Isaac Newton, one of the most famous and influential scientists in history, may not have been knighted for his seminal contributions to the field of science, as most people might think. Rather, the knighting of the renowned English physicist and mathematician was likely connected with political considerations.
On a visit to Trinity College in Cambridge, England, Queen Anne knighted Newton in the school’s Master’s Lodge on April 16, 1705. By then Newton, who was 62 years of age, had already formulated the laws of gravity, created the foundations for classical mechanics and built the first practical telescope. However, the knighthood was possibly not a reward for Newton’s immense scientific achievements, but for boosting his political profile, according to the website Newton. He had been elected as one of the two members of Cambridge University’s parliament in 1689 and 1701, and he was contesting for the seat a third time. With the election being held in May, Newton received advice from his patron – Whig politician and Earl of Halifax, Charles Montague – to seek “great Assistance” from Queen Anne. Such an endorsement, Montague reasoned, would help Newton triumph over a Mr. Annesley, a Tory who appeared to be the strongest candidate. Although Newton was able to get Anne’s “great Assistance” in April, he actually finished last out of four candidates. Annesley, on the other hand, got the most votes.