John Napier

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John Napier of Merchiston (1550 – 4 April 1617) – also signed as Neper, Nepair – named Marvellous Merchiston, was a Scottish mathematician, physicist, astronomer & astrologer, and also the 8th Laird of Merchistoun. He was the son of Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston. John Napier is most renowned as the discoverer of the logarithm. Napier is the inventor of the so-called "Napier's bones". Napier also made common the use of the decimal point in arithmetic and mathematics. Napier's birthplace, the Merchiston Tower in Edinburgh, Scotland, is now part of the facilities of Edinburgh Napier University. After his death from the effects of gout, Napier's remains were buried in St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh.

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Early life

Napier's father was Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston Castle, and his mother was Janet Bothwell, daughter of a member of the Estates of Parliament, and a sister of the clergyman Adam Bothwell, who became the Bishop of Orkney. Archibald Napier was 16 years old when John Napier was born.

As was the common practice for members of the nobility at that time, John Napier did not enter schools until he was 13. He did not stay in school very long, however. It is believed that he dropped out of school in Scotland and perhaps travelled in mainland Europe to better continue his studies. Little is known about those years, where, when, or with whom he might have studied, although his uncle Adam Bothwell wrote a letter to John's father on 5 December 1560, saying "I pray you, sir, to send John to the schools either to France or Flanders, for he can learn no good at home", and it is believed that this advice was followed.

In 1571 Napier, aged 21, returned to Scotland. In 1572 he married Elizabeth Stirling, daughter of James Stirling, the 4th Laird of Keir and of Cadder. Napier bought a castle at Gartness in 1574. They had two children before Elizabeth died in 1579. John Napier later married Agnes Chisholm, with whom he had ten more children. Upon the death of his father in 1608, Napier and his family moved into Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh, where he resided the remainder of his life.

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