Francois Viete

Francois Viete went to many places and did a lot of things. He lived for 63 years. In his life he got to do more or at least as much he wanted to do. He got to work for Kings, and also been married twice. Francois Viete was a very interesting. He also went to a few different countries. Francois Viete was born in 1540 in Frontenay-le-Comte, France. It is now the province of Vendee. His father was Etenne Viete, who was a lawyer, and his mother was Marguerite Dupont. They both came from well-to-do families.

He enjoyed all the available educational opportunities. He did preliminary studies in Frontenay, before moving to study law at the University of Poitiers. He earned his degree in 1560. He practiced it for four years, then abandoned it for a legal profession in 1564. He wanted to enter the employment of Antionette d’Aubeterre, as private tutor to her daughter, Catherine of Parthenay. He became a friend and was confidant of Catherine during the years he spent as her tutor. He remained her loyal and trusted adviser for the rest of his life (Parshall 1).

He took his teaching duties very seriously, while he was preparing lectures for his charge on variety an of topics about science. The first scientific work dates were all from this period. It involves topics, which would continue to occupy him throughout his life. In 1571, he began publication of his track. It was intended to form a preliminary mathematical part of a major study on the Ptolemaic astronomical model. He continued to embrace the Ptolemaic (Parshall 1). The service to Catherine’s noble family took him to La Rochelle, ultimately then to Paris.

In 1573, he came under the eye of King Charles IX. He appointed him as counselor to the parliament of Brittany at Rennes. Then he remained in this post untill 1580 when he returned to Paris to take up offices of the Maitre de Requetes, also as a royal privy counselor. Form 1584 to 1589, political intrigue resulted both in free time, and then for the continuation of his mathematical studies, especially when they were evolving ideas on algebra (Parshall 1). His education was at the University of Poitiers, where he took practice of law in his hometown.

Soon he rose to prominence by the astute legal services to prominent people (Parshall 1). Henry III called him back in 1589 to serve as a counselor to parliament. Henry has been forced to relocate on his tours. Later during France’s war with Spain, Henry IV also called him, in as a capacity not as a government bureaucrat, but as a mathematician. He then was to decode any intercepted messages for the monarch. After the war, he returned to Paris from 1594 to 1597 and then again from 1599 to 1602. Finally in late 1602, Henry IV dismissed him for the last time (Parshall 1).

While he did his work for King Henry III, he discovered a key to the Spanish cipher of 500 characters. He was able to read the secret correspondence of the enemies. Phillip II, of Spain, thought that the sure code was invulnerable, and that when he heard of it, he complained to the Pope that the French were using some sorcery against him. His tactics in dealing with the people were illustrated by the case of Francoise de Rohan, who was the cousin of Henry III. She had been engaged to Duke J de Nemours, and had a son with him.

Then he married another person, Anne d’Este (OConnor 2). He wanted to be declared Annes legal spouse. The children, by Anne, were declared bastards. He found a solution in that parliament declared her legal spouse of Nemours. He gave her property as her dukedom. They declared the marriage as dissolved. In 1564, he took the position the service of Antoinette d’Aubeterre. There he was employed to supervise the education of Antoinette’s daughter Catherine, who then later became Catherine of Parthenay? That is about half-way between Fontenay-le-Comte and Poitiers.

Catherines father died in 1566. Antoinette moved with her daughter to La Rochelle. Then Viete moved there with his employer and daughter. That was the period of great political and religious unrest in France. Charles IX became King of France in 1560, and in 1562 the French wars of religion began. There was a gross over-simplification to say that these wars were between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. It was the fighting of various factions would continue on and off until the end of the century (OConnor 2). In 1570, Viete left Rochelle and then he moved to Paris.

He was never employed as a professional scientist or mathematician, but had already had his work on both topics in mathematics and astronomy. For his first published mathematical work appeared in Paris in 1571. While in Paris, Charles IX was authorized to the massacre of the Huguenots. Both who were an increasingly powerful group of French Protestants on August 23, 1572. It must have been a difficult time for Viete. He, though, was not active in the Protestant cause, because he was a Huguenot himself. Charles did not live long after this event.

The massacre was apparently haunting him for rest of his life. On October 24, 1573 he appointed Viete to the government of Brittany that was based at Rennes. It was moved to Rennes to take up the position of the counselor there. He remained there untill sometime in March of 1580, then he returned to Paris. Charles died on May 30, 1574. After that event Henry III became monarch. He then made concessions to Protestant Huguenots in 1576 and to the Roman Catholics who formed holy leagues. It was to look after their own interests by military actions.

It was a tense atmosphere to Viete who was appointed to the royal privy counselor March 23, 1580. He was then attached to the parliament in Paris. In 1584 the holy league strengthened when Henry’s brother died and Protestant Henry of Navarre became the heir to the throne (Drakos 3). He made significant contributions to trigonometry, algebra, and geometry. He also had one published piece of work, in Canon mathematics he has trigonometric tables computed to nine decimal places. It also contains a systematic collection of trigonometric formulas.

There were many misprints, and misunderstandings with the editor. The volume was not included in the collected books. His most significant contributions were in algebra. The letters had been used to describe the unknown quantity by early writers. He was first to use letters for parameters or constant coefficients in an equation (Hartshorne 4). Francois Viete died in Paris on February 23, 1603 (Hartshorne 4). Francois Viete is one interesting person. Without him in the world a lot of things would not be the way they are today.


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