorde introduced the = sign to denote equality, describing it as "a pair of paralleles, or Gemowe [twin] lines of one length ... because noe 2 thynges can be more equalle". It took around a century before this innovation came into general use.

Further information about Recorde

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on 29 June 1998
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