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Digges, Leonard

1. Dates
Born: Digges Court, near Canterbury, Kent, c.1520 Digges was born prior to 1530-1, when he was listed in a visitation of Kent. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1537.
Died: England, c.1559
Dateinfo: Both Dates Uncertain
Lifespan: 39
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
James Digges of Digges Court, Barnham, Kent, was from an ancient family of Kent.
Clearly wealthy.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
May have attended a University, but no real evidence and certainly no proof. Biographia britannica says University College, Oxford, and Wood says he was at Oxford but the college is not known. It seems fairly certain that he took no degree if indeed he did attend a university.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Leonard Digges participated in Wyatt's rebellion against Mary. From what little I know of it, the rebellion was as much against Spanish interference as against Catholicism, and I have found no statement whatever about Digges' motivation.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Crt Secondary: Opt, Astronomy
Subordinate: It Is Difficult To Establish Digges'S Scientific Productions precisely because it was mostly published by his son, Thomas Digges, with his own work mixed in. However, Tectonicon, 1556, a surveying manual emphasizing practical mathematics, was all his.
Thomas Digges published Pantometria (surveying and cartography), 1571, and Stratioticos (military engineering), 1579, both as essentially his father's work.
In Pantometria, Thomas Digges described his father's skill in optics.
Digges' Prognostication, first published in 1553, apparently to earn money after his estate was attainted for treason, and then reprinted frequently until 1605, was an almanac with, among other things, astronomical information, for example on how to determine the hour at night from the stars, and information about instruments for observation.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means
Secondary: Publishing
Inherited wealth from his ancient and considerable family, enough to give him ample means and leisure.
He was attainted for treason as a result of Wyatt's rebellion, lost his estate, and in the last years of his life apparently tried to support himself partly through publication.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
Digges dedicated Prognostication of Right Good Effect, 1555, to Lord Clinton, later the Earl of Lincoln, who apparently saved Digges from execution for his participation in Wyatt's revellion under Mary.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Cartography, Navigation, Military Engineering, Instruments, Architecture
Applied mathematics to surveying, navigation and gunnery. He was known as an architect and as a master of fortification. He invented the instrument now called the theodolite.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Friendship with Dee, and influence on his son, Thomas Digges.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 5, 975. Much information has been learned since this was written; it is not entirely reliable.
  2. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 5, 238.
  3. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 1, 414-15. E.G.R. Taylor, Mathematical practioners of Tudor and Stuart England, (Cambridge, 1954), pp. 166-7. QA27. G7T28 Edmond R. Kiely, Surveying Instruments, (New York, 1947).
  4. Louise Diehl Patterson, "Leonard and Thomas Digges. Biographical Notes," Isis, 42 (1951), 120-1.
  5. Francis R. Johnson, "Thomas Digges," Times Literary Supplement, 5 April 1934, p. 244.
  6. E.F. Bosanquet, "Leonard Digges and his Books," Proceedings of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1 (1922-6), 247-52.
  7. _____, "English Printed Almanacks and Prognostications: Corrigenda and Addenda," The Library, 4th ser., 8 (1928), 456-77.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. A.W. Richeson, English Land Measuring to 1800, (Cambridge, MA., 1967). Despite the number of items in the bibliography, there is a paucity of information about the important Digges family.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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