William Harvey

The Age of Anatomy

William Harvey 1578-1657




William Harvey was born in 1578 in Folkstone, Kent. Harvey studied at Caius College, Cambridge before he enrolled at the University of Padua in 1598.

At the time when Harvey was a student at Padua, Galileo was a tutor there and there is little doubt that he was highly influenced by the Galilean way of thinking that enthused the university as a whole. Harvey learned about the human body by dissection and anatomical observation.138

Harvey’s primary tutor at Padua was Fabrizio d’Acquapendente who was the first person to clearly describe the valves in the veins.

So it was that William Harvey studied at the University of Padua in Italy where he studied the work of Vesalius.

 He received his medical degree in 1602 and subsequently returned to England where he started to practice medicine in the London area. He took up appointment as a doctor at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

The success he was to achieve as one of the most prestigious doctors in London gained him the post of physician to King James 1, whom he attended during his final illness. Harvey then became physician to his son Charles 1.139
Between 1615 to 1656, Harvey worked as Luleian lecturer for the Royal College of Physicians.
For hundreds of years, people thought that the heart made blood from food and water, and the body absorbed it. This English doctor William Harvey proved that Galen was wrong and so made one of the most famous of medical discoveries; he showed that the heart recycles blood and acts as a pump to circulate it throughout the body. 

He also discovered the valves and Harvey realised that these valves stopped the blood from travelling back the wrong way to the heart. Harvey's work received a great deal of criticism from his contemporaries who distrusted any ideas which contradicted the established theories of Galen, especially as Harvey's findings brought into question the widespread practice of blood letting.

This was carried out because it was believed illness was sometimes caused by there being too much blood in the system. At first, Harvey's ideas were so controversial some of his patients left his practice. However, despite many still not believing his findings his fame spread throughout Europe and his contribution became widely recognised.139

In 1628, Harvey published details of his work in his book entitled
‘An Anatomical Disquisition on the Movement of the Heart and Blood.’140

He died in London in 1657 aged 79.



“The heart of animals is the foundation of their life, the sovereign of everything within them, the sun of their microcosm, that upon which all growth depends, from which all power proceeds.” 141




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