Newton the First Scientist Knighted
We think of Isaac Newton today as one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians of his or any other era. But he was far more besides: he was, for example, convinced of the possibilities of alchemy; he twice served as an MP, in 1689 – 90 and in 1701; and in 1696 was made Warden of the Royal Mint and eventually its Master, playing a very practical role in the reform of British coinage.
It was probably because of his work for the Mint and in politics that Queen Anne knighted him in Cambridge in 1705, when visiting his college, Trinity. He had after all been known as a scientist of genius for more than 30 years before his knighthood was bestowed. Then as now, it seems, serving in Parliament without achieving anything was deemed by the British establishment to be as valuable as making epoch-changing discoveries in science (at least the discoverer of calculus would have been able to calculate his expenses correctly). Nevertheless he goes down in history as the first true scientist to be awarded a knighthood.
Newton was further honoured after his death by being buried with great ceremony in Westminster Abbey , an interesting resting place for a man whose heretical views on Christianity would have barred him from holding office at Cambridge, had Charles II not neatly avoided the problem by exempting holders of Newton’s particular post – Lucasian Professor – from the need to take holy orders.
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