science and society
After the abortive attempts at
settlement in Elizabeth's reign, the first successful colony
established by Stuart England in America was that at
Jamestown, Virginia in
The settlement was led by John Smith. Initially, the settlers
hoped to find precious metals, but soon they began growing
settlers had first cultivated tobacco in Cuba during the 1580s.
The first Virginia
crop of tobacco was sold in England in 1619.
James I complained about the use of tobacco, but increased his
income from import duties on it.
In 1620, English separatists (who
in 1608 had fled to Holland in order to avoid persecution)
emigrated to Massachusetts via Plymouth, England.
102 settlers sailed on 16 September 1620 and established Plymouth
colony, 21 December 1620.
During the first
winter, half the colonists
died from exposure, malnutrition and illness.
A few other settlers joined the Plymouth colony
during the 1620s.
In the name of God, Amen. We,
whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread
Sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of England,
France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &. Having
undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian
faith, and the honour of our King and country, a voyage to plant
the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these
presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of
another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body
politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and
furtherance of the ends aforesaid; And by virtue hereof to enact,
constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts,
constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought
most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony; unto
which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness
whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the
eleventh of November, in the reign of our Sovereign Lord, King
James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of
Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini,
In 1630, John
Winthrop led the first major Puritan settlement under the auspices
of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The fleet landed at Salem
but the settlement soon moved to Boston. It consisted of about one
thousand settlers, and although about 200 died during the winter
and as many returned to England in the Spring, about 20,000 more
settlers joined them over the following decade.
Most of the
settlers were poor farmers fleeing poverty in England. The only
wealthy settlers were those inspired by Puritan fervor.
established during the 1630s was in Maryland.
Calvert, Baron Baltimore (1580?-1632), one of James'
Secretaries of State and a Privy Councillor, converted to
Catholicism in about 1625.
He wanted to establish a colony as a
refuge from persecution for Roman Catholics, and at first
sponsored a small settlement in
Newfoundland. Its harsh climate motivated him to obtain land
further south. He died before the grant of Maryland's charter
colonies were established in Bermuda and Barbados, and Oliver
colonies were established haphazardly and no real policy for their
management was instituted until the
Navigation Act, 1651.|
of America helped fix English attention on the Atlantic, just as
this area was superseding the Mediterranean basin in economic
2. Literacy, education and culture
roughly 10% of men and 1% of women were could read. By the outbreak
of the Civil War, perhaps one in three men and one in ten women were
literate. This was a significant increase.|
One of the
effects of expanding literacy was the growth in cheap printed matter
- books, pamphlets and broadsheets.|
of the English population attending university by 1640 was at its
highest until the 1930s. Most of those attending were from the ranks
of the gentry, but the children of yeomen, merchants and
professionals were also represented.|
education was aimed largely at training ministers for the Church of
England, and concentrated
on logic, philosophy, and theology. Most scholarly texts were in
However, scientific subjects - especially mathematics and astronomy - began
to penetrate both Oxford and Cambridge. Gresham College was
founded in London to teach math and science.
university level, there was an increase in the number of grammar
schools, and many ministers also provided some basic education to
the children of the parish. Many early-modern Englishmen were
self-educated - William
Shakespeare, John Lilburne, and William Walwyn, for example, never attended university.|
Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were
both very musical, and English music flourished during
the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.|
important composers were:
later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were years of great
scientific advance in England. The foundations of modern mathematics,
physics, chemistry and biology were laid by Tudor and Stuart
Modern astronomy commenced with the work of the Prussian/Polish
Copernicus (1473-1543). His
De Revolutionibus (1543) argued (against the Ptolemaic
geocentric theory) that the earth revolved around the sun. Copernicus'
ideas were first mentioned in print in England in 1556, but the first
systematic attempt to spread them there was made by Thomas Digges in
A Perfit Description of the
Coelestiall Orbes (1576).
Copernican ideas also influenced the able Elizabethan mathematician
John Dee (1527- 1608). Dee was Elizabeth's personal astrologer
and dabbled in alchemy, astrology, hermeticism and cabalism as well as rationalist science.
English astronomers contributed little that was original before 1660.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) used his discoveries in optics to
construct the first reflecting telescope in 1668. (This was of great
importance, because contemporary refracting telescopes were limited in
size and poor light quality).
Robert Recorde (1510-558) was the inventor of the equal's
and an early pioneer of algebra.|
Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) was a friend of John Dee. He
made advances in algebra and applied his mathematics to gunnery and
optics, as well as making some of the earliest systematic astronomical
observations in England.
John Napier (1550-1617) was a Scottish mathematician who
logarithm to help with the complicated calculations needed to
predict the date of Christ's Second Coming from the Book of
Revelation. Napier laid out the use of logarithms in his
Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descripto (1614).
Napier also brought the decimal point into common usage.
In 1597, Napier patented an hydraulic screw to remove water from
A popularizer of logarithms and a mathematician in his own right was
Henry Briggs (1561-1630).
Economic factors stimulated invention, experimentation, and discovery,
because rising population and prices rewarded agricultural and
manufacturing innovation. But this was not a sufficient condition for
scientific advance - historically
Malthusian collapse has been a more common response. But crucially, early seventeenth-century England also saw the development
of scientific method, most especially in the writings of
Sir Francis Bacon.
Bacon was one of the first systematically to argue that deduction
from first principles (the method of logic) was not the only source of
reliable knowledge. Instead, induction (drawing general
conclusions from observation and experiment - that is the empirical
approach to learning) was for Bacon the best way to discover truths about nature.
Bacon thought that less time should be spent debating philosophical
and theological abstractions, and more devoted to examining the world.
In this way, natural forces could be harnessed to improve all peoples'
"As in the little,
so in the great world, reason will tell you that old age or
antiquity is to be accounted by the farther distance from
the beginning and the nearer approach to the end,— the times
wherein we now live being in propriety of speech the most
ancient since the world’s creation."
Hakewill, An Apologie or Declaration of the Power and
Providence of God in the Government of the World. London (1627).
optimistic that the advance of learning and of quality of
life would proceed hand-in-hand; this contrasted with a
widespread Renaissance view that the world was steadily
decaying. The pessimists held that the modern world was
inferior to the ancient world in learning and almost all
argued that the modern world was superior to the ancient
world and improving further. By the eighteenth century, this
had become the standard view of intellectuals.
Induction was employed to great effect by
William Gilbert (1544-1603) in his great study of magnetism, De
Magnete (1600). It gave the first rational explanation of why the
needle in a compass pointed north/south. Gilbert summarised all
existing knowledge about magnetism, and added to it by
carefully-designed experiments. (Gilbert's view of the earth as one
large magnet influenced
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and his astronomical theories of
Another follower of Francis Bacon was Samuel Hartlib (1600?-1662).
Like Bacon, he believed that pooling ideas and knowledge would help
advance science and technology. He formed a large circle of
correspondents both in England and on the Continent, and exchanged
information on everything from scientific theory to attempts to end
Hartlib published Samuel Hartlib His legacie (1651) in which he
expounded new farming methods (especially rotation of crops) observed
by Sir Richard Weston in Flanders - then at the forefront of
Robert Boyle (1627-91), a member of Hartlib's circle, was the
chemist and naturalist who framed Boyle's Law (PV=k; the volume of a
fixed quantity of gas varies inversely with pressure). Boyle was
particularly skilled at designing experiments - for example, to test the truth of
hypotheses about pneumatics and the properties of a vacuum. Deeply
religious, Boyle published a number of tracts attempting to defend the
compatibility of revealed religion with science and reason.
Boyle collaborated with
Robert Hooke (1635-1703), who designed the air pump that Boyle
used in his experiments. Hooke also worked on capillary action and
optics, and quarreled bitterly with some of the greatest scientists of
Another friend of Samuel Hartlib was
(1623-87) a pioneer of statistics. A great admirer of
Bacon's theories, he spent his life accumulating information on many
subjects. He was interested in medicine and and physics as well as
mathematics and demography. His
(1680) was a seminal work of economics,
demography and statistics.
Biology and medicine:|
William Harvey (1578-1657) discovered the circulation
of the blood by the beating of the heart. He published
this theory in 1628 as De motu cordis et sanguinis in
animalibus, Anatomica Exercitatio (An anatomical study
of the motion of the heart and of blood in animals).
Harvey's theory was such a radical break with ancient
medicine that he aroused controversy, Nonetheless, his
skill was recognised by both James I and Charles I, who
appointed him a royal physician.
In 1638, Harvey outlined his theory of reproduction in
De generatione; it marked another advance in modern
The Royal Society is the world's oldest national scientific academy.
It was founded in 1660 to discuss scientific theories and share the
results of research and experiments.
The early contributors to the proceedings of the Royal Society
included many of Hartlib's associates - William Petty, Robert Boyle,
Robert Hooke, and Isaac Newton.
At the beginning of our period, England was a scientific backwater,
but from the mid-seventeenth century science flourished in England.
4. Radical thought
The 1640s and
1650s's saw an explosion of debate and dissent in England. There was
no effective censorship and great social and political disruption.
fundamentalists and millenarians attacked secular knowledge and
institutions of learning such as the universities.
objected to state support of the Church and called social hierarchy
especially Gerard Winstanley and the
communist theories. They believed that heaven could be built on
earth, if only property were held in common, not privately. The
Diggers tried to persuade labourers to abandon paid employment and
cultivate common land. A few communes (about 10) were established in
1649 and 1650, in particular a colony at St George's Hill, Surrey
under Winstanley. Some communes were dispersed by the army, the rest
Gerard Winstanley did produce one of the first systematic attacks on
private property, and can be seen as the first communist. He was an
early advocate for the complete equality of women.
Winstanley has lived on in modern myth despite the fact that his
thought was so profoundly linked to his religious convictions.
notice that England is not a free people till the poor that
have no land have a free allowance to dig and labour the
commons, and so live as comfortably as the landlords that live
in their enclosures."
Gerard Winstanley, The True
Levellers' standard advanced (1649).
innovative theorist was James Harrington (1611-77). He was one of the
first to insist on the important links between economic and political
power. He explained the origins of the Civil War in terms of the shift
of power from crown to gentry as a result of the redistribution of
land after the
Dissolution of the Monasteries.|
of Oceana in 1656. It recommended a republican government with an
elaborate system of checks and balances to prevent tyranny. His views
influenced the framers of the American Constitution.
law is but words and paper without the hands and swords of
Harrington, Oceana (1656).
innovative and influential was
(1588-1679). Hobbes regarded people as
basically selfish. He thought that without firm government, chaos soon
followed, and regarded the English Civil War as a clear example of
this. The only way to prevent a repetition of such strife was absolute
arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all,
continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of
man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'
Thomas Hobbes on life in a state of anarchy, Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes also
regarded religious dissent as a key cause of the Civil War, and
insisted that religion should be completely under the control and
interpretation of the secular authorities.
For Hobbes self-defense and self-preservation were the reason why
government was established and the only reason why the people could
ever resist their ruler.