History of Astronomy : Persons : Persons (R) : Richard of Wallingford

Richard of Wallingford

1291 or 1292 - 1336 (?)

Richard of Wallingford, abbot of St. Albans, is best known for his mathematical, astronomical and mechanical achievements. The son of a blacksmith who died when Richard was ten years old, Richard was educated at Oxford and joined the Benedictine order at St. Albans in 1314 when he was 23. He was ordained in 1317 and returned to Oxford for nine addtional years, probably at Glouscester College. Most of his enduring work was written during his second residency at Oxford. He was named abbot of St. Albans in 1327 at the age of 35 and went to Avignon to have his appointment confirmed by the Pope where he contracted leprosy (his ailment was probably not leprosy, the disease, but possibly syphilis, scrofula, or tuberculosis but he was a leper in the eyes of his contemporaries). Despite his infirmity, Richard was an able abbot and earned the respect and friendship of the monks. He died 23 May 1336 after four years of steadily declining health.

Richard of Wallingford is best known for the astronomical clock he had constructed while he was abbot. The clock, of which no part survives, was a marvel of its age. He also designed and constructed an elaborate equitorium called Albion that could be used for all important Ptolemaic astronomical calculations including lunar, solar and planetary longitudes and, unlike most equitoria, permitted eclipse predictions. Other writings deal with technical astronomical topics.

His works are:

"Tractus Holologii Astronomici" describing the astronomical clock.
"Tractus Albionis" which describes the Albion.
"Tractus Rectanguli" which describes an observational instrument that can also be used for coordinate transforms.
Canons to the star tables of John Maudith.
"Quadripartitum" and "Tractus de Sectore" concerning spherical trigonometry.
Four short works on celestial coordinates.
"Exafrenon Pronosticacionum Temporis" and "Canon Supra Kalendarium" concerning horoscopes and astrology.
Ten ecclesiastical and spiritual works.


North, John D.: Richard of Wallingford. 3 volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.

More information on Richard of Wallingford

Text written by James E. Morrison, astrolabe@ntplx.net

Edited and HTML version by Wolfgang R. Dick. Created: 28 Jan 1997. Latest update: 26 July 1999