Cavendish , Margaret


Cavendish , Margaret
Cavendish , Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle
(1623–1673) British natural philosopher
The daughter of a wealthy landowner, Margaret was born at St. John's, Colchester, in the eastern English county of Essex and inherited £10,000 on his death. She received a scant education from “an ancient decayed gentlewoman.” With the outbreak of the civil war the family lost its estates, two brothers died fighting for the king, and in 1641 Margaret entered the royal court as a maid of honor to Henrietta Maria, wife to Charles I. In 1643 she fled with the queen to Paris and spent the next eighteen years in impoverished exile in Europe.
In 1645 she married William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle. While in exile in Paris and in Antwerp she moved in circles where the ideas of Hobbes, Descartes, and Gassendi were frequently discussed. From such discussions Margaret was introduced to mechanical philosophy.
While in exile she began to write on topics in natural philosophy, producing her Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655). She continued to write about science after her return from exile with the restored Charles II in 1660, publishing her Observations upon Natural Philosophy (1666). She was highly critical of the new science. Her main objection was the familiar one that not all natural phenomena could be explained by “the Dusty motion of Atoms.” Consequently, she argued, every atom must be “animated with life and knowledge.” She was also critical of the newly invented microscope, claiming that it distorted nature.
Much of her later life was spent in seclusion at Welbeck writing verse and plays as well as concerning herself with natural philosophy. She did, however, pay a well-documented visit to London in 1667 when she visited the Royal Society and witnessed experiments performed by Boyle and Hooke. But membership would remain closed to her or any other woman for a further three centuries.

Scientists. . 2011.

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