Thomas Willis Biography

(English Doctor)

Birthday: January 27, 1621 (Aquarius)

Born In: Great Bedwyn

Thomas Willis was a renowned physician who made breakthrough studies in the anatomy of human body in particular the brain. Born to nobility, his family had to face lot of opposition during the Civil War in Britain and their family lost a lot of ancestral property, which were annexed by the Parliament. He even served as a physician to the royal family during the reign of Charles I of England. After the war, he started his practice in the Westminster town of London and embarked on study of anatomy. His pioneering works in relation to neurophysiology were highly elaborate in comparison to prior studies undertaken. He even studied the cause and effect of various convulsive disorders like epilepsy and his findings heralded a new era in psychiatric treatment. Concentrating on metabolic diseases, he conducted an extensive study of diabetes mellitus; it was he who named the disease as mellitus. His expertise on anatomy of human brain is reflected in the paper he published on the ‘Circle of Willis’, which describes the flow of blood in the brain. The pioneering scientist continued to work till his last days and was highly regarded among his peers. Read on to know more about his life and works.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In January

Also Known As: Уиллис, Томас

Died At Age: 54


Spouse/Ex-: Samuel Fell

British Men Male Physicians

Died on: November 11, 1675

place of death: London

More Facts

education: Christ Church, Oxford, University of Oxford

Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Willis was born on January 27, 1621 in the Great Bedwyn village of the Wiltshire County in England. His father worked as a stewardess for the baronetcy of the Willys of Fen Ditton.
He studied at the ‘Christ Church’ college affiliated to the ‘Oxford University’ and completed his bachelor’s degree in arts 1639 and then obtained a master’s degree three years later.
He then went on to study medicine and received a bachelor’s degree in medicine after successfully completing the course in 1646.
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Thomas started his medical practice in the market town of Abingdon and in the year 1656 he penned his first work on medicine, titled ‘De Fermentatione’. It was followed by another significant composition ‘De Febribus’ that was published three years later. It was during this time that natural philosopher Robert Hooke assisted him.
He was appointed as the ‘Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy’, at the ‘Mathematical Institute’ of ‘Oxford University’, in 1600, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. He became a member of the newly-founded ‘Royal Society of London’ the following year.
In 1663, he penned another book ‘Diatribae duae medico-philosophicae – quarum prior agit de fermentatione’. The following year one of his major works on anatomy of human brain ‘Cerebri anatome’ was published. The diagrams for the book were provided by Christopher Wren and the book contained many significant observations made by Willis.
He established his practice in the Westminster city of London starting in 1666. As a physician he used to combine his knowledge of human anatomy with the general remedial measures for treating his patients.
Willis’ most significant contribution towards understanding of the anatomy of human brain was his discovery of the ‘Circle of Willis’, which is a connection between arteries that are responsible for supplying blood to the brain.
This pioneering scientist then embarked on studying the physiology of the nervous system, in particular the brain, and the cause of various illnesses that plague the human mind.
He studied diseases like epilepsy and successfully attributed their cause thus paving the way for modern day psychiatry. His findings in this regard were presented in a scientific paper titled ‘De Anima Brutorum’, in 1672.
Furthering his study of human brain, he successfully established the number of cranial nerves emerging from the brain. Studying neurophysiology he provided accurate descriptions of the mesolobe, corpora striata and optic thalami.
Thomas also studied the cerebellum, deciphering its anatomy; in addition he also described the functions of carotids and basilar artery.

In 1674, he penned the findings of his research on metabolic diseases, especially diabetes mellitus, which were later included in the scientific paper ‘Pharmaceutice rationalis’. It was Thomas who proposed the name ‘mellitus’ and the disease is also known as the ‘Willis’s disease’.
Major Works
Willis’ most important contribution, in the field of medicine, were his works on the anatomy of human mind. He provided detailed and precise description of the structure and function of various important sections of the brain such as the cranial nerves and cerebellum. His observations were quite pronounced in comparison to the works of his predecessors.
Personal Life & Legacy
Willis’ first marriage was to clergyman Samuel Fell’s daughter Mary and the couple had nine children of whom one died in infancy. Upon Mary’s demise, Thomas entered the wedlock with Elizabeth Calley in 1672.
The eminent scientist breathed his last on November 11, 1675 in London.

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