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William Stukeley FRS, FRCPmarker, FSA (7 November 1687 – 3 March 1765) was an Englishmarker antiquary who pioneered the archaeological investigation of Stonehengemarker and Aveburymarker and was one of the founders of field archaeology. Stukeley also was one of the first biographers of Isaac Newton.

Life and work

William Stukeley was born the son of a lawyer at Holbeachmarker in Lincolnshiremarker on the site of Stukeley Hall, a primary school that now bears his name. After taking his M.B. degree at Corpus Christi College, Cambridgemarker, Stukeley went to Londonmarker and studied medicine at St Thomas' Hospitalmarker. In 1710, he started in practice in Boston, Lincolnshiremarker, returning in 1717 to London. In the same year, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1718, joined in the establishment of the Society of Antiquaries, acting for nine years as its secretary. In 1719 Stukeley took his M.D. degree, and in 1720 became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physiciansmarker, publishing in the same year his first contribution to antiquarian literature.

Stukeley was one of the first learned gentlemen to be attracted to speculative freemasonry, newly fashionable after the appointment of the first noble Grand Master. His Diary and Commonplace Book of June 6, 1721 says "I was made a Freemason at the Salutation Tav., Tavistock Street, with Mr. Collins, Capt. Rowe, who made the famous diving Engine." The same entry says he was the first person for many years who had been so made in London; there was great difficulty in finding sufficient members to perform the Ceremony; and immediately thereafter "Freemasonry took a run and ran itself out of breath through the folly of its members."

His diary and papers are among the earliest sources on the subject of the new Grand Lodge.

An inward view of Stonehenge from August, 1722

He was vicar of All Saints' Church, Stamfordmarker between 1730 and 1747.

Stukeley's principal works, elaborate accounts of Stonehengemarker and Aveburymarker, appeared in 1740 and 1743. These were supposed to be the first of a multi-volume universal history. Stukeley proposed that an ancient patriarchial religion was the original religion of mankind. This had subsequently degenerated as idol-worship had emerged. Stukeley believed that the Druids and the early Christians were examples of this religion. Stukeley himself was a Protestant. (Source: Stonehenge, a Temple Restor'd, by Stukeley).

Stukeley's work on Stonehenge was one of the first to attempt to date the monument. Working with the renowned astronomer Edmund Halley, he proposed that the builders of Stonehenge knew about magnetism, and had aligned the monument with magnetic north. Stukeley used some incomplete data about the variation of the North Magnetic Pole; he extrapolated that it oscillated in a regular pattern. Today it is known that the North Magnetic Pole wanders in an irregular fashion. However, Stukeley inferred that Stonehenge was completed in 460 B.C., which as we now know is several thousand years too late.

He wrote copiously on other supposed Druid remains, becoming familiarly known as the "Arch-Druid." In 1729 he took holy orders, and, went on to hold two livings in Lincolnshire, including that of the parish of All Saints, Stamford, Lincolnshiremarker, where he did a considerable amount of further research, not least on the town's lost Eleanor Cross. He was subsequently appointed rector of a parish in Bloomsburymarker, London. He died in London on 3 March 1765.

In 1742 he visited the Royston Cavemarker at Royston, Hertfordshiremarker and a year later he published his Palaeographia Britannica or discourses on Antiquities in Britain no.I, Origines Roystonianae, or an account of the Oratory of lady Roisia, Foundress of Royston discovered in Royston in August 1742. Following a response by the Reverend Charles Parkin he penned the sequel: Palaeographia Britannica or discourses on Antiquities in Britain no.II, or defense of Lady de Vere, Foundress of Roiston, against the Calumny of Mr. Parkin, rector of Oxburgh wherein his pretended answer is fully refuted: the former opinion further confirm'd and illustrated. To which are occasionally added, many curios matters in antiquity.

Stukeley was a friend of Isaac Newton and wrote a memoir of his life (1752).

For many years a literary and historical body called the Brasenose Society flourished at Stamford Schoolmarker (attended by his father and brother) which was named after the eponymous society founded by Stukeley while Vicar of All Saints, Stamford.

A street in London's Covent Gardenmarker district, near the intersection of High Holbornmarker and Drury Lanemarker, is named after him.


Further reading

  • - For details on Stukeley and Isaac Newton

External links

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