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Ward, Seth

1. Dates
Born: Aspenden, Hertfordshire, 5 April 1617
Died: London, 6 Jan. 1689
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 72
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
John Ward was an attorney.
Pope ways that he had a good reputation but was not rich. His own father had squandered a considerable estate. Seth Ward went to Cambridge as a sizar. I do not see how to avoid the conclusion that the family was poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.; Oxford, D.D.
Cambridge University, Sidney-Sussex College, 1632-40; B.A., 1637; M.A., 1640.
D.D., 1654, from Oxford. Ward and Wallis took doctorates in theology at the same time, and all of the evidence suggests that they were serious degrees, even though both men held chairs in the university at the time.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
The evidence on his early stance is a trifle ambiguous. He went to Sidney-Sussex, a Puritan college. However, he refused to take the Solemn League and Covenant, and with three others (Gunning, Barwick, and Barrow) he published a discourse against its legality. He was deprived of his fellowship in 1644. Then in 1649 he took the Engagement in order to receive the Savilian chair of astronomy. It is clear that Ward was, at least by then, an ambitious young man on the make, and I do not regard his taking the Engagement as evidence of Puritan views. With the Restoration he soon became an Anglican bishop and was known as a persecuting enemy of dissenters.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy
Subordinate: Mathematics
Ward formulated an empty focus alternative to Kepler's law of areas. (A planet moved with uniform angular velocity around the empty focus of its ellipse.) He expounded the theory in both of his works on astronomy: Ismaelis Bullialdi astronimicae philolaicae fundamenta inquisitio brevis, 1653, and Astronomia geometrica, 1656. He also published De cometis, 1653.
He published a mathematics text, Idea trigonometriae demonstratae, 1654.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Church Life
Secondary: Patronage
Fellow of Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, 1640-4. Mathematical lecturer, 1643-4 (DNB says he was the university lecturer in mathematics; I was fairly certain that there was no such university position, but the details of the appointment sound like it was university rather than college.)
When he was ejected in 1644, Ward took refuge with Samuel Ward's relatives in and around London, and with Oughtred at Albury. Afterwards he lived with the family of Ralph Freeman in Aspenden as tutor, 1644-9. He was then chaplain for a short time to Thomas Lord Wenman in Oxfordshire.
Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, 1649-60.
He was elected Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, 1657, but Cromwell installed another man.
President of Trinity College, Oxford, 1659-60. At the Restoration the earlier president, a royalist, returned to the position and Ward was out.
He was not rejected by the returning royalists, however. Vicar of St. Lawrence Jewry, 1660-1. In 1656 he had taken the precaution to be appointed precentor of the Exeter Cathedral by the non-acting bishop, and he even paid the fee. He was able to claim the position in 1660, and in 1661 received a prebend there and became Dean. Rector of Uplowman in Devonshire, 1661 (I think this went with the prebend). Rector of St. Breock in Cornwall, 1662.
Bishop of Exeter, 1662-7.
Bishop at Salisbury, 1667-89.
Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, 1671-89.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Gentry, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
As sizar to Samuel Ward (no relation), Master of Sidney- Sussex, he won the Master's favor and gained the fellowship. (Because of lack of space I cannot list this.)
He owed his ecclesiastical positions to Charles II, though also to the influence of others. In 1671 Charles restored to the Bishop of Salisbury the position of Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, after it had been alienated from the bishopric for 132 years, beginning under Henry VIII.
Ralph Freeman and Lord Wenman (above).
He owed his professorship of Oxford to the influence of Sir John Trevor. To Trevor he later dedicated a book.
He owed his professorship partly to the recommendation of the royalist incumbent, Greaves.
Owed his position of precentor of Exeter to Ralph Brownrig, Bishop in exile during the Civil War. This appointment was the foundation of all of Ward's good fortune after the Restoration.
Aubrey has a great story of how the gentry of Devon exerted their influence to have Ward, the Dean, elevated to the bishopric in 1662. Pope brings in also the Duke of Albemarle and the Earl of Clarendon. Ward tutored Albemarle's son in mathematics.
Ward dedicated Astronomia geometrica to a number of fellow astronomers: Paul Neile, Hevelius, Gassendi, Boulliau, and Riccioli.
As a bishop, Ward himself became a patron. He endowed four (possibly six) scholarships at Christ's College, Cambridge. He received the dedication of Dr. Castle's lexicon and of the fourth volume of Oldenburg's Philosophical Transactions.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: None
Ward was apparently responsible for making the Avon navigable to Salisbury. Nothing indicates that he was actively involved with the technical work, however.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Friendship with Sir Charles Scarburgh and William Oughtred. Correspondence with Johann Hevelius.
He was part of the Oxford group that centered on Wilkins.
He was involved in a mathematical and philosophical controversy with Hobbes.
Royal Society, 1660--one of the early members.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 20, 793-7. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 6.2, 4148-52.
  2. Walter Pope, Life of Seth, Lord Bishop of Salisbury, (Oxford, 1961). This was published originally in the 1690s. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 4, 246-52.
  3. John Aubrey, Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. O.L. Dick, (London, 1949), pp. 311-14.
  4. Phyllis Allen, "Scientific Studies in the English Universities of the 17th century", Journal of the History of Ideas, 10 (1949), 219-53.
  5. Curtis A. Wilson, "From Kepler's Laws, So-Called, to Universal Gravitation: Empirical Factors," Archive for History of Exact Science, 6, no. 2 (1970), 89-170.
  6. H.W. Robinson, "An Unpublished Letter of Dr. Seth Ward Relating to the Early Meetings of the Oxford Philosophical Society," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 7 (1949), 68-70.
  7. J.E.B. Mayor, "Seth Ward," Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., 7, 269- 70.
  8. Allen G. Debus, Science and Education in the 17th Century: The Webster-Ward Debate, (London, 1970).
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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