Wednesday 17th of April 2024

People of the Seventeenth-Century. Biography

The Seventeenth-Century lasted from 1 January 1601 – 31 December 1700.

The start of the Seventeenth Century was marked by the Thirty Years War, which devastated Europe. It began as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholic powers and became centred on the struggle between France and Austria-Hungary for European dominance.

From 1642 – 1651, the English Civil War saw Parliament challenge the rule of the absolute monarch Charles I. The success of Cromwell’s army limited the powers of the monarchy and led to the first steps towards Parliamentary democracy.

European discovery and conquest of the Americas resulted in new colonies by major European powers such as the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France and England.

In the Islamic world, the Moghul and Ottoman Empires became more powerful and dominant in the Middle East and Indian sub-continent.

Japan, entered the Edo period, which included a policy of isolation, which would last into the Nineteenth-Century. China experienced a period of turmoil and conflict before the establishment of the Qing dynasty.

During the Seventeenth Century, there was a Scientific Revolution with scientists, such as Galileo, Issac Newton making discoveries about the nature of the world. Sir Francis Bacon popularised the scientific method, which promoted the use of reason and empirical evidence. Political thinkers, such as Locke and Thomas Hobbes, developed ideas of democracy, the social contract and individual liberty.

In art, the Seventeenth-Century saw the Dutch Golden Age (Rembrandt, Vermeer) and the culmination of the Baroque period.

Political leaders

louis-XIV Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) ‘The Sun King’ – Louis XIV was King of France from 1643 until his death 72 years later. He is the longest-serving monarch in European history. Louis XIV strengthened the power of the French monarchy, becoming an absolute ruler.

King_Charles_I Charles I (1600 – 1649) Charles I was King of England, Scotland and Wales from 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles I saw his role as an absolute monarch with power vested from God. His refusal to compromise with Parliament led to the English Civil War and the ultimate defeat of Royalist forces.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) Cromwell was an English military and political leader of the Parliamentarians during the English civil war. After the defeat of the monarchy, Cromwell became Lord Protector. He was a follower of a puritanical Protestantism.

Gustavus_Adolphus,_King_of_Sweden_1611-1632_ Gustav II Adolf (1594 – 1632) King of Sweden who helped establish Sweden as major European power during the Thirty Years War. Gustav was a pioneering military leader and also a skilled administrator. He reformed Swedish society, creating a strong system of government and administration. His success helped strengthen the influence of Protestantism in Europe. He died in battle in 1632.

Maria-Anna-austria Anne of Austria ( 1601 – 1666) Queen consort of France. She was the mother of King Louis XIV. Anne served as regent during his early life, and Anne was influential in shaping the life of the “Sun King” She was the wife of Louis XIII.

King_William_III William III (1650 – 1702) William of Orange was stadtholder of Holland and joint King of England (1689-1702) with his wife Mary II. William III was a staunch Protestant and for this reason, was invited by British Protestants to take the British Crown. In England, his ascension to the throne was known as “The Glorious Revolution” and marked a transfer from the House of Stuart to greater Parliamentary democracy.

William Penn (1644 – 1718) Penn was an English Quaker who suffered religious persecution in England. Penn helped to write the Pennsylvania Frame of Government (1682), which included democratic principles and the principle of religious tolerance. Penn was also an early advocate for uniting the different colonies of America.

Tokugawa-Ieyasu Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616) Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1600 to 1868. Ieyasu unified Japan through military conquest and ushered in the Edo period in Japan. It was based on the hierarchical Japanese feudal system and an isolationist foreign policy.

Michail_I._Romanov Tsar Michael I of Russia (1596 – 1645) Michael I was the first Tsar of the Romanov dynasty. His reign brought an end to a turbulent period in Russian history – one of civil war, famine and political intrigue. His grandson Peter I would establish the Russian Empire, and the Romanovs would rule Russia until 1917.

shah-jahan Shah Jahan (1592 – 1666) Shah Jahan was the fifth Moghul Emperor. He was the third son of previous Emperor Jahangir. Shah Jahan sought to expand the Moghul Empire. He also invested in exquisite architecture, such as the Red Fort, Agra Fort and the famous Taj Mahal – dedicated to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Authors / Philosophers

william-Shakespeare William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) English poet and playwright. Shakespeare’s plays include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. Shakespeare is widely considered the seminal writer of the English language. He influenced the English language and culture throughout the world.

John-milton John Milton (1608 – 1674) English poet. Best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), written in blank verse – telling the Biblical story of man’s fall. Also wrote Areopagitica (1644) in defence of free speech.

Francis_Bacon Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) English philosopher, statesman, orator and scientist. Bacon is considered the ‘father of empiricism’ for his advocacy of methodical scientific inquiry in investigating scientific phenomena. Bacon’s approach was important both philosophically and practically.

philosopherRene Descartes (1596 – 1650) French philosopher and mathematician. Dubbed the father of modern philosophy, Descartes was influential in a new rationalist movement. Descartes set a precedent for examining issues and trying to avoid any presumption. Descartes offered one of the most famous philosophic statements ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – “I think, therefore I am”

writerBaruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. He was an influential rationalist, who saw the underlying unity in the universe. He was critical of religious scriptures and promoted a view that the Divine was in all, and the Universe was ordered, despite its apparent contradictions. In his work ‘Ethics’ he opposed the mind-body dualism of Descartes. Contributed to Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics.

writerJohn Locke (1632 – 1704) Locke was a leading philosopher and political theorist, who had a profound impact on liberal political thought. He is credited with ideas, such as the social contract – the idea government needs to be with the consent of the governed. Locke also argued for liberty, religious tolerance and rights to life and property.

Gottfried_von_Leibniz Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646 -1716) German mathematician, innovator and philosopher. In philosophy, he was a leading advocate of rationalism. He was also noted for his optimism about the universe. – the Universe being the best God could have created.


Galileo (1564–1642) Italian scientist. Galileo developed a powerful telescope and confirmed revolutionary theories (heliocentrism and Copernicanism) about the nature of the world. Galileo played a major role in the Scientific Revolution, challenging the established orthodoxies of the Catholic Church.

Johannes_Kepler Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer. Kepler is best known for his laws of planetary motion. He was a key figure in the 17th Century Scientific Revolution.

Pierre_de_Fermat Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) French lawyer and amateur mathematician. Fermat helped develop infinitesimal calculus. Best known for his ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he described in a margin of a copy of Diophantus’ Arithmetica

Antonie_van_Leeuwenhoek Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) Dutch scientist and trader. Leeuwenhoek is considered the father of microbiology for his work in discovering single-celled organisms and also observing muscle fibres, blood flow and bacteria. He developed the microscope which helped his own discoveries.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1726) English scientist. Newton invented the reflecting telescope. Newton was also a great physicist and astronomer. Newton developed the laws of gravity, which had a major impact on our understanding of the world.

thomas-newcomen Thomas Newcomen (1664–1729) English inventor who created the first practical steam engine for pumping water from mines. He worked with Savery’s initial design, but significantly improved it, using atmospheric pressure which was safer and more effective for use in mines to remove water.

Art / Musicians

bernini Bernini (1598 – 1680) Italian Baroque sculptor and painter. Bernini is credited with creating the modern Baroque style of sculpting. His most famous commission was St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica.

Rembrandt Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) Dutch Master from the Dutch Golden Age. One of greatest painters, admired for his vivid realism and empathy with the human condition. Rembrandt’s greatest works include Belshazzar’s Feast (1635), The Night Watch, (1642), and Bathsheba at Her Bath. (1654)

artist Jan Vermeer (1632 – 1675) Dutch painter, who specialised in genre painting – especially vivid depictions of still life. Notable works include View of Delft (1659-60), The Milkmaid (1658) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)

Related pages

leonardo-da-vinci People of the Renaissance (1350s to 1650s) The Renaissance covers the flowering of art and culture in Europe. Primarily in art, but also in science. Includes Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

voltaire People of the Enlightenment (1650s to 1780s) The Enlightenment is a period which saw the growth of intellectual reason, individualism and a challenge to existing religious and political structures.

Peter-the-great People of the Eighteenth-Century (1800-1899) Famous leaders, statesmen, scientists, philosophers and authors. Including; Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

giuseppe-garibaldi People of the Nineteenth Century (1801 to 1900) Nineteenth Century saw the economic boom of the industrial revolution and worldwide movements for political change.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous People of the Seventeenth-Century”, Oxford, 28th February 2017. Last updated 26 Dec. 2018.