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Huygens, Christiaan

1. Dates
Born: The Hague, 14 April 1629
Died: The Hague, 8 July 1695
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 66
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
the very highest government official in the United Provinces.
Manifestly wealthy.
3. Nationality
Birth: The Hague, Netherlands
Career: France, Netherlands
Death: The Hague, Netherlands
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden
1637-1643, educated privately at home by father and private tutors. 1644, tuition in mathematics by Stampioen.
1645-1647, studied law and mathematics (privately with Frans Van Shooten), University of Leiden. According to Bell, he finshed the law course (does this imply a B.A.? Until I find otherwise, I think not.)
1647-1649, studied law at Collegium Auriacum, Breda.
1655, bought a doctorate in law in Angers.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist : Calvinist (assumed).
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Mathematics, Optics
Subordinate: Astronomy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Government
1649, member of a diplomatic mission to Denmark.
1650-1666, having trained for diplomatic service, and then facing the fact of no stadholder after 1650, Huygens lived at home with an allowance from his father.
1666-1681, a paid member (from 1667, 6000 livres salary) of the Académie, living at the Bibliotheque Royale. (According to the scheme I have established, correctly I think, I call this a governmental position.)
1681-1695, after Huygens initially returned home because of illness, political pressures suggested he should stay, and he did for the rest of his life, living off income from family property.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Government Official
His family had a long tradition of service to the Orange stadholders. 1650-1672, there were no stadholders. When William III was reinstated in 1672, his father and brother got prominent positions, which caused some uncertainty for Huygens in France.
1664, received his first gratuity (1200 livres) from Louis XIV. In 1665, he recieved a French patent for the longitude clock and another gratuity (1500 livres) from Louis XIV.
Though he was initially approached to join the Académie by Thevenot, Colbert emerged as his real protector and sponsor at the Académie. After war broke out in 1672, Huygens stayed at the Académie under his protection, and when he died while Huygens was in Holland in 1683, Huygens did not feel it safe to return to France.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Navigation
1654-, ground lenses and built telescopes and microscopes.
1655, gave advice to the Dutch States General on measuring longitude at sea.
1655, invented pendulum clock, built several for the purpose of longitude determination, and sent them on sea trials (1662 & 1686). 1664 (Dutch) and 1665 (French), patents for longitude clock.
He developed a diaphragm placed inside a telescope near the focus and used it with a pendulum that counted time to measure celestial angles. He also inserted a wedge shaped piece at the focus to cover a planet, in effect a micrometer.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Académie Royal des Sciences
1663, member of Royal Society. 1666, paid member of Académie.
Corresponded with Mersenne, Gregory of St. Vincent, Wallis, Van Shooten, Sluse, Leibnitz, Roemer, Pascal, Fermat, Boulliau, and Oldenburg.
  1. H.J.M. Bos, et al., eds., Studies on Christiann Huygens (Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger B.V., 1980). [Q143.H96 S95 1979] A.E. Bell, Chritiaan Huygens and the Development of Dutch Science in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1947). [Q143.H96 B4]
  2. Robert McKeon, "Le debuts de l'astronomie de precision," Physis, 13 (1971), 225-88; 14 (1972), 221-42; especially 13, 236-41.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. "Huygens" in Pierre Costabel and Minette Martinet, Quelques savants et amateurs de science au XVIIe siècle, (Paris, 1986).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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