Harvey was an English physician who was the first to describe accurately how blood was pumped around the body by the heart.
William Harvey was born in Folkestone, Kent on 1 April 1578. His father was a merchant. Harvey was educated at King's College, Canterbury and then at Cambridge University. He then studied medicine at the University of Padua in Italy, where the scientist and surgeon Hieronymus Fabricius tutored him.
Fabricius, who was fascinated by anatomy, recognised that the veins in the human body had one-way valves, but was puzzled as to their function. It was Harvey who took the foundation of Fabricius's teaching, and went on to solve the riddle of what part the valves played in the circulation of blood through the body.
On his return from Italy in 1602, Harvey established himself as a physician. His career was helped by his marriage to Elizabeth Browne, daughter of Elizabeth I's physician, in 1604. In 1607, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and, in 1609, was appointed physician to St Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1618, he became physician to Elizabeth's successor James I and to James' son Charles when he became king. Both James and Charles took a close interest in and encouraged Harvey's research.
Harvey's research was furthered through the dissection of animals. He first revealed his findings at the College of Physicians in 1616, and in 1628 he published 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'), where he explained how the heart propelled the blood in a circular course through the body. His discovery was received with great interest in England, although it was greeted with some scepticism on the Continent.
Harvey was also the first to suggest that humans and other mammals reproduced via the fertilisation of an egg by sperm. It took a further two centuries before a mammalian egg was finally observed, but nonetheless Harvey's theory won credibility during his lifetime.
Harvey retained a close relationship with the royal family through the English Civil War and witnessed the Battle of Edgehill. Thanks to Charles I he was, for a short time, warden of Merton College, Oxford (1645 - 1646). He died on 3 June 1657.
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