Digby, Sir Kenelm

Biography: Natural philsopher and courtier. Born Gayhurst, England 1603. Son of Sir Everhard Digby (later executed for involvement in Gunpowder Plot). Instruction from local rector. Visited Spain 1617-8. Studied at Gloucester Hall, Oxford 1618-9. Grand tour 1620 - Paris May 1620, Angers, Florence Nov 1620-1622 after pretending he was dead (due to war and the Queen's advances), Madrid Spring 1623. Knighted Oct 1623, made gentleman of the privy chamber to Prince Charles. Secretly married Venetia Jan 1625, after reconciliations as she believed he was dead. Commissioned two ships for a privateering voyage to the Mediterranean 1627-9. Joined the Navy 1630, made junior officer Oct 1630. Converted to Protestantism Dec 1630. Distressed by Venetia's death 1633, retired to Gresham College, London to pursue scientific interests. Donated 300 manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, Oxford 1634. Arrived Paris 1635. Reconverted to Catholicism Oct 1635. Returned to England 1638 (had to leave due to Catholicism), returned to France 1641-2 (had to leave for fighting a duel). Arrested Aug 1642 for being a suspect character, but released after a week, re-arrested Nov 1642 after outbreak of civil war, detained for a year. Published two treatises, one on bodies (led to the modern conception of embryonic development) and one on the soul, 1644. Released 1643, returned to France, made Chancellor by Queen Henrietta Maria. Rome 1645, raising money for the French. Returned to Rome 1646, 1647 to visit the Pope. Finally permitted to return to England and estates no longer sequestrated Nov 1653/Jan 1654. Studied chemistry at Paris. Returned to England 1660. Among the twelve additional members elected to the Royal Society a fortnight after it was founded, 1660. Died Covent Garden, London 1665.

Biography Date: 1603-1665

Biography References: LOC; CERL; DNB;


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