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‘Your astronomers and ours differ exceedingly’: the controversy over the ‘new star’ of 1572 in the light of a newly discovered text by Thomas Digges


This article presents evidence that an anonymous publication of 1573, a Letter sent by a gentleman of England [concerning …] the myraculous starre nowe shyning, was written by Thomas Digges, England's first Copernican. It tells the story of how it arose out of research commissioned by Elizabeth I's privy counsellors in response to the conventional argument of Jean Gosselin, librarian to Henri III of France, that the star was a comet which presaged wars. The text is significant because it seems to contain the observations and opinions that Digges held before he completed his other astronomical treatise, the groundbreaking Alae seu scalae mathematicae. It also casts some light on the development of Digges's radical and puritan views about the star, Copernican astronomy, the infinity of the universe and a belief that the ‘latter days’ of the world had arrived.

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D.W.E. Green , ‘Astrometry of the 1572 Supernova (B Cassiopeiae)’, Astronomische Nachrichten (2004) 325, pp. 689701

C. Doris Hellman , ‘The rôle of measurement in the downfall of a system: some examples from sixteenth century comet and nova observations’, Vistas in Astronomy (1967) 9, pp. 4352

Frances A. Yates , ‘Queen Elizabeth as Astraea’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (1947) 10, pp. 2782

Paul Lawrence Rose , ‘Erasmians and mathematicians at Cambridge in the early sixteenth century’, Sixteenth Century Journal (1977) 8, pp. 4759

Katherine A. Tredwell , ‘The Melanchthon circle's English epicycle’, Centaurus (2006) 48, pp. 2331

Charlotte Methuen , ‘The role of the heavens in the thought of Philip Melanchthon’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1996) 57, pp. 385403

Stephen Pumfrey and Frances Dawbarn , ‘Science and patronage in England, 1570–1625: a preliminary study’, History of Science (2004) 42, pp. 137188

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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