Papers of Professor James Gregory (1638-1675), the Elder

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Gregory material includes: the works Optica promota, Geometriae pars universalis, Vera circuli et hyperbolae quadratura, and Exercitationes geometricae with figures and introductory essay; manuscripts including those of his nephew David Gregory (1661-1708), some complete, some fragments; mathematical papers and other material by both James Gregory and David Gregory with items by or referring to Isaac Newton, Flamsteed, Halley, Boyle, Huygens, Craig, Wallis, and Pitcairne; J. Gregorii oratio in collegio S. Salvatoris Academiae St. Andreanae and Trigonometriae quinque canones; notes from works or lectures, 1694-1705; material showing the content of correspondence between Gregory and Mr. Collins; and, an account of Gregory's papers by W. Sanders.

Administrative / Biographical History

The mathematician James Gregory was born at the Manse of Drumoak, Aberdeenshire, in November 1638. He was educated in Aberdeen and then studied at Marischal College in the city. His scientific talent was encouraged by his inventor brother, David Gregory (1627-1720) and at the age of twenty-four he published Optica promota (1663) which was a description of a reflecting telescope which he had invented in 1661. Between 1664 and 1667, Gregory studied mathematics in Padua, Italy, and while there he published Vera circuli et hyperbolae quadratura (1667) in which he showed how to find the areas of the circle, ellipse, and hyperbola. After his return to Britain, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1668. The same year he published his Exercitationes geometricae. Also in 1668 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at St. Andrews University. In 1672-73 he communicated with Isaac Newton (1642-1727) on the merits or otherwise of their own telescopes. Towards the end of his life he was also absorbed with the theory of equations. In July 1674 he was elected as the first exclusively mathematical professor at Edinburgh University, and earlier that year the first Gregorian telescope - the type of instrument that would be used universally throughout the eighteenth century - was presented to the Royal Society in February 1674. Professor James Gregory, the Elder, died in October 1675.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Works, purchased 1974, Accession no. E74.18.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 8. Glover-Harriott. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show references to Gregory related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): document signed by the rector and professors of St. Andrews University authorising James Gregory to provide mathematical and astronomical instruments for use in the University, 1673, at La.II.580; and, portrait of Gregory discussed in a letter, at La.II.588. There are other references to material relating to the talented but complicated Gregory family (check the Indexes for more details). The Gregorys were descended from the Rev. John Gregory, Minister of Drumoak. The inventor David Gregory (1627-1720) and mathematician James Gregory (1638-1675), the Elder, were his sons. In turn, David's son was the astronomer and Professor of Mathematics David Gregory (1661-1708), and James' son was James Gregory (d. 1731), Professor of Medicine at King's College, Aberdeen. The son of the King's College Gregory was John Gregory (1724-1773), Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University, and in turn his son was James Gregory (1753-1821) Professor of Medicine, Edinburgh University.

See the HE Archives Hub for descriptions of the Edinburgh University Library collections 'Papers of David Gregory (1661-1708)' and 'Lectures and Cases of Professor James Gregory (1753-1821)' and 'Papers of Professor John Gregory (1724-1773)'.

In addition, for James Gregory (1638-1675), the Elder, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes these other collections: papers, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Sloane MS 3208; correspondence with John Collins, 1667-1675, Private; correspondence with John Collins, 1668-1675, St. Andrews University Library; and, correspondence with John Collins etc, 1669-1674, Royal Society.