Roger Cotes (1682-1716) was born at Burbage, Leicestershire, the son of the rector of that parish. While a pupil at Leicester School, he attracted attention for his precocious mathematical skills. He went on to study at St Paul's School, London, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1799. He was elected a minor fellow of Trinity in 1705, and a major fellow in 1706. In the same year he was elected as first Plumian professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy (this new chair had been endowed by Thomas Plume (1630-1704), archdeacon of Rochester, to support astronomy at Cambridge). Cotes' rapid rise owed much to the patronage of Richard Bentley, the master of Trinity, Isaac Newton and William Whiston.
As part of his duties as professor, Cotes was in charge of an observatory at Trinity College, and he undertook regular astronomical research. However his most important work was editing and revising the second edition of Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which was issued in 1713. Cotes made important contributions to the sections on the theory of tides, lunar motion and cometary paths, and he also included an influential and lengthy essay describing Newton's method. Cotes' other work was published posthumously, after his sudden death in 1716. In 1722 his Harmonia Mensurarum was published, which made novel contributions to the mathematics of area, and in 1738, his literary executor, Robert Smith edited Cotes' Hydrostatical and Pneumatical Lectures, for publication. These lectures delivered at Trinity between 1707 and 1710, with his colleague, William Whiston, were important for incorporating practical experiments into teaching. The Lectures went through three edition between 1738 and 1775; Smith excluded those lectures which were delivered by Whiston.
William Whiston was born at Norton-juxta-Twycross, Leicestershire in 1667, the son of the rector of Norton. He attended grammar school at Tamworth between 1684 and 1686, before entering Clare College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1689, was elected to the Exeter fellowship at Clare in 1691, and became a senior fellow in 1693. Whiston was also ordained a deacon of the Church of England in the same year, and in 1694, became chaplain to John Moore, the bishop of Norwich.
In 1694 Whiston met Isaac Newton, and they became friends. Whiston was an enthusiastic proponent of Newton's work, and in 1696 published A new theory of the Earth, which was heavily influenced by Newton's ideas, and to whom the book was dedicated. The New Theory was highly successful, and earned Whiston a formidable academic reputation. From 1698 to 1701, Whiston was involved with his religious duties as vicar of Lowestoft-cum-Kessingland, Suffolk. but with Newton's patronage, he returned to Cambridge in 1701 to lecture, and in May 1702 he succeeded Newton as Lucasian professor of mathematics.
During the next decade, Whiston's output was prolific, publishing an edition of Euclid's Elements, an edition of Newton's lectures on algebra in 1702 (Arithmetica universalis) as well as his own lectures on astronomy,Praelectiones astronomica (1707)), and the Praelectiones physico-mathematicae in 1710, which was revised as Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Philosophy more easily demonstrated in 1716. Whiston was regarded as a highly effective communicator of the Newtonian system.
As well as his scientific work, Whiston had a long-standing interest in theology, especially of the early Church. He published An Essay on the Revelation in 1706, and The Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies in 1708. Whiston was a defender of Biblical prophecy, and attempted to show evidences for the truth of prophecy in the Bible. Although critical of deism, he was sympathetic to some aspects of Arianism and highly critical of the Athanasian creed; in Sermons and Essays (1709), he set out these views, which attracted immediate and largely hostile attention. In 1710, Whiston was charged under a University heresy statute, and expelled from his Cambridge chair.
Whiston's academic career was now over, and thereafter he earned a living a popular lecturer, tutor and publishing entrepreneur. He worked with Francis Hauksbee the younger (1687-1763) to deliver a very successful biannual scientific lecture course on mechanics, hydrostatics, pneumatics and optics, as well as another course on astronomy. Whiston also founded the Society for Promoting Primitive Christianity, which discussed the theology of the early Church. Whiston also published an edition of Josephus, which proved highly successful. He published his memoirs in 1749-50. Whiston died in 1752 at his son-in-law's home, Lyndon Hall, Rutlandshire.