A diplomat in the book world
: Sir William Temple and the print trade

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This study focuses on the creation, publication and circulation of books by the English statesman Sir William Temple (1628-99) in the handpress era. It is especially concerned with how these works shaped Temple’s reputation, both during his lifetime and in the centuries after his death.

Temple’s literary career was informed by his activity as a diplomat. After postings in Münster and Brussels, Temple twice served as England’s ambassador to the Dutch Republic, between 1668 and 1670 and again between 1674 and 1679. In this role he negotiated marriages, peace treaties and defensive alliances. As an author, Temple engaged with all sorts of genres, including history, horticulture, poetry and politics. He wrote and published most of these works during two phases of retirement (1670-4 and 1681-99), although some were also printed after his death by Jonathan Swift, who served as Temple’s secretary for most of the 1690s. Temple’s most successful book, a survey of the Dutch Republic entitled the Observations Upon the United Provinces (1673) appeared in twenty-nine editions in the seventeenth century alone. He was also one of the first English politicians to publish a memoir.

These books found an audience in Britain and Continental Europe. Temple’s works were translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian and Russian. He had a level of popularity that few of his fellow statesmen could match both in terms of longevity and geographical range. For well over a hundred years, Temple enjoyed a prominent literary reputation which far outlasted his achievements in diplomacy. In 1778, Samuel Johnson declared Temple to be ‘the first writer who gave cadence to English prose’. Yet, during the nineteenth century, this standing began to unravel and Temple faded into obscurity, where he has remained ever since. This thesis charts this remarkable rise and fall through the works he left behind.
Date of Award4 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAndrew Pettegree (Supervisor) & Arthur Timothy der Weduwen (Supervisor)

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 21 May 2029

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