James Bradley (1693 - July 13, 1762) was an English astronomer, Astronomer Royal from 1742.
He was born at Sherborne, Gloucestershire in March 1693. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, on March 15, 1711, and took degrees of B.A. and M.A. in 1714 and 1717 respectively. His early observations were made at the rectory of Wanstead in Essex, under the tutelage of his uncle, the Rev. James Pound (himself a skilled astronomer) and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on November 6, 1718.
He took orders on becoming vicar of Bridstow in the following year, and a small sinecure living in Wales was also procured for him by his friend Samuel Molyneux. He resigned his ecclesiastical preferments in 1721, when appointed to the Savilian chair of astronomy at Oxford, while as reader on experimental philosophy (1729 - 1760) he delivered 79 courses of lectures at the Ashmolean Museum.
His memorable discovery of the aberration of light was announced to the Royal Society in January 1729 (Phil. Trans. xxxv. 637). The observations upon which it was founded were made at Molyneux’s house on Kew Green. He did not announce the supplementary detection of nutation until February 14, 1748 (Phil. Trans. xlv. I), when he had tested its reality by minute observations during an entire revolution (18.6 years) of the moon’s nodes. In 1742, he had been appointed to succeed Edmund Halley as Astronomer Royal; his enhanced reputation enabled him to apply successfully for a set of instruments costing £1000; and with an 8-foot quadrant completed for him in 1750 by John Bird, he accumulated at Greenwich in ten years materials of inestimable value for the reform of astronomy. A crown pension of £250 a year was conferred upon him in 1752.
He retired in broken health, nine years later, to the Cotswold village of Chalford in Gloucestershire, where he died at Skiveralls House on 13 July 1762. The publication of his observations was delayed by disputes about their ownership; but they were finally issued by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in two folio volumes (1798, 1805). The insight and industry of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel were, however, needed for the development of their fundamental importance.
Rigaud’s Memoir prefixed to Miscellaneous Works and Correspondence of James Bradley, D.D. (Oxford, 1832), is practically exhaustive. Other sources of information are: New and General Biographical Dictionary, xii. 54 (1767); Biog. Brit. ((Kippis); Fouchy’s Eloge, Paris Memoirs (1762), p. 231 (Histoire); Delambre’s Hist. de l’astronomie au 18e siècle, p. 413.