John Field The forgotten Yorkshire Astronomer
John Field 1527-1587 was born in Ardsley in the West Riding, an astronomer who seems to be missed of many people’s radar. His describes himself as being a farmer, and sometimes student in ‘the mathematic sciences,. Yet this farmer would become a trail blazer and was the first person to publish an ephemeris or movements of the stars and planets in England that was based on the Copernican theory. John Field was known as the proto Copernican of England.
He became astronomer/astrologer of the young Princess Elizabeth Tudor; an associate and friend of John Dee who was astronomer/astrologer of Queen Mary Tudor.
In 1554 Following the failure of Wyatt's rebellion, a popular uprising in England over the concern of Queen Mary to marry Philip of Spain, Queen Mary imprisoned Princess Elizabeth in the Tower of London and later moved her to Woodstock under house arrest. In 1555 the Privy Council also ordered the arrest of astrologers John Field and John Dee over charges of "endeavouring by enchantments to destroy Queen Mary" in the matter of her failure to produce an heir; and bewitching children; etc. They were jailed, and it was Christmas 1556 before Dee and Field were released, it was probably during their imprisonment as they had little else to do that the two friends had worked on their recognition and ideas of the Sun-centric planetary system as propounded by Nicholas Copernicus. The following year 1557 John Field published his work based on the Copernican system, with a preface by John Dee.
It is worth noting that at this time astrologers were often mathematical astronomers and the two subjects were very similar to each other. However at this period in time astrologers would produce almanacs with very little science value while astronomers would produce a more scientific version. However this story does show that it could be dangerous to be an astrologer in the 1550s.
Between 1543 when Copernicus wrote his book ‘De Revolutionibus’, and 1600 there were less than a dozen astronomers or scientists all with very well-known names including Thomas Digges and Thomas Hariot in England; Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei in Italy; and Johannes Kepler in Germany who supported these new ideas, and yet there is not a mention of John Field. He not only agreed with Copernicus he was the first person to write about those ideas in England so should be included on any distinguished list of astronomers who supported the Copernican view of the solar system.
There is even a plaque dedicated to John Field on the wall of the porch entrance of the church of St Michael's with St Gabriel's in East Ardsley near Wakefield where he is buried. The plaque reads ‘Beneath this porch lies John Field 1520-1587 he was the first astronomer in this country to make known the discoveries of Copernicus’ I assume this was placed there in the nineteenth century because there is a small metal plate at the bottom which says that This plaque is made from original Victory oak & copper bolt, presented by commander in chief, Portsmouth.
John Field died on May 3rd 1587.
|St Michaels with St Gabriels East Ardsley|