Royal Patronage of 17th Century Natural Philosophers Scientists Term Paper

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Royal Patronage of 17th Century Natural Philosophers (scientists)

During the 17th century, many educated Europeans in France and Great Britain developed a hunger for knowledge and truth seeking. These natural philosophers gave rise to science and to the technological developments that marked subsequent phases in the development of humanity. The link between the society of natural philosophers and the royal figures that offered them patronage was a close one and was based on what the royals identified as state interest.

Indeed, the 17th century marks, more and more, a defining shift from the earlier centuries, in a direction where scientific and technological progress begins to significantly factor into the military and political successes in Europe. Discoveries in the scientific sphere tend to affect the results on the military field, as well as in the development of technologies that help the state better perform economically. In many of the European states in the 17th century, the state is the royal figure and, as such, there is a direct link between the royal and the natural philosopher, a link by which the former sponsors the latter, in hope of future profits that the discoveries of the latter will indirectly bring.

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From this perspective, the shift of the 17th century also implies a change in the attitude and approach of royal patrons towards natural philosophers. If in the previous centuries, the patronage was more directed towards humanities and the arts, often less controversial subjects in an otherwise religious society, in the 17th century, patronage starts to cover the field of natural philosophy as well, as the society gradually grows more tolerant towards the sciences and begins to better understand the advantages that science can have in improving state fortunes.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Royal Patronage of 17th Century Natural Philosophers Scientists Assignment

Perhaps the link is nowhere as powerful and obvious as in 17th century France, notably during its second half and the reign of Louis XIV. As in the British case, an overarching institution was created under royal patronage to advance and promote natural philosophy and scientific discoveries. This was the Royal Academy of Sciences, established in 1666. However, the royal patronage over natural philosophers in France went much further than this. Many of the natural philosophers, as well as technical and technological innovators (not necessarily the same class, but basing their activity on the work of the natural philosophers) were integrated in different bureaus within the French administration, where they put their knowledge in the activity of the state and, as such, of their royal patron. Among these were the Bureau of Maps and Plans, created in 1696, and the Service of Fortifications

The royal patronage in France became institutionalized and regulated during the time when Colbert was Louis XIV's minister. The institutionalization implied both that the natural philosophers received pensions and that their activity would be guided and directed towards serving the interests of the state. In this sense, Colbert had created "pensions for sixteen to eighteen scientists"

. Out of this contingent of eighteen natural philosophers, about half would work in the mathematics and astronomy field, with the other half employing themselves with studying anatomy, chemistry or botany.

As previously mentioned, the direction of study for the natural philosophers was often determined by the immediate and direct interests of the state. In the case of France during Colbert's leadership, the immediate interest was the development of the navy so that France could rival Britain and Holland in the supremacy of the seas and, more notably, in the economic and commercial advantages that derived from such a position. As one of "the principal obstacle to open-sea shipping was the inability to calculate longitudes with less than one degree of error"

, the natural philosophers were tasked with identifying the means by which this could be corrected.

The perspective of the protectors determined the outcome of the research completed in the Academy. As such, Louvois, who succeeded Colbert as the king's minister, shifted the research from the areas previously mentioned and into botany and the study of natural sciences. This was also because Louvois had less interest than Colbert in the development of a commercial framework based on external trade and the navy and, as such, focused the attention towards the army and means by which its activity could be improved, especially in the field of constructing fortresses.

In Britain, the Royal Society of London, founded in 1660, was the core institutional body that reunited the natural philosophers and that eventually obtained the royal patronage during the reign of Charles II. However, the royal patronage here was less obvious and powerful than in France and, as a natural consequence, did not significantly affect the direction of activity for the society, as was the case in France. King Charles's role as a royal patron seems to have been only to ensure the "approval and encouragement" for the society, rather than an institutionalized system that included pensions for the natural philosophers, as in France. At the same time, the activity of the society was significantly hampered by the Great Fire of London, in 1666. After that, it had to change its headquarters to several different locations, and it was only during the presidency of Isaac Newton that it received a permanent location.

Most likely, the different approach to royal patronage in the two countries was given both by the political situation and the difference in the structure of government. As such, for a significant period of the 17th century, Britain was caught in the Civil War that ravaged the country and made no funds available for investment in the studies of the natural philosophers. As the authority of the royal power dwindled, so did any potential interests for the scientific field. At the same time, the British society had historically relied more on private initiative than the French one, where the centralized power was much stronger. Even after the ascendance of royalty following Cromwell's period, the society still functioned on individual stipends and fees from the members rather than direct financial support from the royal power.

The presidency of Isaac Newton did not necessarily affect the role of the royal patronage in the activity of the society, as this continued to remain less significant. Rather than on royal stipends and governmental funding, the society continued to rely almost exclusively on the fees it received from each of the Fellows of the Society. The funds thus formed were then used for financing the needs of the Society. It was not until 1850 that the Government became more involved and financed the society through a £1,000 grant, used to support the activity of the Society.

It is interesting to note that the trend of royal patronage of natural philosophers existed and grew in the 17th century even in those European political formations where the centralized government was not as powerful as the ones in Great Britain and France. Examples or societies of natural philosophers under royal patronage abound in Italy or Germany as well. In Italy, for example, during the 17th and early 18th century, there is a project to open a scientific academy ("Clelian Academy of the Vigilant") in Milan

, as well as the Academy of the Institute of Sciences and the Arts, founded in Bologna and considered "our R[oyal] S[ociety] but of a more vast Idea"

. This comes to show that the process of royal patronage of natural philosophers was not an isolated event, either temporal or spatial, but an overarching event, characterizing the entire European area during that time.

This paper has focused on examining the different forms of royal patronage of the natural philosophers in Europe in the 17th century. While the basic institutional format was similar (an overarching framework, in the form of an academy, where natural philosophers could be encouraged to meet and discuss issues of interest for them), the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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