10 Best 17th Century Authors: Discover Historical Literature Today!

Discover our guide with the best 17th century authors! Take a step back in time and delve into this fascinating time of literature.

From Don Quixote to astronomical texts, the 1600s were a time of challenging the status quo and taking bold steps for the ten best 17th century authors. Authors were often severely reprimanded for challenging the views held by the government and church.

Many found that their willingness to speak out resulted in punishments ranging from house arrest to political exile. We’ve gathered a list of the movers and shakers from the 1600s whose influence in the literary world can still be felt today. If you’re interested in historical reading, check out the best books for American history!

Here Are The 10 Best 17th Century Authors

1. John Locke, 1632-1704

John Locke
John Locke via Wikipedia, Public Domain

John Locke was an author, philosopher, and physician known today as the father of liberalism. An Enlightenment thinker, many today believe that Locke’s psychological theories on the ideas of identity and self were heavily influential in the development of the idea of consciousness. 

Locke’s most well-known works include “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689), “Two Treatises of Government” (1689), and “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689). Locke believed that people should tolerate the beliefs of others even if they disagree with them and that violence should be avoided at all costs.

“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where this is no law, there is no freedom.”

John Locke, Of the State of Nature
Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (with an Introduction by Henry Morley)
  • Locke, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 242 Pages - 01/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Digireads.com Publishing (Publisher)

2. Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1727

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Sir Isaac Newton was an alchemist, theologian, author, physicist, astronomer, and mathematician known for discovering the laws of motion and other rules of the natural world, including Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the trajectories of comets, and predictions of tides. 

Newton’s most influential works include Principia (1687), which described the laws of motion and cemented the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun (instead of the sun revolving around the Earth, as the idea of heliocentricity had been widely accepted at the time), as well as Opticks (1704), in which he discussed his discoveries about light. Looking for more authors to explore? Check out our guide to the best 9th century authors. Or you can find different authors from other centuries by searching the keyword “century” in our search bar.

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Isaac Newton, Memoirs of Newton
The Principia: The Authoritative Translation and Guide: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Newton, Sir Isaac (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 987 Pages - 02/05/2016 (Publication Date) - University of California Press (Publisher)

3. Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Jonathan Swift was an Irish author, poet, satirist, and political pamphlet writer. He’s known as a satire expert who published nearly all of his work under pen names, including M.B. Drapier, Isaac Bickerstaff, and Lemuel Gulliver. He also published some of his works anonymously. In his early 20s, the author began working as a personal assistant to Sir William Temple, an English diplomat.

According to many accounts, Swift was unhappy in this position and often butted heads with his boss. His first published work, The Battle of the Books, was written in response to Temple’s upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690). Following the death of Temple, Swift wrote his memoirs, which were met with opposition from his family due to the blunt honesty Swift used in his writing. His most well-known work, Gulliver’s Travels, was published in 1726.

“Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift Collection: Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, The Battle of the Books, A Tale of a Tub, The History of Martin, & Other Essays
  • Swift, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 362 Pages - 05/06/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

4. Pierre Corneille, 1606-1684

Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Pierre Corneille was known for his French tragedies. His most well-known work is 1637’s Le Cid, a play about a Spanish warrior. Corneille’s writing career wasn’t what he expected from his life, before writing, he studied law but did not find success as a lawyer. 

Le Cid is known as both a tragedy and a comedy, and it was well-received by audiences of the time. Some viewers had issues with the play, as it did not follow the expectation of the time that the events of a play should take place within the same 24-hour time frame and setting). Some also criticized the play for being immoral. Corneille struggled with the public criticism he received and chose to step away from the public eye.

“We never taste happiness in perfection, our most fortunate successes are mixed with sadness.”

Pierre Corneille

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5. John Milton, 1608-1674

John Milton
John Milton via Wikipedia, Public Domain

John Milton was best known for his 1667 poem Paradise Lost, a free verse epic poem that delved into religious issues, including the fall of man. According to many literary critics today, Paradise Lost is one of the greatest written works of all time. 

Born in London, Milton began his life as a musical composer in the arts. After recognizing his talent, the musician’s father hired a tutor for him who began to influence Milton’s radical religious writings. Throughout his life, Milton studied theology, history, literature, politics, science, and philosophy and kept track of his learnings in a book that’s now cemented in history at the British Library. The author spoke Italian, Hebrew, Old English, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and French.

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

John Milton, Areopagitica
Areopagitica and Other Writings
  • Milton, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 01/26/2016 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

6. Ihara Saikaku, 1642-1693

Ihara Saikaku
Ihara Saikaku via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ihara Saikaku is the creator of the floating word form of Japanese prose. He got his start by studying haiku poetry with Matsunaga Teitoku. The poet was known for his ability to create poetry with extreme speed, famously completing 16,000 haiku stanzas within 24 hours. 

Saikaku had a recognizable style of writing that used colloquial language to discuss life in Japan. One of the artist’s most well-recognized pieces of literature is the 1975 piece, which he wrote after his wife’s death, entitled Haikai Single Day Thousand Verse. Following this work, Saikaku became interested in writing novels. He was one of the most popular writers in Japan in the 17th century and is still praised for his literary contributions that influence fiction writing in Japan today.

“The wind may have no body to call its own, and yet it echoes through the pine forests. On the other hand, a flower, as long as it has its colors, need not say a word to make itself felt.”

Ihara Saikaku
The Great Mirror of Male Love
  • Saikaku, Ihara (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 04/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Stanford University Press (Publisher)

7. Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Born Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei, Galileo Galilei was a multi-talented phenom whose name has become synonymous with his brilliance. The writer, polymath, engineer, physicist, and astronomer is known as the father of modern science, promoting ideas about speed, velocity, inertia, projectile motion, and pendulums. 

Galileo’s assertion that the Earth revolved around the sun challenged commonly held beliefs. The Catholic church and respected astronomers believed the inverse was true, as they believed it contradicted the Bible. The astronomer defended his truth with his 1632 publication Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

The publication of this document resulted in Galileo losing the support of Pope Urban VIII, who had previously supported the scientist’s differing views. Galileo was forced to spend his remaining years under house arrest. While confined to his home, he wrote the book Two New Sciences in 1638, which detailed many of his discoveries over the decades prior.

“Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.”

Galileo Galilei
Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger
  • Galilei, Galileo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 152 Pages - 01/19/2016 (Publication Date) - University of Chicago Press (Publisher)

8. Miguel de Cervantes, 1547-1616

Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Miguel de Cervantes is best known for his timeless classic Don Quixote (1605), which many literary critics herald as the first modern novel. While Cervantes’ work is well-heralded today, he did not have immediate financial success with his writing. The author wrote more than 20 plays, but they were not well-received by the audiences of the time. The success of Don Quixote was life-changing for Cervantes. 

There was high public demand for Cervantes to write a sequel to Don Quixote. The second part of the novel was published in 1915. While the two books share a similar style, readers tend to find the second volume more complex, while the first version is more comedic. 

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.”

Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Cervantes, Miguel de (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 424 Pages - 05/03/2012 (Publication Date) - Insignia Publishing (Publisher)

9. Margaret Cavendish, 1623-1673

Margaret Cavendish
Margaret Cavendish via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Margaret Cavendish was born to a royal family in England when most women were not formally educated. Cavendish attended private school and became a natural philosopher. At a time when most female writers either wrote anonymously or used a pen name, Cavendish chose to attribute her works to herself. The philosopher’s first publication was Poems and Fancies (1653), which explored science, philosophy, and art. Throughout the book, Cavendish repeatedly apologizes to her readers if they aren’t happy with her ideas. 

Cavendish published an autobiography entitled A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656)  at age 33. The writer is seen as one of the first philosophers to propose a new, anti-scientific take on the world, going up against the ideas that prevailed at the time. Cavendish had to include testaments from her brother-in-law and husband that she wrote her works herself, as many people in the literary world at the time did not believe a woman could write at Cavendish’s level.

“A rude nature is worse than a brute nature by so much more as man is better than a beast: and those that are of civil natures and genteel dispositions are as much nearer to celestial creatures as those that are rude and cruel are to devils.”

Margaret Cavendish
The Blazing World and Other Writings: Penguin Classics
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Margaret Cavendish (Author) - Abigail Thaw (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/02/2020 (Publication Date) - Penguin Audio (Publisher)

10. William Wycherley, 1641-1716

William Wycherley
William Wycherley via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Image description: A painted portrait of William Wycherley. He is looking down with a thoughtful expression. He has long, thick, dark curly hair and is wearing a large brown overshirt. 

William Wycherley was an English playwright best known for The Plain Dealer and The Country Wife. Wycherley’s plays were highly regarded as scandalous and were restricted in many areas. The Roman Catholic writer was known for his straightforward, take-charge attitude that was reflected in his writing. In addition to providing the English public with entertainment, Wycherly was also known for his military service in Ireland and his service to the country as a diplomat to Spain.

The Country Wife was published around 1673 and followed the story of a woman who was getting to know the city of London. The fast-paced nature of the play and the mature jokes were shocking for the time. The Plain Dealer follows the story of a sailor and his girlfriend, who leaves him for his best friend. If you want to explore other authors from different centuries, you might want to check out our list of the best 3rd century authors. You can discover more authors from different centuries by using our search bar and typing in “century”!

“Bluster, sputter, question, cavil; but be sure your argument be intricate enough to confound the court.”

William Wycherley
Classic Radio Theatre: The Country Wife (Dramatised)
  • Audible Audiobook
  • William Wycherley (Author) - Maggie Smith, Jonathan Pryce, John Duttine (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 02/24/2010 (Publication Date) - BBC Audio (Publisher)

Looking for audible recommendations? Check out the best history books on audible!

  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.