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Seth Ward
Bishop Ward, portrait by John Greenhill
Born1617 (1617)
Hertfordshire, England
Died6 January 1689 (aged 71–72)
London, England
EducationSidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Seth Ward (1617 – 6 January 1689) was an English mathematician, astronomer,[1] and bishop.

Early life

He was born in Hertfordshire, and educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1636 and M.A. in 1640, becoming a Fellow in that year.[2][3][4] In 1643 he was chosen university mathematical lecturer, but he was deprived of his fellowship next year for opposing the Solemn League and Covenant (with Isaac Barrow, John Barwick and Peter Gunning).[2][4]


In the 1640s, he took instruction in mathematics from William Oughtred, and stayed with relations of Samuel Ward.[4][5]

In 1649, he became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford University, and gained a high reputation by his theory of planetary motion, propounded in the works entitled In Ismaelis Bullialdi astronomiae philolaicae fundamenta inquisitio brevis (Oxford, 1653), against the cosmology of Ismael Boulliau, and Astronomia geometrica (London, 1656) on the system of Kepler.[2][6] About this time he was engaged in a decades-long philosophical controversy with Thomas Hobbes:[2][7] Seth Ward and John Wallis, both Savilian professors and members of the Anglican clergy, felt offended by the works of Hobbes, particularly after Leviathan was released.[7]: 273 

A small part of the debate with John Webster launched by the Vindiciae academiarum he wrote with John Wilkins which also incorporated an attack on William Dell.[8]

He was one of the original members of the Royal Society of London. In 1659, he was appointed President of Trinity College, Oxford, but not having the statutory qualifications he resigned in 1660.[2]


King Charles II appointed him to the livings of St Lawrence Jewry in London, and Uplowman in Devonshire, in 1661. He also became dean of Exeter Cathedral (1661) and rector of St Breock, Cornwall in 1662. In the latter year he was consecrated Bishop of Exeter, and in 1667 he was translated to the see of Salisbury. The office of Chancellor of the Order of the Garter was conferred on him in 1671.[2]

In his diocese he showed great severity to nonconformists, and rigidly enforced the act prohibiting conventicles (unofficial religious meetings). He spent a great deal of money on the restoration of the cathedrals of Worcester and Salisbury. He died at Knightsbridge on 6 January 1689.[2]

In 2017 Bishop Wordsworth's Grammar School named its new, fifth house (Ward House) after Bishop Ward.


  1. ^ Wright, Peter (1975). "Astrology and Science in Seventeenth-Century England". Social Studies of Science. 5 (4): 405. doi:10.1177/030631277500500402. PMID 11610221. S2CID 32085403.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ward, Seth". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 321.
  3. ^ "Ward, Seth (WRT632S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ a b c Galileo project page
  5. ^ "The Galileo Project".
  6. ^ "Redirect".
  7. ^ a b Siegmund Probst (September 1993). "Infinity and creation: the origin of the controversy between Thomas Hobbes and the Savilian Professors Seth Ward and John Wallis". British Journal for the History of Science. 26 (3): 271–279. doi:10.1017/s0007087400031058.
  8. ^ Allen G. Debus, Science and Education in the Seventeenth Century: The Webster-Ward Debate (1970).


External links

3 Annotations

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Seth Ward was the first that brought mathematical learning into vogue in the university of Cambridge; where he lectured his pupils in the "Clavis Mathematica," a well known work of the celebrated Mr. Oughtred. He was followed by Dr. Barrow, who carried this branch of science to a great height. These able mathematicians were succeeded by Mr. Isaac Newton, who made such discoveries as perhaps no human capacity was ever equal to it but his own. Dr. Ward particularly excelled in astronomy, and was the first that demonstratively proved the elliptical hypothesis, which is more plain and simple, and consequently more suitable to the analogy of nature, than any other. He succeeded Mr. John Greaves, as Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, and was, a litle before the Restoration, elected president of Trinity college, in that university; but was soon after forced to quit this preferment. He published several books of divinity; but the greatest part of his works are on mathematical subjects. See the "Athenæ Oxoniensis." This very able man, whose character was exemplary as a prelate, died on the 6th of January, 1688-9. He was a close reasoner and an admirable speaker, having, in the house of lords, been esteemed equal, at least, to the earl of Shaftesbury. He was a great benefactor to both his bishoprics, as by his interest, the deanry of Burien, in Cornwall, was annexed to the former, and the chancellorship of the garter to the latter, for ever. He was polite, hospitable, and generous; and, in his life-time, founded the college at Salisbury, for the reception and support of minister's widows; and the sumptuous hospital at Buntingford, in Hetfordshire, the place of his nativity. His intimate friend Dr. Walter Pope, the noted author of "The old Man's Wish," has given us a just and curious account of his life, interspersed with agreeable anecdotes of his friends.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

During the Interregnum Seth Ward found refuge in Oxford, where he was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy and was enabled to hold his preferment without taking the Covenant.

In 1662, the now Dean of Exeter, Ward succeeded Bishop John Gauden to the See of Exeter. [YES, DENNIS' BROTHER.] He was very severe to Nonconformists, and was a greater benefactor to his Cathedral than any bishop since the Reformation. He first cast out the buyers and sellers who had usurped the cloister and caused the partition in the Cathedral Church to be pulled down. He repaired and beautified the building, the expenses whereof amounted to £25,000. He also bought a new "pair of organs," esteemed the best in England, which cost £2,000.

Bishop Seth Ward was translated to Salisbury in 1667 where he also set about repairs necessitated by the disorders of the Civil War. He completely restored the Bishop's Palace, it having fallen into ruin. A survey of the entire Cathedral at Salisbury was made by Sir Christopher Wren, principally with a view to the security of the spire. Beside other benefactions to Salisbury, he founded in it a hospital for widows of the clergy of the diocese.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.