6 Annotations

First Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

The History of the Royal Society of London, For the Improving of Natural Knowledge
By Tho. Sprat, D. D. late Lord Bishop of Rochester.
London, Printed by T.R. for J. Martyn at the Bell without Temple-bar, and J. Allestry at the Rose and Crown in Duck-lane, Printers to the Royal Society. MDCLXVII.

In An Adverisement to the Reader [n.p.], Sprat admits that "in the Title of my Book I have taken a Liberty, which may be liable to Exception : I have called it a History of the Royal Society; whereas the first Part wholly Treats^of the State of the Ancient Philofophy and the third chiefly contains a Defence and Recommendation of experimental Knowledge in general: So that it is only the second Book that peculiarly describes their Undertaking."

Sprat's citation of his clerical credentials on the title page was intended to deflect attacks on the Royal Society by religious anti-experimentalist propagandists.


This link is to the Fourth Edition, LONDON: Printed for J. Knapton, J.walthoe, D. MidWinter, J. T o N Son, A. Bettesworth and G. H Itch, R. Robinson, F. Clay, B. Mot Te, A..Ward, D. Brown, and T. Longman. 1734 http://bit.ly/aTkjYB

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

While Dr. Thomas Sprat is known for his writings about the Royal Society, there is one episode in his life which has avoided biographical scrutiny. The only place I found this story was in a biography of the scandalous Countess of Shrewsbury, written in the exaggerated style of Grammont, with no dates or citations. IF TRUE, and given the context of the story I see no reason it should not be, it calls Sprat’s ethics and character into question. I've added some verification while deleting much hyperbole.
MCMVI [1906]

Had George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham wished, he could have proved himself a patriot, and possibly change the course of history. He had the genius and a great opportunity. But he who had never been true to any principle in his life, or to any person for 24 hours together other than Anna Maria Brudenell Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, had neither the desire nor the will to choose between his country and his country's enemies.

With diabolical cynicism, Buckingham decided to be true to both his country and his country's enemies by despising both. It was probably the challenge of playing this double game that was its chief attraction. It was easy to hoodwink Protestant England, whose idol he was, but it was not so easy to dupe Louis XIV, whose tool he was. Consequently, in 1670 the astute Louis XIV bribed Anna Maria Brudenell Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury.

The day the French Ambassador paid Anna Maria her first 10,000 livres, he had the satisfaction of writing to his master that she had sworn, "Buckingham should comply with the King in all things."

Only the vaguest suspicion of this corruption was felt by the public, but the fact that while George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham openly expressed contrition for his past evil ways to Parliament as he kept Lady Shrewsbury at Cliveden was sufficient reason to doubt his reformation.

In 1670 the nation was suddenly staggered by the news that the chief Minister George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, had, without any pretense at secrecy, married Anna Maria Brudenell Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, while his wife was still living.

This bigamous ceremony was performed according to all the rites of the Church by Buckingham's chaplain, Dr. Thomas Sprat.

The pious felt as if they were living in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the courtiers at Whitehall merely laughed, and referred to the lawful Mary Fairfax, Duchess of Buckingham as the "Dowager Duchess."

Historians may pass over this episode in the Buckingham scandal as if the times and the notorious characters of the bigamous couple make comment unnecessary. That may be a sufficient explanation for Dr. Sprat's part in the crime …

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

... but something more than the lawless gratification of lust must have forced Buckingham and Shrewsbury into bigamy. No reason has ever been given, so we can only guess:

Perhaps the agents of Louis XIV did not squander his money without proof of the quid pro quo, so it does not exceed probability to suggest that -- before receiving the French bribes -- the Countess of Shrewsbury had to prove her influence over Buckingham.

The same year, Buckingham was sent to Paris to represent Charles II at the funeral of his sister, the Duchess of Orleans -- and also to prepare the way for Charles II to deceive his country.

Buckingham’s reception at Versailles was magnificent, and he returned laden with wealth and honors. So favorably did he impress the French Court that Louis XIV remarked "he was almost the only English gentleman he had ever seen!"

[Buckingham was sent to France to carry on the sham negotiations which led to the public treaties of 31 December, 1670 and 2 February, 1672. He was much pleased with his reception by Louis XIV, and declared that he had "more honors done him than ever were given to any subject," and was presented with a pension of 10,000 livres a year for Lady Shrewsbury. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/19… ]

In the following year the public were further scandalized to learn, in the words of Andrew Marvell MP, that "the Duke of Buckingham exceeds all with Lady Shrewsbury, by whom he believes he had a son, to whom the King stood godfather."

The baby was given the courtesy title of Earl of Coventry, traditionally borne by the eldest son of the Dukes of Buckingham. He was born and died in 1671, and was buried at night in the family vault at Westminster Abbey.

The book doesn't say this, but I suspect the funeral gave great offense to the pious also. Dr. Sprat evidently wasn't taken very seriously by his employer(s).

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