Thomas Norton (alchemist)

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Thomas Norton (c.1433-c.1513) was an English poet and alchemist. He is known as the author of the Ordinal of Alchemy (1477), an alchemical poem of around 3000 lines. According to Jonathan Hughes,[1] Norton was born in Colne, Wiltshire. No modern town in Wiltshire is named Colne; perhaps, as Reidy reckons, Norton was born in Colerne, Wiltshire, because this fits the description in the poem of the youngest alchemist (most likely Norton) being born under a cross at the end of three shires.[2] He became an alchemist in the 1450s, and was given the secret of the stone in 1461. Later that year he became an esquire of the body to Edward IV of England, receiving fifty marks a year, and in 1465 he was warden of Gloucester castle. He began the Ordinal in 1477.[3]

The earliest known manuscript of the Ordinal (British Library MS Additional 10302, late 15th century) is famous for having the earliest known illustration of a scientific balance; that is, one which is enclosed by glass so as to prevent drafts disturbing the balance.[4] This illustration also features a pelican, a vessel for repeated re-distillations of the same liquid, and several alembics stacked on top of each other for some form of distillation.

Another of the illustrations is of alchemical elections to be used at four stages of the process to produce the philosopher’s stone. They are constructed for a latitude of 52 degrees north which is a good approximation for Bristol, and employ the Alchabitius house system. However three of the figures are impossible from an astronomical point of view, and therefore the elections are unworkable and probably the astrological meaning is either a mistake on Norton’s part or a window dressing for the book rather than an attempt at serious alchemical astrology.[5]

The Ordinall gained a wide reputation in a Latin verse translation, in the 1618 Tripus Aureus of Michael Maier.[6] The English original was included in the 1652 Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum of Elias Ashmole.[7]


  1. Arthurian Myths and Alchemy (2002), p.102-3.
  2. "Thomas Norton’s Ordinal of Alchemy", Early English text society number 272, 1975. Page XLIV of the introduction by John Reidy
  3. "Thomas Norton’s Ordinal of Alchemy", Early English text society number 272, 1975. Introduction by John Reidy
  4. ”Alchemy, Assaying, and experiment”, by William R. Newman, in “Instruments and experimentation in the history of Chemistry” edited by F. L. Holmes and T. L. Levere, page 40
  5. Pages 19-21 of the Editors Introduction to “Secrets of Nature – Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe”, edited by William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton
  6. [1]. The other authors in the collection were Basil Valentine, and the pseudonymous John Cremer, Abbot of Westminster.
  7. Facsimile text in Ordinall of Alchemy (1929) editor E. J. Holmyard.


  • Reidy, John (ed.)(1975), Thomas Norton's Ordinal of Alchemy (ISBN 0197222749)

External links