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Summary Article: Temple, Sir William
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1628–99, English diplomat and author. He was married in 1655 to Dorothy Osborne. They settled in Ireland, and in 1661 Temple entered the Irish parliament. He moved (1663) to England, served on various diplomatic missions, and was made a baronet (1666). In 1668 he negotiated with great skill and speed a triple alliance with the Netherlands and Sweden to check the power of France. He became (1668) ambassador to The Hague but was secretly recalled (1670) after Charles II had concluded the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV. He was reappointed (1674) at the conclusion of the unpopular English-Dutch war and negotiated the marriage (1677) of William of Orange to Princess Mary of England. Temple several times refused to become secretary of state, but he did promote a reorganization (1679) of the privy council. After this proved a failure, he retired (1681) to his estate, Moor Park, in Surrey, and devoted his time to writing. He produced a number of political works and essays. Jonathan Swift, who was Temple's secretary for various periods in the 1690s, helped prepare his letters (1700–1703) and memoirs for publication (parts of both had earlier unauthorized publication). Temple's essay, Of Ancient and Modern Learning (1690), precipitated the famous “ancients versus moderns” controversy, which caused Swift to write The Battle of the Books (1697). Temple's style in his personal essays was long considered a model of balanced and polished prose.

  • See his life and works (1814);.
  • biographies by H. Woodbridge (1940, repr. 1966) and R. C. Steensma (1970).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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