13 October 2010

17th Century Oxford Space Programme

I mentioned in an earlier post my fascination with 17th Century England, especially the Civil War era. This fascinating article describes the views of one Dr John Wilkins, a 17th Century Oxonian scientist, on a possible lunar mission. Here is a short excerpt:
Incredible as it may seem, one of the greatest scientific minds of the time, Dr John Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society, was planning his own lunar mission four centuries ago around the time of the English Civil War.

It wasn’t hot air either. Inspired by the great voyages of discovery around the globe by Columbus, Drake and Magellan, Dr Wilkins imagined that it would just be another small step to reach the Moon.

Wilkins, who was a brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, explored the possibilities in two books. Records show he began exploring prototypes for spaceships, or flying chariots as he called them, to carry the astronauts.

The Jacobean space programme, as Oxford science historian Dr Allan Chapman calls it, flourished because this was a golden period for science. Huge discoveries had been made in geography, astronomy and anatomy. Seventeenth century scientists were riding a wave.

I wonder if the thoughts of Dr Wilkins on space travel form the basis for the forthcoming 'Quintessence' Clockwork & Chivalry adventure module? Below is the cover for that module (from here).

17th Century gentlemen journeying to the Moon, clashing with hostile native 'Selenites'? Sounds like good fun!


  1. Yes, John Wilkins is our man! Here's a taster:

    It’s the talk of the town in the London coffee houses – how everyone’s buying shares in the Company of Gentleman Adventurers Trading into the Moon! In the London docks a ship is being built, designed by Clockwork genius John Wilkins, a ship that can fly. It will be the first vessel ever to leave the shores of Earth and venture to another world – whatever it brings back, the profits are sure to be enormous.
    When the Enterprise flaps its mighty wings and ascends into the empyrean, it seems like a perfect example of the superiority of Parliamentarian Clockwork over their Royalist rivals’ Alchemy. Only the Adventurers, their mission aboard the moon-ship a secret at the highest levels, know that they will not be the first to visit the Moon – their nemesis is ahead of them, and up to no good as usual.
    As the party face ship-board skullduggery, meet wonders between the worlds and face first contact with an ancient civilisation, the race is on to find the secret of the fifth element – Quintessence.

    Ken Walton
    Cakebread & Walton: Purveyors of Fine Imaginings

  2. This made me remember Rod Serling's short story 'Does the Name Grimsby Do Anything to You?'


  3. Õ.o

    Wow! Thank you for bringing this marvellous information to my knowledge. This dovetails ever so neatly with my game. I seriously need to do some research into Early Enlightenment space programs, it would seem.

    Also, the purchasing of Clockwork & Chivalry is looking more and more like an inevitability. Dammit.

  4. @ carandol: That taster has me hungry for more! I look forward to reading *Quintessence* once it becomes available.

    Kudos on C&C as well. I've been reading through the core book, and think that it's top notch.

  5. Absolutely one of the most fascinating time periods in history. The Diggers, the Ranters, the New Model Army. Great, great stuff.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).