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Home / History / Life in Tudor Times (1485-1602) / Events & Inventions / William Gilbert Demonstrating Electricity at Elizabeth 1's Court
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William Gilbert Demonstrating Electricity at Elizabeth 1's Court


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The accredited father of the science of electricity was William Gilbert, a physician at the court of Elizabeth I. Before Gilbert's experiments, all that was known was that loadstones had magnetic properties and amber and jet attracted substances when rubbed together. William Gilbert was a pioneer of the experimental method and the first to explain the magnetic compass. Britain was an important seafaring nation but no one understood why it worked. Gilbert discovered that the earth itself was magnetic; before this people thought there was a magnetic mountain at the pole and if you travelled too near to it, all the metal in a ship would burst apart; or they thought magnetism was caused by the pole star. Gilbert's great treatise "De magnet, magneticisique corporibus" or "On the Magnet", printed in Latin in 1600, containing the fruits of his researches and experiments over many years and provided the basis for a new science.

13th Sep 2007 by Diane Earl

History, Science

Key Stages:
Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

Science electricity Elizabeth ship compass sailing magnet magnetism experiment research loadstone Gilbert physician amber jet

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