Lhuyd (Lhwyd, Lloyd), Edward (1660?–1709), Celtic philologist and naturalist, was born c.1660 in Cardiganshire, Wales, or near Oswestry, Shropshire, the illegitimate son of Edward Lloyd of Llanvorda and Bridget Pryse, both from landowning families. Lhuyd entered Jesus College, Oxford, to study law (1682), but did not obtain a degree. Instead, he was appointed (1684) under-keeper of the newly opened Ashmolean museum in Oxford, and immediately set about cataloguing the collections at the museum. In 1690/91, Lhuyd was appointed keeper, a position he held till his death.
He travelled extensively, collecting natural history specimens for the museum, and published a catalogue of fossils. In 1693 he was employed by Dr Edmund Gibson to collect material in Wales for a new edition of Camden's Britannia (1695), and thereafter he planned a more ambitious project examining the culture and natural history of Wales in the wider, Celtic context. He sought subscriptions to enable him to undertake an antiquarian and scientific tour of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, and Cornwall lasting five years from 1697. He travelled with two or three companions; they made extracts from manuscripts or bought them, copied inscriptions, interviewed locals, and collected curiosities.
Witnessing the excavation of the neolithic site at Newgrange, Co. Meath, in 1700, Lhuyd was one of the first scholars to realise the importance of preserving stratigraphy during archaeological investigation. He was also one of the first to botanise in Ireland, recording several species new to Britain and Ireland, including Arenaria ciliata, Potentilla fruticosa, Saxifraga spathularis and Daboecia polifolia (D. cantabrica). He collected several important medieval Irish language manuscripts, including the Book of Leinster and the brehon law commentaries. Owing to lack of money they were all bound together, irrespective of size, into one volume. The manuscripts relating to Celtic antiquities were bought for £80 at auction after Lhuyd's death by Sir Thomas Sebright. Those relating to Ireland were donated to TCD in 1786 by Sebright's son, Sir John Sebright (1767–1841), prompted by a suggestion from Edmund Burke (qv).
Lhuyd was awarded an honorary MA at Oxford (1701). The first volume of the intended series was published in 1707 as Archaeologia Britannica: an account of the languages, histories, and customs of Great Britain, from collections and observations in travels through Wales, Cornwall, Bas-Bretagne, Ireland, and Scotland. Vol. i. Glossography (1707). The publication was poorly received by its sponsors, who largely withdrew their support as they felt it concentrated too much on linguistics, and none of the other planned volumes ever went to press. Lhuyd, even though he must have been hurt by the criticism, circulated to scholars in Ireland and Scotland the chapters relating to an Irish–English dictionary for their corrections. The result is a valuable resource for historians of the Gaelic languages.
He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (November 1708). His position at the Ashmolean was unsalaried, and his main source of income was gratuities paid by visitors to the museum, never more than £50 a year. Lack of money plagued him throughout his life, affecting both his education and work. In March 1709 Lhuyd was elected a superior beadle of divinity, a university office with a stipend of £100 a year. However, he did not live long enough to benefit from financial security as he died in debt on 30 June 1709; he had caught a chill from living in the damp museum building. He was buried in St Michael's Church, Oxford. His library, which he had intended to leave to Jesus College and the Bodleian Library, was seized by the University and sold off to settle his debts; many important manuscripts disappeared. He had never married.
Lhuyd was a remarkable scholar, combining an understanding of the principles of good scientific practice with the energy and curiosity of an excellent field naturalist. He was innovative in the manner in which he sought sponsorship for his projects, and his pioneering methods included circulating questionnaires to the people he visited on his excursions and collating their replies. Regarded as the father of British palaeontology, he is also one of the most important pioneers of historical and comparative linguistics, particularly in the Celtic languages. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries and knew or corresponded with many famous scientists. A rare alpine plant, the Snowdon lily (Lloydia serotina) was named after Lhuyd. A portrait is in the Donation Book of the Ashmolean Museum.