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Digges, Thomas

1. Dates
Born: Kent (probably Wotton, near Canterbury), 1545 or 46
Died: London, 24 Aug. 1595
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 50
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry, Scientist
Leonard Digges, who is also in this catalogue, was from an old, established family of Kent.
Clearly wealthy. However, when Thomas Digges was less than ten his father was attainted for treason in the Wyatt rebellion against Mary and his estate confiscated. After the accession of Elizabeth, Digges was able to reclaim the estate of his now dead father. It is simply not clear what one can say about the economic circumstances in which he was reared.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
The DNB statement about Digges at Cambridge confuses him with another, earlier Digges. Wood asserts that Digges studied at Oxford. There is no proof that he was ever at either university.
By Digges's own statement he received his mathematical education first from his father and then from Dee.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Astronomy
Subordinate: Cartography, Engineering, Optics
Pantometria, 1571; it is impossible to separate Thomas Digges' part of this work on surveying and mapping from that of his father. The work includes a treatise on the geometric solids that is certainly by Thomas Digges.
Alae seu scalae mathematicae, 1573, with observations of the new star, and trigonometric theorems useful for determining parallax. Digges' observations of the new star established him as one of the ablest observers of his time.
Digges became the leader of the early English Copernicans. He attached "A Perfit Description of the Caelestial Orbes," a Copernican statement, to his republication of his father's Prognotication, 1576. In 1579 (Stratioticos) Digges said that he was working on a commentary on Copernicus.
Stratioticos, 1579, on military organization, including enough mathematics for a soldier and a discussion of ballistics that was based on his father's earlier work. This was the first serious study of ballistics in England.
Like his father Digges was skilled in so-called "perspective glasses."
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means
Secondary: Military
Digges inherited wealth. He succeeded in reclaiming his father's estate. It is significant that he was a Member of Parliament in 1572 and 1584.
Muster-master-general of English force in Netherlands, 1586-94.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Aristrocrat
Digges dedicated Pantometria, 1571, to Nicholas Bacon.
He dedicated Alae seu scalae mathematicae, 1573, to Lord Burghley.
He was made muster-master-general through the influence of the Earl of Leicester, to whom he dedicated Stratioticos, 1579. Digges later wrote a defense of Leicester's relief of Sluse in the Netherland's campaign.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Military Engineering, Cartography, Navigation
He was involved in the plans for the repair of Dover Harbor, in charge of fortification, in 1582. He wrote extensively on surveying, and published a plan of Dover Castle, town, and harbor in 1581.
Digges was interested in the application of mathematics in military as his publications suggest. In the Preface to Stratioticos he mentioned a Treatise of the Arte of Navigation, a Briefe Treatise of Architecture Nauticall, a Treatise of Great Artillerie, and a Treatise of Fortification, all in preparation and intended for publication but delayed by the law suits in which Digges was tied up.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: He got his mathematical training from his father and John Dee. He was a intimate friend and co-worker of Dee. Dee designed a huge radius astronomicus for him to observe the new star of 1572.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 5, 976-8. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 5, 239.
  2. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 1, 414-15, 636-9.
  3. Louise Diehl Patterson, "Leonard and Thomas Digges. Biographical Notes," Isis, 42 (1951), 120-1.
  4. _____, "The Date of Birth of Thomas Digges," Isis, 43 (1952), 124-5.
  5. Francis R. Johnson, "Thomas Digges," Times Literary Supplement, 5 April 1934, p. 244.
  6. Francis R. Johnson and S.V. Larkey, "Thomas Digges, the Copernican System, and the Idea of the Infinity of the Universe in 1576," Huntington Library Bulletin, No. 5 (April 1934), 69-117.
  7. E.G.R. Taylor, Mathematical practioners of Tudor and Stuart England, (Cambridge, 1954), p. 175. QA27. G7T28
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England, (Baltimore, 1937).
  2. _____, "The Influence of Thomas Digges on the Progress of Modern Astronomy in 16th Century Englsnd," Osiris, 1 (1936), 390-410.
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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