Smith, Digges, and Dee

Learning by listening

During the early years with Smith, apart from his more or less formal lessons, Edward would have learned a great deal from conversations carried on between his tutor and members of his scholarly circle.  With so many of their friends fled the country or forced into silence and inactivity by the Catholic regime and therefore understandably cautious about writing anything in a letter or manuscript that could be used against them, the only safe means for Smith and his former students and colleagues to communicate would have been through private conversation in each others’s homes, surrounded by trusted family members and staff. Following the six brief but heady years of the Edwardian Reformation, the Marian regime may have forced reformers like Smith and his friends into silence, but it was a silence filled with study, deep thought, and intense communication.

With Ankerwyke so centrally located and easily reached via the river from London, Windsor, and Oxford, [map] many of these conversations would surely have taken place in Smith’s home.  Recalling his own learning processes and aware that he was responsible for preparing the little Viscount for his life as a national leader, Smith would have allowed the boy to listen, that is, as long as the talk was about matters fit for youngster’s ears.  Edward would soon have learned that the less obvious he was, the less likely he was to be sent off to bed.

New information about the heavens from discoveries in optics came from conversations with Leonard Digges, Smith’s “cousin german,” or from John Dee, whose mother lived just down the river at Mortlake.  From William Cecil, who lived near Dee, came information on metalurgical experiments in England and abroad.  From friends like Richard Hakkluyt, Richard Eden, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert came information on travels to the far corners of the earth.  From his printer friends from his days as Principal Secretary, men like George Bishop, William Harrison and his own son-in-law Gabriel Cawood, came recently published books, news of new titles and translations of important ancient and foreign texts.

Smith would have been consumed with excitement over information gleaned from the ancient works that were still being recovered from monastery librariesby by antiquarians like John Leland and John Bale, and examined and translated by scholars like Lawrence Nowell, Matthew Parker, Richard Eden, and Arthur Golding, and, again, the polymath John Dee.  All these would have touched to a greater or lesser extent the life and thought of Edward’s tutor, and so potentially of de Vere as well.

Thomas and Leonard Digges

One youth with whom Edward probably became acquainted during these early years was the future mathematician and scientist Thomas Digges. Seven years his senior, young Digges was also being taught privately, not by a tutor but by his father, the scientist Leonard Digges, mathematician, astronomer, and almost certainly creator of an early telescope (See Hamlet’s Cosmology, 35).  That Smith and Digges Sr. were known to each other and, though nothing remains to prove it, were colleagues is strongly suggested by their common interests in math and science, particularly astronomy and astrology.  However, the likelihood that they knew each other and met frequently during this period, can be increased to certainty due to the fact that Smith’s wife, Philippa Wilford, and Digges’s wife, Brigitte Wilford, were first cousins (their fathers were brothers).  Family connections were all important in those days, and that Philippa was (probably) an only daughter makes it even more likely that she would be eager for visits with a female cousin only four years apart from her in age.  As the novels of Jane Austen reveal, family visits in the days of horseback travel and great country estates could last anywhere from a week to several months.

The Digges family lived in Wootton, Kent, just southeast of London, a journey of roughly fifty-five miles to or from Ankerwycke.  This would have been strenuous as a one-day journey by horseback, but made easy if broken up by another visit on the way, perhaps to spend some time with William Cecil who, like Smith and Digges, was cooling his heels in semi-retirement at his country estate of Wimbledon, roughly midway between Wooten and Ankerwycke.  [map]   As Cecil’s later projects and his patronage of scientists like Thomas Digges reveal, he too was interested in new ideas and developments in science.  In addition he had, not one, but three boys in his care that needed educating, his own son Thomas plus wards Arthur Hall (of Grantham) and John Stanhope (nephew of the widowed Countess of Somerset), all three about the same age as young Digges.

This was the period when Leonard Digges Sr. was doing his most important work, publishing in 1553, 1554, and 1555 the Prognostications that brought him public renown.  Among the first scientific works written in English, these contained

useful rules and tables for astronomy and astrology . . ; calendar dates of moveable feasts for several years to come; tables of the Moon’s motion; a description of how to tell the time during day or night; descriptions of meteorological phenomena and an account of their causes; and even tables for bloodletting, computed––as was then customary––for propitious astrological times. The book also contained a short account of the Universe according to the traditional system of Ptolemy, with tables of the dimensions of the planets and their orbits. . . . (Colin Ronan)

Leonard Digges’s most revolutionary work, however, remained in manuscript, not to be published (by his son) until long after his death.  Already in trouble with the Marian regime due to his participation in Wyatt’s rebellion (1554), Digges Sr. would not have dared to publish a work that portrayed the heavens in a manner abhorent to the Catholic regime.  Nor was Digges the only family member to be in trouble.  James and Thomas Wilford, brothers of his wife Brigitte and cousins of Smith’s wife Philippa had both joined the Protestant exodus following Mary’s accession and were living in exile in Germany.

Oxford’s connections with the Digges family may have extended throughout his lifetime. It was Thomas Digges’s son, Leonard Digges, Jr., who wrote dedicatory poems in the First, Second, and Third of the Shakespeare folios.  Leonard Jr.’s verses are among the bits of evidence that lead us to believe that Oxford was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey).  To make things even more interesting, it was Leonard Jr.’s step-father, Thomas Russell, who acted as overseer of William of Stratford’s will.

John Dee’s library

Another stop on the route between Wooten and Ankerwycke may have been to visit John Dee at Mortlake, at the home of his mother, walking distance from the Parsonage.  For travellers coming by way of the river, the path to Cecil’s house would require landing at Mortlake.  Dee would not inherit the house until 1565, but he may well have already begun to collect the library there for which he would be famous in later years.  If so, it’s certain that Leonard Digges, and his son Thomas, would have found ways to visit, both to talk with Dee and to investigate additions to the library he was collecting from the same sources that Cecil and Matthew Parker were acquiring theirs.  Dee was one of Leonard Digges closest friends, into whose care he placed his son in his will.

Among the ultimately vast collection of books and manuscripts at Mortlake Dee is known to have had several texts by the medieval wizard/scientist Roger Bacon.  Peter Usher and others suggest that it was in Dee’s library that Leonard Digges found references in Bacon’s Opus Majus (c.1267) to lenses and how they could “cause the sun, moon and stars in appearance to descend here below,” inspiring Digges to construct a “perspective glass” [telescope] for himself, years before Galileo. [Shakespeare's Astronomy, p. 5].  Not long after (1559), when Leonard Digges was dying, it was to Dee, then in his thirties, that he entrusted Thomas’s further education and, possibly, his wardship.  As an adult, Thomas Digges would refer to Dee as his “revered second mathematical father,” while Dee termed Digges “my most worthy mathematical heir.”

Smith and Dee would have known each other from Cambridge, Dee having enrolled at age 15 at St. John’s just before Smith’s return from Italy.  That they formed a relationship seems clear from Smith’s status as Greek Orator, and the fact that four years later, Dee was elected as under-reader in Greek at the newly-formed Trinity College, receiving his Masters in 1548, the year after Smith left for Court. We know from Dee’s own statement that he was acquainted with Edward de Vere (Ward 50), a connection more likely formed through their common association with Smith than through any other means.

Other connections

Among the visitors to Ankerwycke during these years may also have been the young Greek and Latin scholar, Bartholomew Clerke (1537-1590).  Clerke and Smith would have known each other from Eton, where, in 1550, when 13-year-old Bartholomew enrolled, Smith was Provost. Everyone at Eton would have known everyone else, as the enrollment at that time was only 70 (with possibly 30 more living off campus).  Smith would certainly have taken notice of a bright student like Clerke.  By 1554, when de Vere joined Smith, Clerke was at Cambridge, far to the northeast of Ankerwycke, yet in Strype’s biography of Matthew Parker, it’s asserted that Clerke was “dear to” Oxford to whom he “seemed to have been” tutor at one time (2.183).

If Bartholomew Clerke ever did act as Edward’s tutor, the most likely time would have been during the five months that de Vere was enrolled at Queens’ College (November 1558-March 1559), since Clerke was on campus and a teaching fellow at that time.  In his twenties, Oxford would write an introduction to Clerke’s Latin translation of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano. In polished Latin, it may have been his best introduction to the French and Italian literati during his year in Europe in 1575.  Oxford could have become familiar with Castiglione’s best-seller while with Smith, since it’s on his library list, in the original Italian.

Other scholars and former students who might have visited Smith during the period that Edward was living with him include his uncle, Arthur Golding, his mother’s younger half-brother, known later for his many translations, mostly of serious tracts by the Swiss reform community.  Golding was a student at Cambridge until 1553, and would continue as a member of the community of Greek and Latin scholars in which Smith was a central figure.

Another likely visitor would have been the geographer Richard Eden (1520-1576).  Smith’s friend and former student from his Cambridge days (Dewar 139). Eden’s translation of the Italian geographer, Peter Martyr, The Decades of the New World, was another important book published during this period (1555). It too appears on Smith’s library list.  According to the DNB, it was Eden’s relationship with Smith that led to his subsequent career as a translator and geographer.

Friends and associates still in England during this period included other Cambridge associates, among them Walter Haddon, who followed Smith’s lead into the study of Civil Law, and John Cheke, Smith’s partner in championing the Erasmian pronunciation of Greek at Cambridge.  After fleeing to Germany when Mary took the throne, Cheke was back in London in 1556-7.  Not long after Smith lost his post at Court, it was with Cheke that the renowned Italian mathematician, astrologer, and philosopherJerome Cardan stayed during his visit to the English Court.

Smith would not have missed an opportunity to meet and chat (in Latin) with the famous astrologer in person, so much a man after his own heart. They may have met during Smith’s time in Padua (1540-42), but if not (since Cardan’s biography places him in Pavia or Milan at this time) Smith would certainly have heard about him, as by then Cardan was already well known at the universities for his groundbreaking work in mathematics.  Smith’s library list includes several of Cardan’s books.

Others personally known to Smith whom he may have introduced or commented on to de Vere include Sir John Perrot, whom Smith would have known from early days at the Court of Henry the Eighth and later at Somerset House. [ ] Perrot was also well acquainted with de Vere’s father as they lived together at the home of Sir William Paulet at some point during the mid-1540s (ODNB).  He would also have known Sir William Cecil’s close friend William Brooke, later Baron Cobham, as Brooke had enrolled at Queens’ College during Smith’s tenure.  He would also have been close to Sir John Harington, Sr. (father of one of the first courtiers to publish under his own name) for Smith and he had spent several weeks in the Tower following their arrest as members of Somerset’s establishment, weeks Smith devoted to translating the Psalms and Harington to translating Cicero.

One of the primary purposes of this study is to establish grounds for connections among the artists, scholars, scientists, and their patrons, connections that help determine who wrote what.  It can’t be emphasized too strongly that the worlds of mid-sixteenth-century English scholarship, particularly of language and science, literature, and the worlds of Court and Reformation politics were all so small and so interrelated that everyone involved would have been acquainted.  All we propose is that their relationships went well beyond mere acquaintance.

For more on Oxford’s tutor read Eight Years with Smith.
For more on the books that influenced him, read  Smith’s Library.


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