Rev. Dr. William Stukeley
b. November 7, 1687, Holbeach, Lincolnshire
d. March 3, 1765, London.
Antiquarian, physician, minister and eccentric druid. In other words, a fairly normal member of the English Enlightment.
Stukeley the Physician
He was educated as a doctor at Corpus Cristi College, Cambridge University|Cambridge. This was followed by the equivalent of a residency at St Thomas's Hospital, London. In 1719, he was made an MD, and in 1720, he was made a fellow at the Royal College of Physicians.
Stukeley the Antiquarian and Academic
While still a medical student, Stukeley travelled the English countryside, making sketches and other observations of topographical and archaeological anomalies, such as Stonehenge and Avebury. His passion for recording has thankfully preserved for us a view of the English landscape before the full ravages of the Industrial Revolution had taken place. Moreover, he was able to record the state of some towns, monuments, and medieval churches before the ravages of time, progress, and vandalism had destroyed them. For this work, he was made secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1718. He later published these observations in his Itinerarium Curiosum in 1724, while his work on Stonehenge and Avebury appeared as Stonehenge, a Temple Restored to the British Druids, published in 1740; and Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, in 1743.
Stukeley's greatest achievement with regards to Stonehenge was realizing that the monument was much older than previously thought; other antiquarians had believed old chronicles, which held it was either built in the Middle Ages (usually by Merlin as a monument to Night of the Long Knives|fallen British leaders) or by the Romans. Unfortunately, Stukeley didn't go back far enough, and believed it had been built by the Druids. Given the lack of technology or information about the prehistory of the world and of man, this is understandable, if incorrect. The belief that Stonehenge was a temple for the Druids may go back to Diodorus Sicilus' description of the structure as a temple of Apollo, worshipped by the falsly-identified Hyperborean Britons.
He also apparently invented the use (though not necessarily the word) of several terms for aspects of Stonehenge and other stone structures: cursus, avenue, and trilithion.
It is also believed that his interest in ancient ruins helped spark the Gothic revival of the 19th century. Not only his observations of ruins, but also his own designs for his lands apparently contained fantastic elements, such as serpents and dragons.
It was Stukeley who is believed to have made the connection between Robin Hood and Robin of Loxley.
Like many educated men of his day, he was partial to secret societies and clubs, founding his own literary group, the Brazen Nose Society. He was also reportedly a memeber of the academic Society of Gentlemen of Spalding, which focused on antiquities. He was a friend to Isaac Newton, himself a scientist with a hidden interest in the occult.
Stukeley was unfortunately also the victim of a hoax which to some extent still exists. One Charles Bertram brought to him the forged chronicle Richardus Copenensis de situ Britanniae, assigned to the fourteenth-century chronicler Richard of Cirencester. Richard had compiled the actual chronicle Speculum Historiale de Gestis Regum Angliae, and Stukeley was inclined to believe that Bertram's manuscript was authentic; it was not, a fact only discovered in 1866-67. The De situ has unfortunately persisted, last published in the Six English Chronicles of J.A. Giles (1872), still-widely available on the internet.
Stukeley the Vicar and Druid
In 1730, Stukeley left behind the medical profession and was ordained vicar of All Saints Church in Stamford. However, it isn't for his vocation as a vicar that he is well known, but for his interest in Druidry, inspired by the work of John Aubrey and his own work at Stonehenge.
Stukeley believed that the Druids represented another fragment of the True Religion, of which Christianity was merely the latest incarnation. According to Ronald Hutton:
In the mid 1720s he drafted a set of books to prove his case, which, had they been published, would have been astonishingly radical for their time. They preached, boldly, a pagan religion embodied in the old monuments which was actually valid, and reflected cosmic truths. He could not, however, persuade his aristocratic friends to sponsor them, and seemed to find nobody else willing to take his Druidic faith seriously. As a result he ended up stranded in the late 1720s, sulking in a lonely part in Lincolnshire with a failing medical practice.
Stukeley, once made a vicar, later changed his ideas to the more fashionable belief that the Druids were actually emissaries sent by Abraham to bring the Patriarchal Religion to Britain. This idea--not originally Stukeley's, but certainly made popular by him--became the dominant opinion for many years; if not that the Druid religion was ultimately rooted in the Bible, than that the Druids were part of the supposed ur-religion.1
As Hutton points out elsewhere, though Stukeley was the self-styled "Chyndonax, Druid of Mount Haemus"2, he was unable to start any group of neo-Druids (or really, what would have been mesodruidism|mesodruids), despite the later invented history of Ross Nichols, which makes him the head of a Druidic Order from which the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids are supposedly descended. Hutton, a member of the OBOD, proves that no such order existed.
SOURCES: Several inconsequential (encyclopedias), but the most important is
Hutton, Ronald. "The Origins Of Modern Druidry". The Order Of Bards Ovates & Druids Mount Haemus Lecture For The Year 2000. URL: "http://druidry.org/pdfs/first_mt_haemus_lecture.pdf">http://druidry.org/pdfs/first_mt_haemus_lecture.pdf
1. There is a sort of irony in this. While the antiquarians and mystics had long sought to make Druidry into a pathway to the great "original religion", others (such as myself) have been using it in the field of comparative mythology to determine the "original religion" of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. True, this may turn out to be as much a boondoggle as Stukeley's quest, but it's the current academic theory.
2. As for that title, Chydonax was apparently the name attatched to a tomb found at Mount Dijon, France in 1598. Whether this Chydonax was actually a druid is debatable.
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Mary Jones © 2005