Bornnear Canterbury, Kent, England, 1520s
Died circa 1563
Information about Leonard Digges is a little confused because, of his four major works, three were augmented and corrected by his son, Thomas Digges .
Leonard Digges was from a well-established Kentish family, and one would perhaps use the term “gentleman” in describing his occupation. He was educated in mathematics at University College, Oxford, and admitted to the Law school Lincoln’s Inn in 1537. Digges was apparently an Anglican and took part in Wyatt’s rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt against England’s Catholic Queen Mary. As a result of this, Wyatt was executed, but Digges, who received a death sentence for high treason (in 1554), was reprieved but lost his estates after his father’s death.
Of Leonard Digges’s four works, Tectonicon(which was published by Leonard in 1556) was essentially a surveying manual, and Stratioticos(which appeared in 1579, being finished and enlarged by Thomas) was a book on mathematics for soldiers. Pantometria, which was also concerned with surveying and contains a detailed section on geometry, is interesting for its work on the theodolite (which Leonard Digges is credited with inventing). It appeared in 1571 after being completed by Thomas. Of more significance for astronomy was the book Prognostication, published in 1555 by Leonard and added to later editions by Thomas. This book deals with many topics, including the judgment of the weather from astronomical observations (e.g., the color of the Sun and Moon, the brightness of the stars, and the position of the planets with respect to the zodiacal constellations) and the linking of earthquakes, wars, and changes of government with comets. It also discusses the determining of the time of day through observation of the Sun, Moon, and planets; discusses eclipses of the Sun and Moon; and presents tables for tide movements, sunrise, sunset, and hours of daylight. Although the book was written nearly 500 years ago, and must be judged accordingly, it is in many places what would today be called “astrological.” However, it must not be forgotten that much science, even long after Digges’ day, suffered from this. The book can be found in reprinted form as Old Ashmolean Reprint lll(1926). In his later additions to this book, Thomas Digges took the advantage to state his case for Nicolaus Copernicus ’ solar system.