Astrolabe Catalogue


Date 1559
Maker Thomas Gemini
Place London
Material Brass
Acquisition Transferred from the University Observatory, Oxford, in 1936
Accession 1936-6


The surviving parts of Oxford University's Savilian Collection of astronomical instruments were discovered in a neglected state at the University Observatory in 1936. They had come there from the Savilian Tower in the 1890s, where they had been nominally in the custody of the Bodleian Library. They were kept in the tower's 'astronomy chamber' for use by the 17th and 18th-century Savilian professors of astronomy and geometry in their teaching. The collection, including this astrolabe, was given to the university in 1659 by Nicholas Greaves, in memory of his brother John Greaves and of John Bainbridge, who were the first two Savilian professors of astronomy. The instruments had belonged to John Greaves, and this astrolabe was used by him to measure the latitude of Rhodes during his scientific expedition to the eastern Mediterranean in 1637-40. How Greaves (or Bainbridge) acquired it is not known. In origin it is evident from the coat of arms and inscriptions that it was made either for or in honour of Queen Elizabeth I, who succeeded to the throne in November 1558 and was crowned in January 1559. A recent study has suggested that it is the 'instrment of astronymye' purchased from Gemini for £10 (a large sum) in May 1559 in the accounts of Robert Dudley, afterwards Earl of Leicester, the Queen's favourite at this time. He may well have commissioned it as a gift for her.
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