Isaac Newton is known for path-breaking discoveries, but newly discovered documents throw light on his less known time as Master of the Mint, where he designed a ‘highly political’ medal to mark Queen Anne’s coronation in 1702.
Oxford University researcher Joseph Hone discovered a manuscript in the National Archives in Kew with sketches and notes by Newton (1643-1727), who was Master of the Mint when Anne was crowned in 1702.
The medals were small metallic tokens distributed for free to attendees and crowds at coronation ceremonies. Scholars previously thought Anne’s medal was designed by the court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller.
Newton’s notes also shed light on the political message behind the medal, the university said on Friday.
Hone said, “The medal’s design shows Anne as the goddess Athena striking down a double-headed monster. Earlier scholars assumed this represented domestic faction. But Newton explains in his notes that he was referring to the double Catholic threat posed by Louis XIV of France and James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender with a rival claim to the throne”.
He added, “This find provides an insight into an often forgotten period of Newton’s career at the Royal Mint. It has long been understood that Newton used his scientific and mathematical expertise to establish a gold standard currency. But designing medals was usually the job of lesser Mint employees”.
Thanks to the newly-discovered documents, Hone said it was clear that Newton designed the medals himself. He also used his extensive knowledge of mythology and symbolism in his medals. The discovery may also illuminate why Newton was knighted three years later in 1705.