William Harvey

William Harvey

The man who first correctly explained the process of blood circulation in our bodies and the role of heart in the process is none other than William Harvey, an English physician. He is also known as the father of modern physiology.

Early Life, Education and Career:

William Harvey was born on 1 April 1578 in Folkestone, Kent, England, the eldest of seven sons. His father, Thomas Harvey was a jurat of Folkestone. After completing his schooling from the King’s School, Canterbury he joined the Caius College, Cambridge at the age of sixteen. There he studied arts and medicine and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1597. His fascination for medicine led him to Italy to study at the University of Padua, the center for western European medical instruction. Here he studied under the famous anatomist, Fabricius, Julius Casserius, and other renowned men and graduated with honors in 1602. In the same year he returned to England where he earned yet another medical degree from Cambridge University. Following this, Harvey established himself in London, joining the College of Physicians on October 5, 1604. The same year he also got married to Elizabeth Browne, daughter of Lancelot Browne, physician to King James I. They had no children.

In 1609, he was chosen a physician to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and in 1615 Lumleian Lecturer at the College of Physicians – a position that he held for his entire life. His thoughts about circulation of the blood were first publicly expressed in these lectures during 1616. Harvey continued to contribute to the Lumleain lectures at the same time also taking care of his patients at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital; he thus soon attained an important and fairly lucrative practice, which made possible his appointment as court physician to King James I in 1618 and then to Charles I in 1625, a post he held until Charles was beheaded in 1649. Charles helped Harvey by providing him with deer from the royal parks for his medical research. Harvey stood firm with Charles, looking after him even during the Cromwellian Civil War, which led to the sacking of Harvey’s rooms in 1642 and the demolition of many of his medical notes and papers. He stopped working at the end of the Civil War, a widower, and lived with his various brothers.


Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood is considered as his greatest contribution to the field of medicine. His many experimental dissections and vivisections made him reject Galen’s views about blood movement, particularly the concepts that blood was formed in the liver and absorbed by the body, and that it flowed through the septum (dividing wall) of the heart. Harvey first examined the heartbeat, finding the existence of the pulmonary circulation and noting the one-way flow of blood. In his attempt to discover the amount of blood pumped by the heart, he figured out that there must be a constant amount of blood flowing through the arteries and returning through the veins of the heart, following a cycle. He presented this explanation in 1628 in his publication -An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals.

He published another ground-breaking book in 1651 titled as “Essays on the Generation of Animals.” This book is considered the basis for modern embryology.


This great physician died of a stroke at the age of 79, on 3 June, 1657 at Roehampton. He is buried in Hempstead church.