Biography of William Harvey

Portrait of William Harvey

Sir William Harvey was a seventeenth century doctor credited with discovering the circulation of the blood in humans and animals.

When and Where was he Born?

1st April 1578, Folkestone, Kent, England.

Family Background:

William Harvey was the son of a merchant who was Mayor of Folkestone in 1600.


King’s School, Canterbury. Caius College, Cambridge. Padua University, Italy where he studied medicine.

Timeline of Sir William Harvey:

1597: Harvey leaves Cambridge University and travels through France and Germany on his way to go to Italy.

1599: He arrives in Padua.

1602: He returns to England from his medical studies at the University of Padua in Italy where he was taught by Fabricius. He works as a physician. He studys medicine again at Cambridge.

1604: He joins the Royal College of Physicians. He marries Elizabeth Brown, Daughter of Lancelot Browne, physician to Queen Elizabeth the First and King James the First.

1607: Harvey becomes a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

1609: He is appointed physician to St Bartholomew’s Hospital and lived in Ludgate, London at this period.

Statue of William Harvey
Statue of William Harvey on the rear facade 
of the Royal Academy in London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1615: He is appointed as Lumleian Lecturer in August, which meant he was commissioned to give lectures for a period of seven years with the aim of “spreading light” and increasing the general knowledge of anatomy throughout the country.

1616: Harvey’s research is furthered through the dissection of animals. He first revealed his findings at the College of Physicians in 1616 and begins his series of lectures.

1618: Harvey is appointed “Physician Extraordinary” to King James the First and his son Charles when he became king. He also treats aristocrats such as the Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon. .

1625: He is re-elected for the second time as “Censor of the College of Physicians”.

1628: He publishes his theories in a book entitled ‘Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus’ (‘An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals’) in Frankfurt. In it he explains how the heart propells the blood around the body on a continuous path with valves which only allow a one way flow. Ever since Galen before him the blood was thought to have been continuously made by the liver. His book was panned by some of the other physicians but he still manages to take on more patients.

1629: Harvey is re-elected as ‘Censor’ of the College of Physicians.

1630: He accompanies the Duke of Lennox on his journey through France and Spain during the Mantuan War and its subsequent Plague.

1632: He returns to England and accompanies King Charles the First wherever he goes. On hunting trips he would collect dead deer for anatomical experiments.

1642: Harvey witnesses the Battle of Edgehill in Warwickshire, the first major battle of the English Civil War, where he tended the wounded. He is appointd Doctore of Physick to King Charles the First at Oxford.

1645: He is made Warden of Merton College, Oxford for a short time. At the surrender of Oxford to the Parliamentarians he returns to London and lives in the houses of his brothers Eliab and Daniel.

1651: His book “On the Generation of Animals” showed that mammals reproduce from a sperm and an egg.

When and Where Did he Die?

3rd June 1657, Roehampton, London, England in the house of his brother Eliab of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1628: “Anatomical Treatise on the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals”.
1651: “On the Generation of Animals”.


1604: To Elizabeth Brown, Daughter of Lancelot Browne, physician to Queen Elizabeth the First and King James the First.

Site of Grave:

St. Andrew’s Church, Hempstead, Essex, England. He was placed in his own chapel with no coffin but surrounded by lead next to his two nieces. On 18th October 1883, Harvey’s remains were re interred in a sarcophagus with some of his works and lined with the leaden case at a ceremony performed by Fellows of the College of Physicians.

Places of Interest:


British Museum holds his notes.