Sunday, October 23, 2022

John Dee and Mortlake


This is a rather delayed post, my travels having taken place in May 2022; it is either the fourth or fifth post I've done on mathematician and mage John Dee since 2016 - other posts cover his childhood, his interactions with the Tudor courts, his books, his genealogical scroll, the RCP Dee exhibition, etc.  This is the first time I've been able to get out to his home in Mortlake where he lived most of his life, the home in which was housed his huge library (largest in England at the time) and at which he hosted visiting scholars who gained much from interacting with him and having access to his books.  Queen Elizabeth I visited him here more than once - quite something to have the monarch show up at one's home, especially when one is not of the nobility!  Dee now lies buried in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, which is right next door to where his home once stood. Though church grounds (and most of the church itself) would not have looked in Dee's time like it does in the pictures here, I find the arch in the churchyard evocative of what I know of Dee.  To be casual rather than mathematical or historical here, I found that it reminded me a bit of the archway in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.  And, so, as I walked through this churchyard archway in the way that I did in the video below I kind of wondered if it was a good idea to be doing so.

John Dee is buried inside the church rather than in the churchyard, but I'll post a few more pictures of the churchyard to give an idea of the place as it is now.  

Dee did live adjacent to this church, and when Queen Elizabeth I visited him they conversed while standing by the wall between his property and the church.  Where his house once stood there are flats named "John Dee House," but the wall is still there, parts of which seem to be original.  In the picture below, look through the trees to see the church tower.

Note again the tower beyond the wall.  A tower was here in Dee's time as well, a plaque in the church and plaques on the tower indicate dates relating to the tower (pictured further down), and the tower does seem to have some Tudor architecture but also seems to be a bit of a conglomeration of styles at this point.

The more I travel, the more skeptical I am about stones with dates on them and whether they are original to the structure or if they were placed there later.  Above we have the date 1407, which is 120 years before Dee's birth, below is a plaque from 1911 inside the tower stating that the tower was built by Henry VIII in 1542, and the second image below is of a stone in the wall just to the side of the tower which matches the Henry VIII 1542 date, but which I've been told is very likely quite a bit later.    Regardless of which parts of the tower are newer or older, there would have been a tower on this site in Dee's time, and some parts from his time may make up parts of the tower we see today.

As I mentioned, Dee is buried within/under the church.  It is not known exactly where he lies, both because renovations and reconstructions have happened since his time and because the church is very near the Thames river, so in the more than 400 years that have passed since he was buried, things may have changed underground.  There is a plaque inside honoring him.

He was likely buried near the altar.

Here is information from inside the church about various relevant dates:

Dee's property extended down to the Thames and icluded a large garden and an orchard.  The view below is across the street and down a path:
I didn't leave time for exploring, but I'd like to come back sometime and walk along this path.

Mortlake is quite near Richmond, and Queen Elizabeth I often stayed at Richmond Palace, a palace that was one of her favorites.  On the few occasions she visited Dee she came by horseback or by barge down the Thames.  Above is the Thames as it would have fronted Dee's property, and below is the Thames as it passes by what was Richmond Palace:
Almost nothing of the palace remains today.  There is a gatehouse, and a building known as "The Wardrobe."

But, back to Mortlake.  Here are the flats where John Dee's house once stood - note the fall at the end of the row of flats:

And here is a 5-minute-long video giving context of the area:

Monday, July 18, 2022

Napier Finds


Since my first sabbatical in 2016, I have been to Edinburgh an astonishing (to me) five times.  John Napier has become a major focus for me, and as I've traveled back again and again I've been able to extend the range of my search for Napier-related items and places.  Although this was my fifth trip, I found additional things that were new to me in Edinburgh itself.  One of these items is something I'd been aware of before but hadn't been able to find easily.  It is the sculpted head of one of Napier's ancestors that adorns one of the pillars in St. Giles Cathedral.  I'm kind of surprised I hadn't seen it before since I am familiar with the Napier family coat of arms, but I guess the east window, which it is directly next to, usually commands my attention when I am in this end of the cathedral.

Napier Pillar, St. Giles Cathedral

Napier Pillar, St. Giles Cathedral

According to author Lynne Gladstone-Millar in the book John Napier: Logarithm John, this sculpture is of John Napier's ancestor Sir Alexander Napier who had "donated generously to the embellishment of St. Giles' Cathedral in 1460" and had commissioned this.
St. Giles Cathedral from the southwest

This time, rather than just wandering around and looking at all the pillars, I asked a guide if he knew were to find the sculpture.  This ended up being more beneficial than I had expected, as he also told me about a stained glass window that featured a Napier.  This window is in a side chapel in which James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose is buried. The window honors those who supported him.
Tomb of Montrose

The poem on the tomb was written by Montrose himself.

Napier is in the top right-hand corner.  This is either the son or grandson of John Napier.  I need to do a little more digging to find that information.  There is no date or first name here.  The dates for Montrose are 1612-1650, which seems to me would fit best with a grandson in terms of dates and age  .  .  .  whether son or grandson, the name would have been Archibald Napier.  Both did fight with him, and Alexander, the first Lord Napier (John's son) was 70 years old at the time.  Maybe it honors them both.

Heading back out, I visited the Napier memorial plaque on the exterior of the cathedral.  I'd seen this before.  I think I've posted it already as well, but I'm not sure in which post, so I'll include it here as well.  This is on the northeast of the cathedral.


Because of this inscription, many think that John Napier is buried at St. Giles, but the more reliable information points to him being buried at St. Cuthbert's Parish Church, the church at which he served in the position of elder.  It is the case that St. Giles was historically where family members, his ancestors, would have been interred.

From here I headed out to Merchiston Tower on the campus of Edinburgh Napier University, Merchiston Campus in order to find the remains of a 16th-century gate that I had not noticed on previous visits but have since learned of.  I'm always looking for things that given me a better view of the lives of the mathematicians I'm studying, no matter how small a glimpse it may be.
Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

 I realize now that I added some of these photos to an earlier post, a post on Merchiston Tower from when I had a guided tour inside.  That post with pictures of the interior and a map to where the gate is can be found at this link.  I did pop inside while I was here and revisited the Napier bust and the Napier display.

Napier's Rods - Modern Replica
I've explored and seen so many "Napier things" since I began studying his life and work 6 years ago that I know it's a repeat to share Napier's Rods (Napier's Bones), but on this recent trip I did see displays that I had not seen before that contain Napier's Rods.  The fact that nearly every science museum I have ever visited throughout the UK and also in Paris contain sets of these rods that are hundreds of years old serve as testimony to me of their widespread and long-term use.  One place on this trip where I saw rod displays was at the History of Science Museum in Oxford.
Sometimes the rods are flat and single-sided.  Sometimes the rods are four-sided rectangular prisms.  They can be made of any number of materials, such as wood, ivory, or silver, and are generally held in a specially made carrying case.
The large rod on the right below is used for taking cube roots.  On the back are the necessary markings for taking square roots.

Of course, Napier's invention of logarithms was also used to create a device to speed up calculations, a device known as a slide rule.  Napier published his logarithms in 1614, and by the 1620s these were already being put into the physical form of a slide rule.  These were widely used for calculation from the time of their invention until pocket calculators became widely available in about 1974.  A 350-year-long run seems like a goodly span of time for a calculating device!
I'm realizing as I create this post that I have not posted about my time in St. Andrews in August 2021.  Here too I found a museum display (Wardlaw Museum) featuring Napier and Napier's Bones.

I visited St. Andrews because Napier was a student at the university there (though briefly).  As I continue to document Napier items and Napier places I'll have to be sure to write a post about that visit, but for today it's time to wrap up the writing!