Newton designed Queen Anne's 'political' coronation medal
An Oxford University researcher has discovered that a 'highly political' medal issued to mark Queen Anne's coronation was designed by scientist Isaac Newton.
London: An Oxford University researcher has discovered that a 'highly political' medal issued to mark Queen Anne's coronation was designed by scientist Isaac Newton.
Joseph Hone, who works on the Stuart Successions Project run by Exeter University and Oxford University, discovered a manuscript in the National Archives in Kew with sketches and notes by Newton, who was Master of the Mint when Anne was crowned the Queen of Great Britain in 1702.
The medals were small metallic tokens distributed for free to attendees and crowds at coronation ceremonies. Scholars previously thought Anne's medal was designed by the court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller.
Newton's notes also shed light on the political message behind the medal.
"The medal's design shows Anne as the goddess Athena striking down a double-headed monster. Earlier scholars assumed this represented domestic faction," said Hone.
"But Newton explains in his notes that he was referring to the double Catholic threat posed by Louis XIV of France and James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender with a rival claim to the throne," Hone added.
Queen Anne was the daughter of the deposed Catholic monarch, James II, and the old king's son, James Stuart, was living in exile and claiming that he had a more legitimate right to the throne.
"This find provides an insight into an often forgotten period of Newton's career at the Royal Mint," Hone said.
"It has long been understood that Newton used his scientific and mathematical expertise to establish a gold standard currency. But designing medals was usually the job of lesser Mint employees.
"Thanks to these documents we now know that Newton designed medals himself. Moreover, he used his extensive knowledge of mythology and symbolism in his medals," Hone said.
The discovery may also illuminate why Newton was knighted three years later in 1705.
"Historians have previously put this down to party politics, and Newton's campaign to become MP for Cambridge. But his role in designing medals for Queen Anne might have played a part too," Hone said.
The Stuart Successions Project is a three-year project run by academics at the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, which examines the writing printed at moments of royal and protectoral succession in Britain between 1603 and 1702.
"The notes and sketches for this medal give us an insight into the politics surrounding Anne's succession and Isaac Newton's surprising role in them," said Professor Paulina Kewes of Oxford University's English Faculty, who co-directs the project.