John Flamsteed, the First Astronomer Royal, Who Fears God


John Flamsteed

“God suffers not man to be idle, although he swim in the midst of delights; for when he had placed His own image (Adam)in a paradise so replenished (of His goodness) with varieties of all things, conducing as well to his pleasure as sustenance, that the earth produced of itself things convenient for both,-He yet (to keep him out of idleness) commands him to till, prune, and dress his pleasant, verdant habitation; and to add (if it might be) some lustre, grace, or conveniency to that place, which, as well as he, derived its original from his Creator.”-John Flamsteed.

Astronomer, John Flamsteed was also a man of faith as we read from his former words and from one of his manuscripts as follows:

“My desires have always been for learning and divinity: and though I have been accidentally by God’s providence, yet I have always thought myself more qualified for it than for any other employment; because my bodily weakness will not permit me action, and my mind has always been fitted for the contemplation of God and his works.” (Francis Baily, “John Flamsteed the First Astronomer Royal”, p. 25)

It was not an hypocrite attitude, in his private manuscripts we constantly meet expressions of gratitude to God for his blessings.He was born at Denby, In Derbyshire, in the year 1646, on the 19th day of August, …’His father Stephen’, and his mother, Mary,’ …’were of known integrity, honesty, …’betwixt whom [He] was tenderly educated (by reason of [his] natural weakness, which required more than ordinary care.).’ (ibid. p. 100)

At the free school he received his education until 1662 when he was nearly sixteen. It is short after that he had a book lent to him in Latin “Sacrobosco’s De Sfaera”, the beginning of his math studies while his father, who had a strong passion for arithmetic, instructed him in that science. That same year, a partial eclipse of the sun in September drawn his attention to astronomical observation.

Not yet twenty-one years old, sickly and suffering, he obseved a large partial eclipse of the sun to the best of his ability, argued out for himself ‘the equation of time’, drew up a catalogue of seventy stars, and attempted to determine the inclination of the ecliptic and the actual distance of the earth from the sun. He had only begun the study of arithmetic four years previously!

John send his calculations of an eclipse of the sun, of five occultations of stars by the moon, to the Royal Society. His letter was dated November 4, 1669. On January 14, Mr.Oldenburg, the secretary of the Society, replied to him in a letter. He congratulating him upon his skill, and encouraging him to furnish further similar papers and signs himself, ‘Your very affectionate friend and real servant.’ John cannot but have felt encouraging and flattering to the highest degree!

The following June he was introduced to Sir Jonas Moore, the Surveyor of the Ordnance, who made him a present of Townley’s micrometer, and promised to furnish him with object-glasses for telescopes at moderate rates. Flamsteed was making rapid progress in his acquaintanceship with the work of other astronomers. In 1674 he became more intimate with Newton.
Sir Jonas Moore was extremely anxious to give him official charge of an observatory. Short after John’s coming to London, ‘an accident happened’, (ibid. p. 112) that hastened the building of Greenwich Observatory. In his twenty-ninth year, John Flamsteed became the first Astronomer Royal.

Flamsteed laboured devotedly at the Observatory for nearly fifty years. His own great work, the ‘Historia Caelestis’, when compared with other former catalogues of this kind, is a work of wonderful accuracy, winning from Airy the following warm praise:
“In regard not only to accuracy of observation, and to detail in publication of the methods of observing, but also the steadiness of system followed through many years, and to completeness of calculation of the useful results deduced from the observations, in this and other country.”-Airy.

‘I intend (with the assistance of that Good Providence, which I must ever acknowledge to have directed all my endeavours) to give an account of all my labors and studies, their beginning and progress, with the helps and assistance I have either received from others, or afforded them for carrying on of theirs, that those who come after me may honestly and sincerely prosecute these studies, depending on the favor of God, and giving Him only all the praise.’-John Flamsteed, Greenwich, Royal Observatory 1707. (Francis Baily, “John Flamsteed, the First Astronomer Royal”, p. 100- (

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