Seth Ward (bishop of Salisbury)

For other people named Seth Ward, see Seth Ward (disambiguation).
Bishop Ward, portrait by John Greenhill

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] 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).[3]


In the 1640s, he took instruction in mathematics from William Oughtred, and stayed with relations of Samuel Ward.[3][4]

In 1649, he became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford University, and gained a high reputation by his theory of planetary motion. It was propounded in the works entitled In Ismaelis Bullialdi astro-nomiae philolaicae fundamenta inquisitio brevis (Oxford, 1653), against the cosmology of Ismael Boulliau, and Astronomia geometrica (London, 1656) on the system of Kepler.[5][6] About this time he was engaged in a decades-long philosophical controversy with Thomas Hobbes:[7][5] 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.[5]


King Charles II appointed him to the livings of St Lawrence Jewry in London, and Uplowman, 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.[5]

In his diocese he showed great severity to nonconformists, and rigidly enforced the act prohibiting conventicles. 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.[5]


  1. Wright, Peter (1975). "Astrology and Science in Seventeenth-Century England". Social Studies of Science. 5: 405. doi:10.1177/030631277500500402.
  2. "Ward, Seth (WRT632S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 Galileo project page
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Chisholm 1911.
  7. 1 2 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).
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Greaves
Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford
Succeeded by
Christopher Wren
Preceded by
William Hawes
President of Trinity College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Hannibal Potter
Church of England titles
Preceded by
William Peterson
Dean of Exeter
Succeeded by
Edward Younge
Preceded by
John Gauden
Bishop of Exeter
Succeeded by
Anthony Sparrow
Preceded by
Alexander Hyde
Bishop of Salisbury
Succeeded by
Gilbert Burnet
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