Roger Bacon is estimated to have been born around 1214 in England although the exact time and place are unknown. He is thought to have come from a relatively wealthy family, though it is also believed that under the reign of Henry III this wealth had been despoiled and their lands and estates seized.
He studied at Oxford University and went on to teach there and at the University of Paris. His investigations into optics and the refraction of light through lenses is believed to have led to the development of spectacles, and he also made scientific forays into the fields of astronomy and alchemy. While little is known of his life for large periods of time, it is known that in around 1256 he became a friar in the Franciscan Order.
In 1266 at the request of Pope Clement IV he collected the details of his own numerous scientific examinations and others to create his ‘Opus Maius’, an encyclopaedia of all science. He strongly advocated the philosophy of experimental study over the blind acceptance of authority and his outspoken manner would often land him in hot water with respected clerics of the day.
Bacons’ interest in alchemy and a growing reputation as a sorcerer (which might well have been deliberately purported to undermine his reputation) gave rise to the nickname ‘Doctor Mirabilis’, which literally translated means ‘wonderful teacher’.
However, the publication of scientific works without permission from the superiors of his order, and possibly the belief that his works were somehow influenced by unholy sources would ultimately lead to his rejection from the Franciscans and eventual imprisonment. He died in Oxford not long after his release.