Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Peter (1586-1652)

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TURNER, PETER (1586–1652), mathematician, born in 1586, was the son of Peter Turner (1542–1614) [q. v.] and brother of Samuel Turner [q. v.] Peter matriculated from St. Mary Hall, Oxford, on 31 Oct. 1600, graduated B.A. from Christ Church on 27 June 1605, was elected a fellow of Merton in 1607, and graduated M.A. on 9 March 1611–12. On 25 July 1620 he was appointed professor of geometry in Gresham College, in succession to Henry Briggs [q. v.] In 1629, by the direction of Laud, he drew up the Caroline cycle to regulate the election of proctors from the various colleges. About the same date he also served upon a committee nominated to revise the university statutes and ‘to reduce them to a better form and order.’ On the death of Henry Briggs in January 1630–1, he succeeded him as Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford, resigning the Gresham professorship on 20 Feb.

On his appointment as chancellor of the university in 1631, Laud urged on the work of revising the statutes. The task was placed under the direction of Brian Twyne [q. v.], who received some assistance from Turner. The work of final revision was also entrusted to Turner, who was requested by Laud ‘to polish the stile, methodise the book, and prepare it for the press’ (cf. Laud, Works, v. 84, 99, 163). The statutes were published in 1634. On 31 Aug. 1636, during a royal visit, the degree of M.D. was conferred upon Turner. This mark of the king's favour was either purchased or repaid by an ardent loyalty. In 1641 he was one of the first from Oxford to enlist under Sir John Byron [see Byron, John, first Lord Byron]. He was taken prisoner in a skirmish near Stow-on-the-Wold on 10 Sept., and imprisoned first in Banbury and later in Northampton, his effects at Oxford being seized when the town surrendered. In 1642 he was brought to London and imprisoned in Southwark, and in July 1643 he was exchanged for some parliamentary prisoners at Oxford (Journals of House of Commons, ii. 774, iii. 183). On 9 Nov. 1648 he was ejected by the parliamentary commissioners from his fellowship at Merton and from the Savilian professorship, in which he was succeeded by John Wallis (1616–1703) [q. v.] Being reduced to great poverty, he sought refuge in Southwark with his sister, the widow of a brewer named Watts. At her house he died unmarried in January 1651–2, and was buried in the church of St. Saviour. ‘He was,’ says Wood, ‘a most exact latinist and Grecian, was well skilled in the Hebrew and Arabic, was a thorough pac'd mathematician, was excellently well read in the fathers and councils, a most curious critic, a politician, statesman, and what not.’ He was much valued by Laud, who would have advanced him to high place had he not preferred a student's life. He wrote much, but, owing to a severe habit of self-criticism, destroyed nearly all he wrote. Besides the preface to the statutes he was the author of a Latin poem in the ‘Bodleiomnema,’ Oxford, 1613.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 306; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of the Univ. of Oxford, ed. Gutch, vol. ii. passim; Ward's Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, i. 129–35; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Brodrick's Hist. of Merton College, passim.]

E. I. C.