Bengt Skytte

Bengt Skytte[1] (1614–1683) was a Swedish courtier and diplomat. He was a follower of Comenius and proposed a pansophic city, "Sophopolis".

Early lifeEdit

He was the son of Johan Skytte[2] and Maria Näf (Neaf) and brother of Vendela Skytte.

He matriculated at the University of Uppsala, aged 10. In 1629, he, with Schering Rosenhane, accompanied Sir James Spens to court in London, where he was knighted by Charles I of England.[3]

Skytte was then probably at the University of Leiden in 1629–30; and went on to study at Dorpat (where the University was not founded before 1632!).[4] In 1631, he visited the Tsardom of Russia.[5] After that, he had two periods of study with Gerardus Vossius, to 1634.[6]

Courtier and diplomatEdit

Skytte was appointed chamberlain to Christina, Queen of Sweden in 1633. In 1634–5, he was attached to Axel Oxenstierna in Magdeburg, on a mission to Cardinal Richelieu in Paris, and in southern Italy.[7]

In 1651, he visited Comenius in Hungary;[4] in that year, he was implicated by Arnold Johan Messenius in his confession before his execution.[8] In 1651–2, he travelled from Vienna to Istanbul. On the way, he noticed analogies between the Hungarian language and the Finnish language.[9] This was an unofficial journey.[10] While there, he stayed for half a year in the house of a Turk, whose son Yusuf later was a Christian convert under the name of Richard Christophilus in England, as Skytte later testified.[11]

In 1655, he became governor of Estonia as the Second Northern War broke out. In 1656, he urged Charles X Gustav of Sweden to make a defensive alliance with Russia, advice that was taken.[12]


On a 1659 journey to London as ambassador, he launched a project for Sophopolis; it was taken up by the Hartlib Circle.[4] Skytte was one of the supporters of John Dury in his ecumenical projects; he was also able to meet in London with Robert Boyle, and was introduced to the Gresham College group of virtuosi. His own project was for a residential college.[13] Boyle had already had such a plan, costed at something over £1000, in a letter from John Evelyn in September 1659; Skytte's concept was on a similar scale.[14]

While nothing came of the plan, one of the precursors of the Royal Society of the English Restoration, Skytte had backing at the time, from Hartlib and his associate John Beale, and Boyle.[15] Hartlib gave a very circumstantial account of the position of the group of virtuosi, meeting regularly both at Gresham College and in William Ball's chambers in the Middle Temple, in a letter of 17 December 1660 to John Worthington; at this point he had not yet met with Skytte to discuss Antilia, a generic name used for pansophic projects.[16] Skytte had approached Charles II of England for a grant to support his scheme, but the evolution of the thinking of the virtuosi bypassed his plan, and Hartlib.[17]

In 1666, Skytte quarrelled with the Swedish court, and he travelled to see Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg. With the help of the physician Nicholas Bonnet, he presented to the Elector a plan for a Brandenburg University, which would have a "universal" quality.[18] The chosen location was Tangermünde.[19] This was another "Sophopolis" or Solomon's House project, possibly in emulation of the Royal Society of London. Overambitious, it did not succeed.[20]

In 1669, Skytte was at the court of Hanau, where he clashed with Johann Joachim Becher; he acted as patron there for Daniel Neuberger the younger (1621-1680), a sculptor in wax.[21] In that year, also, he was reported to the authorities in Frankfurt by Philipp Jakob Spener, the Pietist, for table talk disrespectful of the Bible.[22]


On his way to Berlin in 1667, Skytte met Gottfried Leibniz, who retained an interest in his ideas and, thirty years later, tried to collect his papers with Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld;[15] Leibniz mentioned Skytte and Georg Stiernhielm in correspondence with Hiob Ludolf in 1687 as aspiring to a harmony of many languages,[23][24] and elsewhere wrote that they had met and discussed linguistics in Frankfurt.[25] Leibniz also commented on the ostracism Skytte had suffered at this period.[24] It is believed that Skytte had an unpublished scheme for a universal language; he worked quite closely with Stiernhielm, and they used the polyglot thesaurus of Hieronymus Megiser.[26]

Skytte's manuscript Sol praecipuarum linguarum subsolarium, which Leibniz did not track down, remained unpublished.[9] It passed to Johan Ihre and then to the University of Uppsala.[27] Skytte's Hungarian word lists were used by Olaus Rudbeck and Olaus Rudbeck the younger.[28] Skytte and Stiernhielm, Rudbeck and Urban Hjärne have been classed as "early Swedish illuminists" because of their shared interests in a broad area including aspects of alchemy and hermeticism.[15]


He married first Christina Sparre in 1636, and secondly in the 1670s Eva Mörner.[2] He was the father of Maria Skytte.


  1. ^ Often English: Benedict Skytte, German: Benedikt Skytte, French: Benoît Skytte, Latin: Benedictus Skyttius.
  2. ^ a b (in Swedish) Svenskt biografiskt handlexikon
  3. ^ Marjory Harper, Emigrant Homecomings: the return movement of emigrants, 1600-2000 (2005), p. 63; Google Books.
  4. ^ a b c Donald R. Dickson, The Tessera of Antilia: utopian brotherhoods & secret societies in the early seventeenth century (1998), pp. 220–1; Google Books.
  5. ^ Hans-Joachim Torke, Holm Sundhaussen, Ricarda Vulpius, Russische und ukrainische Geschichte vom 16.-18. Jahrhundert (2001), p. 239; Google Books.
  6. ^ Dirk van Miert, Humanism in an Age of Science: the Amsterdam Athenaeum in the golden age, 1632-1704 (2009), p. 126 note 49; Google Books.
  7. ^ (in German), Herbert Jaumann, Handbuch Gelehrtenkultur der Frühen Neuzeit (2004), p. 613; Google Books.
  8. ^ Trevor Henry Aston, Crisis in Europe, 1560-1660: essays from Past and Present (1965), p. 197 note 5; Google Books.
  9. ^ a b Daniel Droixhe, La Linguistique et l'appel de l'histoire. 1600-1800. Rationalisme et revolutions positivistes (1978), p. 135; Google Books.
  10. ^ Colin Imber, Keiko Kiyotaki, Frontiers of Ottoman Studies: state, province, and the West (2005), p. 51; Google Books.
  11. ^ Nabil I. Matar, Islam in Britain, 1558-1685 (1998), p. 147; Google Books.
  12. ^ Michael Roberts, From Oxenstierna to Charles XII: Four Studies (2003), p. 137; Google Books.
  13. ^ Edward H. Thompson (translator), Christianopolis by Johann Valentin Andreae (1999), p. 302; Google Books.
  14. ^ Michael Cyril William Hunter, Establishing the New Science: the experience of the early Royal Society (1989), p. 157; Google Books.
  15. ^ a b c Allison Coudert, Richard Henry Popkin, Gordon M. Weiner, Leibniz, Mysticism, and Religion (1998), p. 87–8; Google Books.
  16. ^ Chetham Society, Remains, Historical & Literary, connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, vol. 13 (1847), pp. 245–52;
  17. ^ Richard Foster Jones, Ancients and Moderns: a study of the rise of the scientific movement in seventeenth-century England (1982), pp. 172–3; Google Books.
  18. ^ Helmar Schramm, Ludger Schwarte, Jan Lazardzig, Collection, Laboratory, Theater: scenes of knowledge in the 17th century (2005), p. 188; Google Books.
  19. ^ (in German) Helmar Schramm, Kunstkammer, Laboratorium, Bühne: Schauplätze des Wissens im 17. Jahrhundert (2003), p. 194; Google Books.
  20. ^ Ethel Seaton, Literary Relations of England and Scandinavia in the Seventeenth Century (1935), p. 176; Google Books.
  21. ^ Pamela H. Smith, The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire, p. 145; Google Books.
  22. ^ John Mackinnon Robertson, A Short History of Freethought, Ancient and Modern vol. 2 (1915), p. 297;
  23. ^ John T. Waterman, Leibniz and Ludolf on things linguistic: excerpts from their correspondence, 1688-1703 (1978), p. 20; Google Books.
  24. ^ a b (in French) Tullio De Mauro, Lia Formigari, Leibniz, Humboldt, and the Origins of Comparativism (1990), p. 11; Google Books.
  25. ^ (in German) Leibniz, Allgemeiner politischer und historischer Briefwechsel: November 1695 - Juli 1696 1st series vol. 2 (1990), p. 218 note 8; Google Books.
  26. ^ John P. Considine, Dictionaries in Early Modern Europe: lexicography and the making of heritage (2008), p. 245 and p. 293; Google Books.
  27. ^ (in French) Daniel Droixhe, Souvenirs de Babel. La reconstruction de l'histoire des langues de la Renaissance aux Lumières [en ligne], Bruxelles, ARLLFB. Disponible sur, pp. 198–9; PDF.
  28. ^ (in German) Sylvain Auroux, Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaften: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Entwicklung der Sprachforschung von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (2001), p. 1150; Google Books.

External linksEdit