Tuesday, April 7, 2020

John Dee Scroll - Permission Granted

I know I've posted this same picture twice already on this blog, but just today I received gracious permission from the British Library to post pictures I took in their manuscript reading room of the Genealogical Roll of the Descent of John Dee [Cotton. Ch. XIV.1.].  I'm so excited to be allowed to unroll it here, and so I wanted to begin from the beginning - closed box with label.  In my excitement I think I'll just jump into pictures with only a few words and then give the fuller commentary about the King Arthur connection with Dee and the Tudor Dynasty at the bottom of this post.
The scroll is over 6 feet long and is covered in calligraphy and in paintings of heraldic shields.

I've included close-ups of some shields and names that might be familiar to readers: Cadwalader and Cadogan.

 As I began to unroll it I was pretty overcome with emotion thinking about the fact that I was handling a 450-year-old manuscript hand drawn by John Dee, so I didn't initially see what I was most seeking - the name "King Arthur."  It turns out that it's not actually at the very top as I might have expected but is actually somewhat densely-packed among other names.
 Can you find King Arthur's name below?
In the following image I've focused just on King Arthur ("Arthurus Rex") and his father King Uther Pendragon ("Vter pendraco rex").  Finding these names felt like the conclusion of a mini-treasure hunt for me.
Then moving down to the bottom-left corner of the scroll, we see the Tudor line leading to Queen Elizabeth I ("Elizabetha Regina") from Owen to Edmund to King Henry VII to King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth.

Dee, who is of Welsh heritage as are the Tudors, includes himself in this genealogy, and, I must say he gives rather more detail and artistry - including a symbol, a self-portrait, and a heraldic shield - to his own appearance in the scroll than to that of the queen!  Scholars of the day were in need of patronage, and it never hurt to be able to claim kinship to the monarch.  Personally, I'm not sure sure that upstaging her was a good idea, however.
Looking more closely at the bottom-right of the image above we see the name of John Dee, and the title philosopher, and we see above that the name of his father Rowland Dee and the term "armiger," which means "a person entitled to heraldic arms," and we also see the name of King Henry VIII, at whose court Rowland served.
Expanding the view once again, do you see anything in the black area of the symbol that Dee has painted to the left of his self portrait?
In this closer view, can you make out anything in the black region of the symbol?

It took me a while to see it, and when I finally recognized it, it took my breath away.  Though somewhat obscured by years of wear, the black area in this shield contains Dee's famous symbol, the Hieroglyphic Monad from his work Monas Hieroglyphica. in which he uses the symbol to unveil the secrets of the Real Cabala and therefore the secrets of the universe.  It is made up of symbols for the moon, the sun, the four elements and Aries, but when rotated and/or split into parts in various ways, it also contains the symbols for Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn  .  .  .  but this is another subject for another post.  (The I and D at the top of the symbol stand for John Dee, the letters j and i not being considered different letters at the time: John Dee = Ioannis Dee.)
Dee's self-portrait on this scroll is the only image of Dee that is known with absolute certainty to date back to his lifetime. 
So  .  .  .  why King Arthur?

The legend of Arthur, "The Once and Future King," has played a significant role in more than one dynasty of Britain's monarchs.  Keeping my focus on the Tudors, we will start with the founder of that dynasty, Elizabeth's grandfather King Henry VII.

Henry VII was the last British monarch to claim the crown by conquest.  He did so by defeating King Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485.  As Henry marched into battle he did so under the white and green colors of the Tudors, but upon these colors he flew the red dragon.  This symbol had also been used by Cadwalader, from whom Henry claimed descent.  The red dragon was also a symbol of Uther and Arthur, both called Pendragon ("Chief of Dragons"), a metaphor for the High King of the Britons.

Henry's triumph at Bosworth proved to be the end of what we call the Wars of the Roses, civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York that had raged on and off for about 30 years.  Though with our hindsight we know this to have ended the Wars of the Roses, the people of the time could not have known this.  It didn't help that Henry's claim to the throne was quite tentative.  It came through his mother's side.  She was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt (who was one of the younger sons of Edward III), and this descent was through the illegitimate birth of a child to John and his mistress Katherine Swynford.  So it was a claim based on the female line, a younger son of a monarch, and an illegitimate birth, yeah, that's a bit of a stretch  .  .  .

Because of the recent unrest in the country and his own extremely tentative claim, Henry felt a need to legitimize his rule, and what better way to solidify one's claim to the throne than to be able to trace one's lineage back to King Arthur?!

Just as John Dee later drew up a genealogy for Elizabeth, Henry VII had his court genealogists draw one up for him that traced his lineage back to Camelot.  The site of Camelot was at that time considered to be Winchester, so when Henry's wife was pregnant with their first child, Henry sent her to Winchester (i.e. Camelot) give birth.  She had a son, and they gave him the name ARTHUR.

It seems this may have been tempting fate.  Prince Arthur died in 1502 at the age of 15, seven years before he would have inherited the throne.  His younger brother Henry inherited instead, becoming Henry VIII.

It seems that this theme of wanting to prove dynastic legitimacy continued throughout the Tudor line.  Henry VIII had the round table (thought in that time to be Arthur's) in Winchester's Great Hall painted with the emblem of the Tudor rose in the center and with an image of Arthur seated and surrounded by names of the Knights of the Round Table  .  .  .  and looking a great deal like Henry himself.  After all, it can't hurt to have proof of a family resemblance between one's-self and one's famous ancestor!

John Dee's work for Henry's daughter Elizabeth may have related to issues of the Tudor claim to the throne as well, but it went beyond that.  Through various sources, including a letter from the famous cartographer Gerardus Mercator under whom he had studied, Dee believed that there had existed a wide-spread British Empire under King Arthur (and other Welsh rulers from whom the Tudors were descended such as Prince Madoc).  This kingdom was supposed to have covered vast territory ranging from Greenland, Baffin Island and Labrador to New York to Frieseland to Normandy and Scandinavia.

During Elizabeth's reign, England had not gotten much of a foothold in the New World.  In 1494, just over half a century prior to her reign, the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed, splitting between Portugal and Spain all newly-discovered lands outside of Europe.  Dee's work, including a collection of manuscripts titled Brytanici Imperii Limites, was intended to show that England had prior claim by having gotten there first, with Arthur in 530 AD and Madoc in 1170 AD, both predating Christopher Columbus by quite a lot!

Dee is credited with being the first to use the term "British Empire." There is much more detail I could share, but perhaps I've written enough at this point - especially as, once I'm able to travel again, I'd like to include future posts on Dee's mathematics as used in the navigation of Drake, Raleigh, and others.  I'll just end with the comment that by the time of the reign of another British queen, that of Victoria, the British Empire had become the largest in the history of the world.  It covered so much of the globe, more than a fourth of the entire land mass of earth, that it became known as the empire on which the sun never set.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Girolamo Cardano in London

Frontispiece of Girolamo Cardano in the copy of Libelli Quinque owned by John Dee
Over the two years that I have been planning this math history sabbatical, I have been reading widely and deeply of Girolamo Cardano.  However, because I had to give up my planned time in Italy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can really only write this one post about Cardano rather than the 5 to 10 I had been planning on.  His life is SO INTERESTING that I find myself having to hold back very strongly right now from sharing all that I could about him because I yet hope to get to Italy some day and to be able to share about him bit-by-bit accompanied by pictures of locations relating to his life.

Though unable to travel in Italy, I was still able to study Cardano "on location" at least to some degree, as he did spend some time in England and does have a connection with John Dee whose life and work I was able to research to a greater extent during this abbreviated sabbatical.

And so, on to Cardano  .  .  .

Girolamo Cardano was famous throughout Europe as a physician and, in 1552, he was prevailed upon by the ailing Archbishop of St. Andrews, John Hamilton, to make the uncharacteristic move of traveling all the way to Scotland from his beloved Milan.  On his way home from Edinburgh Cardano spent time in London. Cardano was in London as a guest of the court of King Edward VI and was staying with Sir John Cheke in the area of Southwark.  
Southwark Cathedral, London

Southwark Cathedral, London
Courtiers wished Cardano's opinion on the king's health, but even more so wanted to know what Cardano saw in the stars with regard to the king's future, so Cardano was asked to draw up a horoscope of the king (which, as we have seen, can be a dangerous proposition). 
Southwark Cathedral, London
When Cardano was introduced to the king he was told what title to use, but, out of respect for the Pope, Cardano would not address the king as being defender of the faith and head of the church of England.  Because of these scruples Cardano received for his services only 100 pounds rather than the 500 to 1000 pounds he otherwise would have been paid.  Despite this, Cardano's audience with the king went well, both of them being impressed with the other.  The king asked about Cardano's writings and ideas, and Cardano wrote of Edward that he "was a wonderful boy who, I was told, had already learned seven languages.  He was as fluent in French and Latin as in his native tongue.  He was trained in logic and was extremely intelligent.  He was in his fifteenth year when I met him.  He asked me, speaking in Latin as beautifully and fluently as myself, `What new ideas does your book De Rerum Varietate contain?'"  Cardano, in his later writing in a commentary on Ptolemy, also expressed that Edward "was very open and most amiable" and that he was "so cheerful; he brought youth back to his teachers; he played the lute; he was interested in public affairs; and he was a free spirit  .  .  ."

The mid-sixteenth century was quite a time in England.  Edward's father, Henry VIII, had broken with Rome and gone through multiple wives in order to get a son to maintain the Tudor line.  Edward had two older sisters in the wings who could ascend the throne after him -- one Catholic and one Protestant.  Edward was young, only nine years old when he ascended to the throne.  According to his father's will, there was supposed to have been a Regency Council appointed for him, but somehow his uncle, Edward Seymour, became sole Lord Protector of the Realm, while his other uncle Thomas Seymour, who had married the last of Henry VIII's six wives, plotted and schemed in the background.  By the time of Cardano's visit both of these uncles had been beheaded, and the 1st Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley, whose father had been killed by the king's father, was leading the government.

If I were Cardano, I don't think I would have wanted to cast a horoscope of King Edward -- or anyone else at court for that matter!  As requested, however, Cardano did cast a horoscope for the king, and for whatever reason, through error or through expediency, he predicted a virtuous and wise reign along with a reasonably long life for Edward.  Sadly, by the next summer this brilliant and engaging young king was dead.
Dee's copy of Cardano's Libelli Quinque (with thanks to RCP London for permission to post)
But let's back up a bit and talk about other elements of Cardano's London sojourn.  While there Girolamo Cardano met John Dee, a man 26 years his junior.  Despite the age difference this visit isn't surprising given that Cardano was staying with Dee's former tutor, John Cheke, and that Cheke was closely connected with the court. Cheke had been a tutor of Prince Edward and had since been appointed Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and had served for some time as a Member of Parliament and was also, briefly, Secretary of State.  The meeting is also not surprising given Dee's familiarity with and appreciation of Cardano's work.

The pictures above and below are images from Dee's copy of Cardano's work Libelli Quinque.  From all of the marginalia and working and reworking of horoscopes it seems that Dee was using this book to teach himself how to cast horoscopes.  (I would like to have thought that Cardano may have given this book to Dee during their time together in London, but given all the work in it, it seems that Dee had this book four or five years earlier when he was studying in Louvain.)  In the picture above, you see Dee correcting or reworking Cardano's work seemingly in order to train himself, and in the picture below you see Dee doing his own work in the margin and then scratching it out and starting over.
Dee's copy of Cardano's Libelli Quinque (with thanks to RCP London for permission to post)
In the picture below you see a lot less crossing out than is the case two pictures above.  It may be that Dee was correcting a printing error here.  As you can imagine, printers of the time would have had a particularly hard time setting the type for this sort of work.  The placement of the information in each section of the square was important, so it may be that Dee was simply copying over the information to the correct position here.
Dee's copy of Cardano's Libelli Quinque (with thanks to RCP London for permission to post)
Cardano and Dee discussed many things in their time together -- among other topics, they discussed the magical properties of a gem that they were inspecting, and they also talked together of a perpetual motion machine.  Certainly they must have discussed astrology -- perhaps also mathematics.  If there were ever conversations in this world that I would like to have overheard, the conversations between these two men would certainly be near the top of my list!
Historical Plaque at Southwark Cathedral, London
In 1552, when Cardano was in London, the structure that is now Southwark Cathedral was present and had the role of a parish church at that time.  Though certainly there has been tremendous change to all of London in the last 468 years, including renovations or additions to this church, its location and at least some of its features would have been familiar to Cardano and Dee.  It is, after all, the oldest gothic church building in London.  Shakespeare, who was a parishioner here, was a close contemporary of theirs (and Shakespeare may have modeled the magician Prospero in his play The Tempest after John Dee).
Southward Cathedral, London
The pictures above and below were taken from the same spot, just looking in different directions.  Southwark Cathedral, above, is very close to the Thames, below.
Facing away from the cathedral and towards the Thames
The focus of this post is Cardano, but as I fear it will be at least a year before I can continue my travels, I want to point out that the waterfront below contains a quotation from Sir Walter Raleigh, "There are two things scarce matched in the universe, the sun in its heaven and the Thames upon the earth."  Dee was an adviser to the explorers, including Raleigh, under Queen Elizabeth I in the quest for empire, but that is another story for another day (or another year).
The Thames waterfront, with Raleigh quote, as seen from Southwark Cathedral
Just to put it all in context I've taken a short video showing the area in the pictures above.  Thank you for following me in my math travels -- this was as far as I was able to journey, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I sure hope to be back with more content in a year!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Florence Nightingale Shout Out

Once again I'm jumping a few hundred years out my target century, but I just feel a need to give a shout out to Florence Nightingale.  Until recently I hadn't known her to be connected to mathematics in any way, but a colleague of mine who's a statistician mentioned Nightingale to me as someone who had done statistical work.  I had always thought of her as the lady with the lamp, a nurse who tended, throughout the night, to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War.  She was that, of course, but I'm learning that she did so much else as well, including being a pioneer in the visualization of statistical data.  Her statistical work well-illustrated the need for sanitary reform in military hospitals. I haven't really studied her life or her work, so this post is really just a quick shout out.

 The two images above are treasures of the British Library which are on display in their exhibition room.  I hadn't known these were there and was surprised to come across them.  They are notes in her own hand of causes of death of soldiers in the Crimean War from April 1854 to March 1856.  Ten times as many soldiers died of preventable illnesses due to the appalling sanitary conditions in the field hospitals than died of war wounds.   In the image above containing diagrams that look like pie charts the area in blue represents deaths among soldiers from communicable diseases, the red represents deaths from war wounds, and the black represents death from other causes.

 Though she isn't part of the focus of my studies, I noticed while planning that a museum dedicated to her was almost directly across the street from the Lambeth Palace Library, where I had planned to do some archival reading related to John Napier.  I wanted to visit and to learn more about her life and work, but, as with so many other things on this trip, I missed it by a day!
The glare in my picture makes it pretty hard to read what the museum has posted, but if you look closely you'll see that this year marks the 200th anniversary of her birth and states, in this time of pandemic, " . . . as Florence said, 'Wash your hands.'"
As I walked to the British Library one day, I noticed someone selling magazines on the street.  I walked past initially, but this cover caught my attention.  The life and work of Florence Nightingale is certainly a timely topic!

I do want to share what little more I know of her life and her mathematical background, but beyond that I'll direct you to the Wikipedia article on her for more about her life and to the MacTutor mathematical biography of her for more on her mathematics.  As with other women of the 19th-century that I have posted about on this blog, she did have an interest in mathematics as a child and had to fight in order to be allowed to study it.  Unlike Sophie Germain, Mary Fairfax Somerville, and Sonya Kovalevkaya, her parents did relent and provided her with a mathematics tutor.  This tutor was none other than James Joseph Sylvester.  Nightingale later tutored others in mathematics before becoming a nurse.

It was not only the study of mathematics that she had to fight for but also becoming a nurse.  She had been born into a wealthy family, but she felt a calling from God to serve others through nursing.  In those days, however, being a nurse was not a respectable pursuit.  Because it involved touching bodies it was considered to be in the same category as being a sex worker.  But she wasn't one to be dissuaded from her interests or her calling and she pushed forward to do what she felt she needed to do.  In this way she saved thousands of lives, became the founder of modern nursing, and, I believe, has benefited us all.

Monday, March 30, 2020

John Dee - Walking a Fine Line

Dee's copy of Cardano's Libelli Quinque (thanks to RCP London for permission to post)
There were many fine lines that "my" three mathematicians (Cardano, Napier, and Dee) had to walk, due to the fact that the 16th century was a time of religious upheaval as well as a time when science and magic were not well-distinguished.  Astrology especially seemed to be valued or censured depending on the whim of a given magistrate or ruler on any given day.  And it is John Dee and his astrology that I will focus on in this post, though I could address the situations of all three here and also pull in religion, alchemy, and mathematics alongside astrology.

The book in the photo above was written by Cardano and owned by Dee, and it seems that Dee had this book as early as 1547 or 1548 when he was studying in Louvain in the Low Countries.  Dee worked through this book so diligently that there is almost no page that is unmarked.  Given what seem to be reworkings and corrections it may very well be that he was using this book to teach himself to do genitures (the horoscopes in the square format that you see in the image above).

Dee's father had worked hard at moving up in society both financially and in proximity to the court so that he could provide his son with an education and with connections.  The elder Dee's fortunes fell spectacularly in 1553 and left John without the inheritance he should have had to sustain him, but his reputation as a scholar and his connections did hold up and provide him with patronage from the monarch (at times).  A short recap from a previous post: King Henry VIII appointed John Dee as a Junior Founding Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.  Dee's tutor, John Cheke, from his time as a student at St. John's College had also been tutor to Prince Edward, and once Edward became king, Cheke was a close aide to the king.  Cheke brought John Dee into the upper echelons of the court where he was presented to the king.  Dee made a gift to the king of two astronomical works that he had written while in Louvain, and the king provided Dee a (small) patronage.
Looking from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 2016 to where Greenwich Palace would have stood in the 1500s.
Sadly, King Edward VI died in 1553 at the age of 15.  His older sister Mary (aka "Bloody Mary") ascended the throne.  Under her, in 1555, Dee was arrested for casting horoscopes of Mary, of her husband Philip, and of  her sister Princess Elizabeth.  He was charged with "calculating, conjuring, and witch-craft."  He was initially imprisoned at Hampton Court Palace (portions of which that date to the Tudor era are shown in the five pictures below).
Hampton Court Palace (2016)
Hampton Court Palace (2016)
Hampton Court Palace (2016)
Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace (2016)
The charge against Dee was increased to that of treason, and he was then sent on to the Tower of London for trial by the Privy Council.  Though I haven't been able to find details of exactly where he was held in Hampton Court or in the Tower or how he was transported, it makes sense that he could have been taken by boat down the Thames from Hampton Court to the Tower, perhaps even through Traitor's Gate.  Travel then was by river as much as possible, which was far easier and far safer than overland travel.
The Thames passing Hampton Court Palace (2016)

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

Tower of London
Dee eventually confessed  to whatever the Privy Council wanted to hear and was cleared of charges of treason, but he was then turned over the "Bloody" Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London to be tried to for his religious beliefs.  He was now imprisoned at Bonner's palace, which was located among the buttresses of the southwest side of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  He may have been held in the palace's coal house.  Dee had been connected with Edward VI's protestant court, and to have been handed over to Bonner for religious questioning was a very dire situation indeed.  It was later written of Bonner by protestant author John Foxe:

"This cannibal in three years space three hundred martyrs slew
They were his food, he loved so blood, he spared none he knew."

St. Paul's Cathedral - different structure than in Dee's day but the same site
We don't know details of his questioning, what we do know is that Dee not only survived but, quite surprisingly, became closely attached to Bonner.  The next we know of Dee is that he has become ordained into the Catholic clergy and was then a chaplain at St. Paul's under Bonner, in a position to interrogate others and closely attached to Bonner's household.  Dee called Bonner his "singular friend" and remained committed to him even after Elizabeth had taken the throne and England was once again a Protestant nation, a time at which Bonner was stripped of his honors and held in Marshalsea Prison where he died. This association was to impact Dee the rest of his life and keep him from gaining appointments he might otherwise have had.

During his time of imprisonment, one book that Dee had with him was the Mathemalogium of Andreas Alexander.  Dee worked through this book meticulously, and obviously had time to do so, as his handwriting is much neater and easier to read than his writing in other books he owned.  At the end of the book he writes the date and mentions Reverend Father Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London as "my singular friend." (My thanks to the Royal College of Physicians in London for permission to post the following three pictures.)
Dee's Marginalia in Alexander's Mathemalogium - note "manicule" (pointing hand) on the left.
Last page of Dee's copy of Mathemalogium - with Bonner note
"singularis amici mei"
Despite having taken holy orders in the Catholic Church under Bonner, and despite having been arrested by Queen Mary for his astrological work, John Dee was appointed by Robert Dudley to use his astrological knowledge in order to select an auspicious date for Protestant Elizabeth's coronation.  (So what's up here?!  Is astrology OK or not? Is it science or is it sorcery?  You may be requested by the court to use it, or you may be arrested, perhaps executed for doing so!)  John Dee took on the task and set the date of January 15, 1559.  On that date, chosen astrologically by Dee, Elizabeth was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey.  Given her long and glorious reign, perhaps he was able to read the stars aright.
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey
Dee was an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I.  He is credited with having coined the phrase "British Empire," and he was high in Elizabeth's favor.  But he never received an official position at court, which he was obviously holding out for, having been offered positions at the court of the French king and at the court of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.  She had promised to double the pension that her brother Edward had provided to Dee, but this never happened.  They were close enough that she visited him at his house at Mortlake (though never went inside) and that she called on him in questions of empire, navigation, alchemy, and signs in the heavens, and he may have done some spying for her during some of his travels on the continent.

One example of their interactions dates to 1577 when he was called upon to go to Windsor Castle in order to give advice about navigation and at which time he made the astonishing proposal that England should challenged Spain's claims to the New World.  One element of this is that Dee believed that King Arthur had had colonies in the New World, and therefore Elizabeth had a right to reclaim this lost British Empire.
Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle -  ER standing for Elizabeth Regina

Windsor Castle -  ER standing for Elizabeth Regina

Windsor Castle
But I need to bring this back around to his astrological work.  While in Windsor he was also expected to elucidate the meaning of a comet that was causing hysteria throughout Europe.  Those at court feared it might be an ill omen for the queen.   Elizabeth herself asked Dee to speak to her of it.  Though his words are not recorded, it is evident that he reassured her and encouraged her not to fear it.  After this conversation, though Elizabeth's courtiers warned her to look away from the comet, she looked directly at it, saying, "Iacta est alea" or "The die is cast."  It may be that Dee had not only told her that the comet did not bode harm to her but rather was an omen of her rise among the rulers of Europe.

Though Queen Elizabeth I provided gifts to Dee from time to time, she never did appoint him to an official position at court nor provide him the pension she had promised.  Despite the fact that astrology and alchemy were standard practices at the time, and despite the fact that Elizabeth herself dabbled in alchemy and requested astrologically-based advice from Dee, it seems Dee ended up a bit too far to the "occult" side of the fine line he was walking - especially once he began to practice "angel magic" and took on as his scryer Edward Kelley.  Because of his increasingly dark reputation in later life (whether deserved or not) Elizabeth found it necessary to distance herself from Dee, and this great scholar, once renowned not only in England but throughout Europe, ended up dying in poverty and obscurity.