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Newton's Knighthood: Science or Politics?

Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen Anne on 16 April 1705 in the Master's Lodge of Trinity College, Cambridge. The ceremony was described in the London Gazette (No. 4116) and this is most readily available in Newton's Correspondence, IV p444. Although it is often claimed to have been a recognition of his scientific achievements, it was almost certainly purely motivated by the imminent parliamentary election in which Newton was standing.

Newton had been elected as one of the two members of parliament for Cambridge University on two previous occasions (1689 and 1701), and was persuaded to stand again in 1705. On 17 March, his patron, the Whig politician Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax, wrote saying:

if the Queen goes to Newmarket, and from thence to Cambridge she will give you great Assistance. The Torys say she makes that tour on purpose to turn Mr Ansley out (Corres, IV p439)
Mr Annesley was one of the sitting members for the constituency and a Tory. Further evidence of Halifax's involvement was the knighthood for his brother on the same day and the Queen's instructions to the University to award Halifax himself an honorary doctorate.

The election took place on 17 May. Despite the Queen's ``great Assistance'', Newton was last of the four candidates for the two Cambridge University seats and he never stood for parliament again. Mr Annesley received the most votes.


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