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William Denton

(1605—1691) physician


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William Denton was born in Stow in April 1605 and died in London on 9 May 1691. He was educated at Magdelen Hall, Oxford, where he obtained his MD in 1634. He was appointed physician to Charles I in 1636 and attended him on his expedition to Scotland in 1639. Because of his polite conversation with the women at court, he earned the name Speaker of the Parliament of Women. During the Interregnum Denton practised medicine in London and Westminster. At the Restoration Charles II appointed him physician in ordinary to the royal household. Soon after he became a Fellow of the College of Physicians. He wrote exclusively on political matters. He was an ardent Protestant, supporting penal laws against Catholics in his first known publication, Horae subsecivae (1664), a work which was associated with similar attacks by Edward Stillingfleet and William of Orange's agent, Pierre du Moulin, and which was criticized accordingly by J.B.V. Canes in Diaphanta (1665). Denton continued his attack on the politics of Catholicism eleven years later in The Burnt Child Dreads the Fire (1675). He became very disaffected with Charles II's and James II's policies of reconciliation towards Catholics, and this issued in the composition of his most important work, Jus regiminis. The work was a call for resistance by a reluctant revolutionary. Its arguments are remarkable for their old-fashioned contractarian defence of resistance by the lesser magistrates of the nation, rather than through any individual rights, and for identifying Thomas Hobbes rather than Sir Robert Filmer as the ideological source of the increasingly strident pro-Catholic Royalism of the 1680s. Denton was unable to find a printer during James II's reign but the book was eventually published in June 1689.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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