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!

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