Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Digges, Thomas
DIGGES, THOMAS (d. 1595), mathematician, son of Leonard Digges (d. 1571) [q. v.], by his wife, Bridget, daughter of Thomas Wilford, esq., was born in Kent, probably at the residence of his father. He says he spent his youngest years, even from his cradle, in the study of the liberal sciences. Wood's statement that he received his education at Oxford appears to be wholly without foundation. He matriculated in the university of Cambridge, as a pensioner of Queens' College, in May 1546, proceeded B.A. in 1550–1, and commenced M.A. in 1557 (Cooper, Athenæ Cantab. ii. 184). He became very proficient in mathematical and military matters, having spent many years ‘in reducing the sciences mathematical from demonstrative contemplations to experimental actions,’ in which he was aided by his father's observations, and by conferences with the rarest soldiers of his time. His intimacy with Dr. John Dee was doubtless of considerable advantage to him. In a letter written in December 1573 Dee styles him ‘charissimus mihi juvenis, mathematicusque meus dignissimus hæres’ (Addit. MS. 5867, f. 25).
He sat for Wallingford in the parliament which met 8 May 1572. On 14 April 1582 the privy council informed the commissioners of Dover Haven that they had appointed Sir William Wynter, Digges, and Burroughs to confer with the commissioners on the choice of a plan for the repair of the harbour, adding that Digges was to be overseer of the works and fortifications. A week later the commissioners wrote to the council that after consultation they had finally resolved on a ‘platt’ for the making of a perfect and safe harbour, and had chosen officers to execute it. Digges was engaged on the works at Dover for several years. In the parliament which assembled 23 Nov. 1585 he represented the town of Southampton. In 1586 he was, through the influence of the Earl of Leicester, made muster-master-general of the English forces in the Netherlands (Stratioticos, ed. 1590, p. 237). In that capacity he seems to have made strenuous exertions, and to have evinced marked ability. Writing from London to Lord Burghley on 2 May 1590 he says: ‘I am forced to beseech your favour that I may have my pay so long forborn, after others by whom her majesty has been damaged are fully paid or overpaid, whereas I, that never increased her charge one penny, but have saved her many thousands, am yet unsatisfied by 1,000l., and have for want thereof received such hindrance that I had better have accepted a moiety than my full due now.’ In or about 1590 the queen issued a commission to Richard Greynevile of Stow, Cornwall, Piers Edgecombe, Digges, and others, authorising them to fit out and equip a fleet for the discovery of lands in the antarctic seas, and especially to the dominions of the great ‘Cam of Cathaia.’ Digges was discharged from the office of muster-master-general of her majesty's forces in the Low Countries on 15 March 1593–4, when, as he shortly afterwards complained to the council, the entire moiety of his entertainment, and four or five months of his ordinary imprest, were detained by the treasurer at war. He died in London on 24 Aug. 1595, and was buried in the chancel of the church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, where a monument was erected to his memory with an inscription which describes him as ‘a man zealously affected to true religion, wise, discreete, courteous, faithfull to his friends, and of rare knowledge in geometrie, astrologie, and other mathematical sciences’ (Stowe, Survey of London, ed. 1720, i. 71, 72).
He married Agnes, daughter of Sir William [Warham?] St. Leger, knight, and of Ursula his wife, daughter of George Neville, lord Abergavenny, and had issue, Sir Dudley Digges [q. v.], Leonard Digges the younger [q. v.], Margaret, and Ursula (who were alive at the date of his decease), besides William and Mary, who died young.
Tycho Brahe had a high opinion of Digges's mathematical talents (Halliwell, Letters illustrative of the Progress of Science in England, p. 33). John Davis, in his ‘Seaman's Secrets’ (1594), speaking of English mathematical ability, asks ‘What strangers may be compared with M. Thomas Digges, esquire, our countryman, the great master of archmastrie? and for theoretical speculations and most cunning calculation, M. Dee and M. Thomas Heriotts are hardly to be matched.’ Mr. Halliwell observes: ‘Thomas Digges ranks among the first English mathematicians of the sixteenth century. Although he made no great addition to science, yet his writings tended more to its cultivation than perhaps all those of other writers on the same subjects put together.’
His works are:
- ‘A Geometrical Practise, named Pantometria, divided into three Bookes, Longimetra, Planimetra, and Steriometria, containing Rules manifolde for mensuration of all lines, Superficies, and Solides … framed by Leonard Digges, lately finished by Thomas Digges his sonne. Who hath also thereunto adjoyned a Mathematicall treatise of the five regulare Platonicall bodies and their Metamorphosis or transformation into five other equilater unifoorme solides Geometricall, of his owne invention, hitherto not mentioned by any Geometricians,’ Lond. 1571, 4to; 2nd edition, ‘with sundrie additions,’ Lond. 1591, fol. Dedicated to Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper.
- Epistle to the reader of John Dee's ‘Parallacticæ Commentationis Praxeosq. Nucleus quidam,’ 1573.
- ‘Alæ seu Scalæ Mathematicæ, quibus visibilium remotissima Cælorum Theatra conscendi, et Planetarum omnium itinera novis et inauditis Methodis explorari: tùm huius portentosi Syderis in Mundi Boreali plaga insolito fulgore coruscantis, Distantia et Magnitudo immensa, Situsq. protinùs tremendus indagari, Deiq. stupendum ostentum, Terricolis expositum, cognosci liquidissimè possit,’ Lond. 1573, 1581, 4to. Dedicated to Lord Burghley, by whose orders he wrote the treatise.
- ‘A Prognostication … contayning … rules to judge the Weather by the Sunne, Moone, Stars … with a briefe judgement for ever, of Plenty, Lacke, Sickenes, Dearth, Warres, &c., opening also many natural causes worthy to be knowen,’ published by Leonard Digges, and corrected and augmented by his son Thomas, Lond. 1578, 4to. Other editions, 1596 and 1605.
- ‘An Arithmeticall Militare Treatise, named Stratioticos: Compendiously teaching the Science of Numbers. … Together with the Moderne Militare Discipline, Offices, Lawes, and Dueties in every wel governed Campe and Armie to be observed. Long since attempted by Leonard Digges. Augmented, digested, and lately finished by Thomas Digges. Whereto he hath also adjoyned certaine Questions of great Ordinaunce,’ Lond. 1579, 1590, 4to. Dedicated to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. To the second edition is appended ‘A briefe and true Report of the Proceedings of the Earle of Leycestre, for the Reliefe of the Towne of Sluce, from his arrival at Vlishing, about the end of June 1587, until the Surrendrie thereof 26 Julii next ensuing. Whereby it shall plainelie appeare his Excellencie was not in anie Fault for the Losse of that Towne.’ Robert Norton, gunner, published at London in 1624 a treatise ‘Of the Art of Great Artillery, viz. the explanation of the Definitions and Questions, pronounced and propounded by Thomas Digges, in his Stratiaticos and Pantometria, concerning great Ordinance, and his Theorems thereupon.’
- ‘England's Defence: A Treatise concerning Invasion; or a brief discourse of what orders were best for the repulsing of foreign enemies, if at any time they should invade us by sea in Kent or elsewhere,’ at the end of the second edition of ‘Stratioticos,’ and Lond. 1686, fol.
- Plan of Dover Castle, Town, and Harbour, drawn in 1581, by, or for the use of, Thomas Digges. Copy in Addit. MS. 11815.
- ‘A briefe discourse declaringe how honorable and profitable to youre most excellent majestie … the making of Dover Haven shalbe, and in what sorte … the same may be accomplyshed.’ About 1582. Printed by T. W. Wrighte, M.A., in ‘Archæologia,’ xi. 212–54, from a manuscript bequeathed to the Society of Antiquaries by John Thorpe.
- ‘Letter to the Earl of Leicester, with a Platt of military Ordnance for the Army he is to conduct into the Low Countries …’ Harleian MS. 6993, art. 49.
- ‘Instructio exercitus apud Belgas,’ 1586, MS.
- An augmented edition of his father's ‘Boke named Tectonicon,’ Lond. 1592, 4to, and again in 1605, 1614, 1625, 1630, 1634, 1637, 1647, 1656.
- ‘Perfect description of the celestial orbs, according to the most antient doctrine of the Pythagoreans,’ Lond. 1592, 4to.
- ‘Foure Paradoxes, or politique Discourses; two concerning militarie Discipline wrote long since by Thomas Digges; two of the Worthinesse of War and Warriors. By Dudley Digges his sonne,’ Lond. 1604, 4to.
- ‘Nova Corpora regularia seu quinque corporum regularium simplicium in quinque alia regularia composita metamorphosis inventa ante annos 60 a T. Diggseio … jam, problematibus additis nonnullis, demonstrata a Nepote,’ Lond. 1634, 4to.
Besides the above works he had begun the following, with the intention of completing and publishing them, ‘had not the infernall furies, envying such his felicitie and happie societie with his mathematical muses, for many yeares so tormented him with lawe-brables, that he hath bene enforced to discontinue those his delectable studies.’
- ‘A Treatise of the Arte of Navigation.’
- ‘A Treatise of Architecture Nauticall.’
- ‘Commentaries upon the Revolutions of Copernicus.’
- ‘A Booke of Dialling.’
- ‘A Treatise of Great Artillerie and Pyrotechnie.’
- ‘A Treatise of Fortification.’
[Addit. MSS. 5867, f. 25, 11815; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert); Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.; Halliwell's Letters illustrative of the Progress of Science in England, 6, 30, 33; Hasted's Kent, iii. 130, 762, iv. 35; Leigh's Treatise of Religion and Learning, 180; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, (1547–80) 454, 577, (1581–90) 42, 44, 49–51, 101, 110, 111, 173, 180, 184, 214, 706, (1591–1594) 198, 234, 235, 316, 474, (1595–7) 263, 275, 293, 294, Addenda, (1580–1625) 306, 308, 309; Penny Cyclopædia, iii. 244, xxiv. 163; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. 227; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 415, 636, ii. 592.]