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Coles [Cole], William (1626–1662), botanist, was born at Adderbury, Oxfordshire, one of at least three sons and five daughters of John Coles. He entered New College, Oxford, in 1642, and was soon after made a postmaster of Merton College by his mother's brother, John French, senior fellow and registrar of the university. He graduated BA on 18 February 1650, having become a public notary, with the intention of following his uncle. His enthusiasm for botany developed while he was at Oxford; he afterwards resided at Putney, Surrey, where he was a friend of Dr William How, founder of the Westminster botanic garden, and ‘where he became the most famous simpler or herbalist of his time’ (Wood). His principal work was The Art of Simpling, or, An Introduction to the Knowledge and Gathering of Plants (1656), with which was bound Perspicillum microcosmologicum, or, A prospective for the discovery of the lesser world, wherein man is in a compendium, theologically, philosophically, and anatomically described, and compared with the universe. His Adam in Eden, or, Nature's Paradise (1657) classified plants by the antiquated Galenic system by relating them to parts of the body, according to their supposed ‘signatures’.

At the restoration in 1660 Coles became secretary to Brian Duppa, bishop of Winchester, in whose service he died, probably at New Sarum, in 1662.

G. S. Boulger, rev. Anita McConnell


C. E. Raven, English naturalists from Neckam to Ray: a study of the making of the modern world (1947) · Wood, Ath. Oxon. · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/309 sig. 114 · A. Chalmers, ed., The general biographical dictionary, new edn, 32 vols. (1812–17)