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King Charles and the Founding of the Royal Observatory

  • Adam J. PerkinsEmail author
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Part of the Historical & Cultural Astronomy book series (HCA)

Abstract

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich dates its foundation to a 1675 warrant of Charles II (1630–1685), stating that “Wee have resolved to build a small observatorie …”, establishing it “to find out the…Longitude…for perfecting…Navigation”. Finding the longitude was a goal desired for centuries by mariners. The Observatory was built and John Flamsteed (1646–1719) appointed as “Astronomicall Observator” to make precise observations to achieve this object but the King’s warrants came only after a convoluted history. The eventual foundation owes much to Jonas Moore (1617–1679) and other fellows of the nascent Royal Society (founded in 1662), even to the extent of providing the instruments, and regular observations began in 1675. However, Flamsteed’s best instrument only became available in 1689. Nonetheless, during the first forty-five years of the Observatory’s history Flamsteed amassed some 50,000 observations. Fraught with disputes and disagreements, the full publication of his results was delayed until years after his death.

Notes

Acknowledgements

In writing the present chapter and as indicated at the beginning of Chapter  3, the author notes the expansion in authoritative post-war scholarship on all aspects of the early history of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which became an even greater expansion after the tercentenary in 1975, as reflected in the sources listed under the Reference section of this of this chapter and the next. It is unquestionably the case that the decade or more of sedulous work on the three-volume correspondence of the First Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed (Forbes et al. 1995, 1997 and 2002), by Dr. Frances Willmoth (1957-2017), formerly Archivist for Jesus College in the University of Cambridge, has illuminated the first 50 years of the Royal Observatory’s history as no other contribution has, and the author of this and the following chapter acknowledges his great debt to her, with profound respect for her scholarship and learning. The author of this chapter acknowledges with gratitude the use of the freely available images provided by the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Wellcome Library, London, and the Creative Commons and Public Domain images freely available via Wikimedia.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cambridge University Library (Retired/Curator of Scientific Manuscripts)University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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