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Wilkins, John

1. Dates
Born: somewhere in Northamptonshire, 1614
Died: England, 1672
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 58
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
His father was a goldsmith (which I take to mean a merchant) who died when Wilkins was eleven. Contrary to what was once asserted, it is by no means clear that Wilkins was reared in the home of his maternal grandfather, a Puritan clergyman.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A.
He matriculated in Oxford University in 1627; B.A., 1631; M.A., 1634.
D.D., 1649, incorporated at Cambridge, 1659. The degrees in theology were clearly by mandate; I am not listing them.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist, Anglican
Shapiro is by no means convinced that Wilkins should be called a Puritan. However, he did definitely side with the Puritan cause during the Civil War, and I am listing it.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Organization, Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Astronomy, Mechanics
Wilkins' primary role lay in the promotion of scientific organization, first in London, then in Oxford, and then the Royal Society back in London. His books popularized the new science, including Copernican astronomy and mechanics, without seriously adding to it.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Church Life
Secondary: Patronage
Tutor of Magdalen Hall, 1634-7.
Chaplain to William Fiennes, Lord Saye and Sele, 1637- c.1640.
By 1641 until 1644 Chaplain to Lord George Berkeley.
Chaplain to the Elector Charles Louis, the King's nephew, 1644-8.
Warden of Wadham College, 1648-59.
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1659-60.
Vicar of Fawsley, 1637 (briefly), succeeding his grandfather, John Dod.
1645, preacher to Gray's Inn. He resumed this post again in 1661-2.
Prebendary at York, 1660.
Rector of Cranford, Middesex, 1660-2.
Vicar of St. Lawrence Jewry in London, 1662-6.
Dean of the collegiate Church of Ripon, 1660 until his death.
Vicar of Polebrook, Northamptonshire, 1666.
Prebendary and precentor of Exeter, 1667.
Prebendary of Chamberlain Wood in St. Paul's Cathedral, 1668.
Bishop of Chester, 1668.
Royal Chaplain, 1667.
8. Patronage
Types: (Gen, ) Gov, Court Official, Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official
He received the vicarage of Fawsley (virtually a chaplaincy to the family) from the Knightley family. Because I have room only for four categories, I will not list this one (Gentry), which seems the least important.
Owed his D.D. degree and wardenship to Parliamentary visitors.
Owed his bishopric to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, a key figure in Charles' government at the time.
Owed his mastership of Trinity College to Richard Cromwell.
In 1644 he became Chaplain to Charles Louis, Elector Palatine, who was in England. I list this under Court.
Owed his vicarage of St.Lawrence and the prebendaries at York and Exeter to the King.
Owed his bishopric partially to the influence of Laney, Bishop of Ely and Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury. The influence of Ward was important also in the appointments to St. Lawrence Jewry, Polebrooks, Exeter, and St. Paul's.
Wilkins was Chaplain to Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Geroge Berkeley. From Berkeley he received the rectory at Cranford in 1660.
It should be noted also that Wilkins became a figure of influence during the 60's, and as such something of a minor patron himself.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Mechanical Devices, Agriculture, Hydraulics, Instruments
Natural Magic had utiliarian ends in view, such things as the drainage of mines, and in general the exposition of the theoretical basis of mechanical devices. Later on Wilkins worked on an improved carriage.
He developed a new plow at Wadham, and also a transparent beehive arranged so that the honey could be removed without disturbing the bees.
At Wadham again he devised a machine for the gardens that would create an artifical mist.
He showed the Royal Society an instrument to assist hearing.
He is said to have worked on a windgun, but I am not listing it.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Active promoter of London weekly meetings, 1640s. Center of Oxford circle, 1648-59. Connection with Cambridge circle, 1659-60.
Royal Society, 1660; First secretary,1662-8; Vice- President 1663; Member of the Council from its origin until his death.
  1. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 6.2, 4266-75.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 21, 264-7. O.L. Dick, ed., Aubrey's Brief Lives, (Ann Arbor, 1957), pp. 319- 20.
  3. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 3. cols. pp.967-71.
  4. Barbara J. Shapiro, John Wilkins, 1614-1672: an Intellectual Biography, (Berkeley, 1969). This is undoubtedly the definitive source on Wilkins.
  5. E.J. Bowen and Harold Hartley, "The Right Reverend John Wilkins, F.R.S.," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 15 (1960), 47-56.
  6. Not consulted: Grant McColley, "The Ross-Wilkins Controversy," Annals of Science, 3 (1938), 152-89.
  7. Dorothy Stimson, "Dr. Wilkins and the Royal Society," Journal of Modern History, 3 (1931), 539-63.
  8. John Wilkins, On the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion, ed. Henry G. Van Leeuwen, (New York, 1969).
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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