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SIR WILLIAM LOWER   (c.1570-1615):


A selection of reference materials relating to Sir William Lower are presented here, taken from a number of sources, some of them obscure. Only materials out of copyright are included.

For an overview of the life of Sir William Lower, see:

Account in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr

Silas Evans provided a short biography in Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, pages 276-279, with two pictures.

It reads as follows (with a translation into English to follow):

Trown o Sir Benfro i Sir Gaerfyrddin. Yn fuan ar ol darganfyddiad egwyddor y telescôp cawn fod THOMAS HARRIOT, y dyn mwyaf blaenllaw mewn gwyddoniaeth yn y wlad hon y pryd hwnnw, wedi danfon am rai o'r gwydrau. Cyfeillion mawr i Harriot oedd SYR WILLIAM LOWER, o Treventy, yn agos i Lacharn, a JOHN PRYDDERCH, o Nantyrhebog, Sarnau, yn yr un ardal. Anfonodd Harriot un o'r gwydrau i Lower a Prydderch, ac â hwn buont yn "arsyllu" yn Treventy yr un adeg oeddd Galaileo yn arsyllu yn yr Eidal, sef yn 1609. Ceir hanes o hyn gan Mr. Mee yn Knowledge a'r Nationalist. Un o Gernyw oedd Syr William Lower, ond ymbriododd â merch i Syr Thomas Perot, a daeth i fyw i Treventy. Yr oedd tad Prydderch yn Uchel-Sirydd Sir Gaerfyrddin yn 1599, a'i fam yn ferch i Robert Byrt, Maer Caerfyrddin yn 1593. Ymbriododd Prydderch ag un o'r Vaughans, Gelli Aur, ac yr oedd yn un o gyndadau y Stepneys, Hamlyn Williams, a theuluoedd ereill. Nis gallwn nag edmygu y ddau seryddwr clodwiw hyn, a charwn ategu awgrym Mr. Mee, mai gweddus fyddai gosod i fyny gofeb yn Treventy i atgoffa'r ffaith mai yno y buwyd yn "arsyllu" yr wybren serennog gyntaf erioed yn y wlad hon, a hynny yn y flwyddyn gyntaf y daeth y telesgô i fodolaeth.

This is Rhys Morris's translation of Silas Evans's account:

We turn from Pembrokeshire to Carmarthenshire. Shortly after the discovery of the principle of the telescope we hear that THOMAS HARRIOT, the foremost authority on science in this country at that time, had sent for some of the lenses. A close friend of Harriot was SIR WILLIAM LOWER of Trefenty, near Laugharne, and JOHN PRYDDERCH [or John Protheroe] from Nantyrhebog, Sarnau, in the same area. Harriot sent one of the glasses to Lower and Prydderch and with this they were observing in Trefenty at the same time Galileo was in Italy. The history of this by Mr Mee can be found in Knowledge and The Nationalist. Sir William Lower was from Cornwall, but he married the daughter of Sir Thomas Perrot, and came to live in Trefenty. Prydderch's father was high sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1599, and his mother was daughter of Robert Byrt, Mayor of Carmarthen in 1593. Prydderch married one of the Vaughans of Gelli Aur and was one of the forefathers of the Stepneys, Hamlyn Williams and other families. We can but admire these two praiseworthy astronomers, and I would agree with Mr. Mee's suggestion that a monument should be constructed in Trefenty to commemorate the fact that this was where the sky was observed for the first time in this country and this in the first year of the telescope's existence.

Left: the cartoon of Lower and Prydderch on page 265 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr. Lower looks through a telescope while Prydderch holds a cross-staff. The cartoon had been used earlier by Arthur Mee in his book The Story of the Telescope in 1909.

The initials "JMS" appear in the corner of the cartoon. The front cover of the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales in the late 1890's, also hand drawn, bore this insginia and stood for J. M. Staniforth, the artist-in-chief of the Western Mail newspaper for which Arthur Mee worked (J.A.S.W., 1, 96, 1895).
Left: Lower's estate at Trefenty from page 266 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr. Silas Evans credits a Mrs. Davies, The Vicarage, Llanfihangel-Abercowin, for the picture.

Entry in the Alumni Oxoniensis 1500-1714

A short account of Sir William Lower appeared in the book Alumni Oxoniensis 1500-1714 (published by Parker & Co., Oxford, 1891:
Lower, (Sir) William, of Cornwall, gen. fil. EXETER COLL., matric. 10 June, 1586, aged 16; of Treventy, co. Carmarthen, astronomer; student of Middle Temple 1589 (as son and heir of Thomas, of Winnow, Cornwall, esq.); knighted at Theobalds 11 May, 1603; M.P. Bodmin 1601, Lostwithiel 1604-11; died 12 April, 1615; brother of Alexander and Nicholas; father of Thomas 1643. See Foster's Inns of Court Reg., etc.
Similar entries were provided for his brothers Sir Nicholas and Alexander Lower:
Lower, Alexander, of Cornwall, arm. GLOUCESTER HALL, matric. 11 April, 1606, aged 18; student of Middle Temple 1610, as 5s. Thomas, of Winnowe, Cornwall, esq.; brother of Sir Nicholas and Sir William. See Foster's Inns of Court Reg., etc.

Lower, (Sir) Nicholas, of Cornwall, arm. fil. EXETER COLL., matric. 4 Feb., 1591-2, aged 16; of Clifton in Landulph, Cornwall, (3s. Thomas, of Winnow, Cornwall), sheriff 1633, knighted 1 June 1619; died 17 May, 1655; brother of Alexander and William.

Letters by W. T. Lynn in The Observatory Magazine

William Thynne Lynn (1835-1911) published two letters about Sir William Lower in The Observatory magazine, placing the emphasis on Lower's observations of Halley's Comet.

The first of these appeared in The Observatory, 14, 347-348, 1891:

Sir William Lower's Observations of Halley's Comet in 1607.


There seems to exist much misconception with regard to the observations of this comet in 1607 by Harriot and Lower, probably in great part due to the mistakes made by Baron von Zach in deciphering the manuscripts which he discovered in 1784 and published an account of them in the 'Berliner Astronomisches Jahhrbuch' for 1788, besides other later Papers respecting them in the 'Monatliche Correspondenz,' &c. Prof. Rigaud gives a corrected version of the observations in the Appendix to his classic 'Miscellaneous Works and Correspondence of the Rev. James Bradley.' That work appeared in 1832; but it is as well to mention that Rigaud published a Supplement to it in the following year, which is bound up with it in the R.A.S. copy, but is apparently not in the library of the British Museum.

In the life of Harriot in the 'Dictionary of National Biography' we read :-" He first saw the comet of 1607 (Halley's) from Ilfracombe on 17 Sept. His observations on it were made with a 'cross-staff,' giving the distances of the nucleus from various stars."

Now it happens that the whole of Harriot's observations of this comet were made at Sion House, near Isleworth, where he was allowed a residence by his patron the Duke of Northumberland. (One of von Zach's numerous mistakes is that Harriot observed at Sion College, which was not built until several years after his death.) The first was on the 21st of September; the last on the 13th of October; when the tail was "obscurissima."

The observations of the same comet made off the coast of Devonshire and in Carmarthenshire were by Sir William Lower, who sent an account of them, in a letter dated Sept. 30, "to his especiall good friend Mr. Thomas Harriotte att Sion neere London." He first saw it, he says, at Illford combe (the old name of Ilfracombe); but it appears, by the later account in the letter, that "at" means "off" that place, after he had embarked in a ship for Wales, when about midnight he perceived the comet. Crossing over the Bristol Channel to Kidwelly (a place the mention of which von Zach overlooked and fancied the subsequent observations were made in Devonshire) he observed the comet again; and at a place called Traventi*, on Mount Martin, near that town (where he appears to have possessed an estate through his wife), he made observations, with a cross-staff sent down for the purpole of measuring land, from the 22nd of September to the 6th of October, including every night in the interval excepting four when the sky was cloudy and one when he "was a gossipinge."

Of Sir William Lower not much is known. I was led to these remarks by a letter of inquiry from Mr. Arthur Mee, F.R.A.S., of Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, who asked information respecting this astronomer who observed in that county. Finding, however, that he was really a Cornisliman, I wrote to Mr. Dunkin, who tells me, in a letter dated Sept. 16:-

"The Lower family were settled chiefly in the parishes of Landulph and St. Winnow in Cornwall. The Sir William Lower who corresponded with Harriot is mentioned in the 'Bibliotheca Cornubiensis' and E. H. W. Dunkin's 'Monumental Brasses of Cornwall.' He was the eldest son of Thomas Lower of St. Winnow and Jane his wife, one of the four daughters and co-heirs of William Reskymer." Mr. Dunkin then quotes from his son's book :-"William Lower of Traventy, co. Carmarthen, returned M.P. for Bodmin on Sept. 27, 1601, knighted at Theobalds on May 7, 1603, and married to Penelope, daughter and heir of Sir Thomas Perrott, Kt., and niece of William, Lord Knollys, of Grays. He died intestate on April 12, 1615, and on May 17 following an administration grant was taken out by his widow, who afterwards married Sir Robert Naunton, Kt., Secretary of State to James I."

I may add that the Sir William Lower - who supported the royal cause in the early part of the Civil War and afterwards took refuge in Holland, where he wrote a number of dramatic poems which acquired little fame - was the nephew of the astronomer who corresponded with Harriot. He died in 1662.

Yours faithfully, W. T. Lynn.

Blackheath, 1891, Sept. 18.

* In the Appendix to Rigaud's 'Bradley' this is called Irakenti; but in the Supplement we are told that the correct reading of the MS. is certainly Traventi.

The second letter was published in The Observatory, 17, 302-303, 1894:

The first Welsh Astronomer.


A short time ago I was writing to you about the first Englishman who is known to have made astronomical observations, Thomas Digges, who observed the famous Cassiopeia star in 1572. An article by Mr. Mee, F.R.A.S., of Cardiff (author of the well-known 'Observational Astronomy'), in the new monthly magazine (of which he has kindly sent me a copy) 'Wales,' recalls my attention to the earliest astronomical observations made in Wales, by Sir William Lower in Caermarthenshire. In 1610 he first used telescopes, or cylinders as he called them; and he and his young friend Protheroe were amongst the earliest observers of solar spots. But I wish rather to speak of his observations of the comet of 1607, known after its next return in 1682 as Halley's, which were of course made with the unassisted sight. The results were sent to his "especiall good friend Thomas Harriotte att Sion neere London," and remained unpublished until they were unearthed, together with Harriot's own observations, by Baron von Zach in 1784, and published in the first supplement to the 'Berliner Jahrbuch' in 1793. It is to be regretted that from a want of familiarity with English manuscripts, the Baron made several mistakes in transcribing them which were not detected till Rigaud made a fresh examination of these, publishing the result at the end of his account of Bradley in 1832; and a supplement to this, containing some additions and corrections, appeared in the following year. Zach erroneously attributed Lower's observations of the comet of 1607 to Nathaniel Torporley, and this mistake is copied into the 'Repertorium der Cometenastronomie' of Carl, who apparently had not seen Rigaud's correction. He also supposed they were made at Ilfracombe (Ilfordcombe, as it was then written) in Devonshire, the fact being that Lower first saw the comet on the night of Sept. 17, when in a boat on which he had just embarked to pass from that place to Kidwelly, on the eastern side of Carmarthen Bay; but the actual observations were made at Mount Martin, an eminence a short distance to the north of Kidwelly, close to Traventi or Treventy, which appears to have been the name of an estate of which he had become possessed through his wife, an heiress of the Perrot family. Lower himself was of Cornish stock, and some information respecting his family will be found in Mr. E. H. W. Dunkin's 'Monumental Brasses of Cornwall.' The positions of the comet, determined with "a cross-staffe, sent downe for measuring of land," are given from Sept. 22 to 29 on six nights (Sept. 25 was "cloudie," and on Sept. 28 the worthy astronomer notes that he "was gossipinge"), and on Sept. 30 they were sent to Harriot. Von Zach makes another mistake in supposing that Sion, then the abode of the latter, was Sion College; which was not built until 1623; the real place was Sion House near Isleworth, where he resided by the permission of his patron, the Earl of Northumberland. Lower's observations are erroneously attributed in the 'Dictionary of National Biography,' to Harriot, who does not appear himself to have seen the comet until Sept. 21; his last observation of it was made on Oct. 13.

Mr. Mee gives in his article some interesting particulars respecting Sir William Lower's observations after he became possessed of telescopes a year or two later, and his enthusiasm in the use "cylinders," as he called them. As already mentioned, he was assisted in these by his young friend John Protheroe ("we Traventane philosophers," as he playfully puts it), of Nantyrlrebog [sic.] or Hawksbrook, between Kidwelly and Caermarthen. But I have troubled you long enough on this subject, and remain,

Yours faithfully, W. T. Lynn.

Blackheath, 1894, Aug. 7.

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