The universe of Adam King part 2: the scholar.

David McOmish

In last month's feature we introduced some general background to what we know about the life and times of Adam King. This month we will concentrate on developing what we know about his intellectual and cultural universe.

The political and religious environment that King was born into has already been discussed in part 1 of our investigation into his life. Despite growing up during a time of unrest, Adam was still able to take the time-honoured route from St Andrews to Paris (like his brother Alexander a few years before, his close family friend Thomas Craig a generation before, and his literary hero George Buchanan another generation back) to begin his studies. Within four years of his elder brother's graduation at St Leonards College, Adam matriculated at the same college. We have no record of his completion at St Andrews, nor any evidence of when exactly he left Scotland for France. Five years after the date of his matriculation at St Andrews, he was recorded as a regent at the University of Paris ('Adamus Le Roy Regens Plassaeus 1581'). For the next decade, the University records at Paris show that he was at the very centre of University politics, and even ran for the role of rector of the whole University in 1589. 1 As John Durkan noted, the title page of his translation of Canisius informs us that King lectured in Paris on Mathematics and Philosophy. 2 A further piece of evidence discovered by the team allows us to refine our understanding of what Adam actually did at Paris. In 1597 Adam personally signed the Album Amicorum of one Johann Van Reigersberg, 3 who had made a grand tour of Britain at the close of the 16th century and had befriended Adam (among other leading members of Scotland's intelligentsia) during its course. In the book, Adam informs us that he was the 'petroramaeus' professor of Mathematics and Philosophy at Paris. 4 This seemingly innocuous signature and description raises three extremely significant issues. The first concerns King's academic approach, the second his religious identity, and the third his approach to the dissemination of his work. Much work has been done on the educational reformer Peter Ramus, and the reader who wishes to know more about the nuances and issues with his reforms should consult them. 5 What is clear, though, is that Ramus was viewed as a 'modern' educational reformer, who championed practical mathematics, and promoted the idea that opposing theories should be subjected to mathematical discourse. 6 So King's identification with Ramus very much presents him as a 'modern' academic, not at all someone who was tied to the old approaches. The second issue with King's self-identification with Ramus is religious. As we saw in the previous article (King's own letter from Paris to a friend in Scotland shows him actively trying to win converts to the Catholic Church), 7 King's family was clearly on one side of the struggle in post-reformation Scotland. However, in his signature ten years later we have King actively identifying himself with a man (Ramus) who had become a protestant martyr after his murder in 1572 at the hands of a catholic mob during the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre (and who was murdered, as King would have known, in the vicinity of both of the colleges at which King taught). The Album Amicorum provides more evidence that King was fashioning a image of himself that reflected his humanist identity, an intellectual and cultural identity, which seemed to be in conflict with that of the well-known religious affiliations. Identifying with Ramus also helped King find common intellectual ground with those ministers who had only a year before he made this signature been responsible for his arrest (see previous feature). The final thing that the Album reveals is that the MS containing King's magnus opus, his commentary to Buchanan's Sphaera, was written in his own hand. A cross-reference between the album (in which Adam states that the has signed this in his own hand) and the writing in the Edinburgh MS confirms that the latter was penned by the person who composed the former. So the Edinburgh MS is quite literally a product of King's own hand.

The potential value and significance of the MS at Edinburgh extends beyond the merely biographical, though. It is a text that helps us to discern the outlines of King's life in Edinburgh, and the outlines of the intellectual and cultural rhythms of life in the capital. More specifically, it provides crucial evidence of the nature of information and knowledge exchange in Edinburgh in this period, and of the inexplicably unexamined progress of the scientific revolution in Edinburgh and the Scottish Universities. 8 Firstly, let's examine what the MS tells us about the circle of friends in Edinburgh of which King was part. Contained in the front matter to the MS are dedicatory epigrams by Patrick Sands and Alexander Hume. Sands was a regent at the University of Edinburgh from 1583-1597, and would become, in 1620, the year of Adam King's death, principal of the University. In 1607, both Patrick Sands and Adam King were part of the commission entrusted by the king with the decision concerning who should produce the grammar book to be used in the schools for instruction in Latin. 9 King and Sands decided in favour of the grammar book of Alexander Hume, the former rector of the High School of Edinburgh (1596-1600), and whose poetry praises King in preface to the Edinburgh MS. In the same year as Patrick Sands wrote his introductory verses to Adam King (1616), he also did the same for John Napier's manuscript of 1616 on the abacus, entitled Rabdologia. 10 This was published in Edinburgh in 1617. It was also, like King's work, patronised by Alexander Seton (who was also patron of Alexander Hume's work on Latin grammar). The fact that Napier's manuscript was published and King's was not should not lessen our view of the impact and influence that Edinburgh's astronomical community saw in King's manuscript. As Theo Van Heijnsbergen has demonstrated in relation to the Bannatyne MS - a non-published document he has described as 'without question the most important literary document of early Scottish literature' - the manuscript was a culturally-accepted way for the dissemination of important information in Scotland in the early modern period (especially among family groups and those with shared interests). 11 It is in this context of knowledge exchange that we should consider the importance of the MS. Through another close associate of King's, and indeed of Patrick Sands, this knowledge-exchange aspect comes into sharper focus, and we gain a clearer picture of the contemporary significance of the King MS. William King was regent under Sands, when Patrick was principal at Edinburgh (1620-2). Evidence of their relationship precedes this, though. In 1617, both Sands and William King were representatives of the University of Edinburgh who 'disputed' on philosophical subjects before King James when he made his grand return to Scotland. William King was also Adam's brother-in-law. 12 William's activities when regent at the University of Edinburgh are noteworthy. His Theses Astonomicae survive for the period during, and immediately after Adam King completed his Sphaera in 1616. In them, William refers to Tycho Brahe's work on the comet of 1577, which, he suggests, provides evidence that Aristotle may be wrong, and that the heavens above the moon are mutable. It can be no coincidence that King's manuscript found its way into Edinburgh University library in the early 17th century. Patrick Sands, who was still working for the university, and soon-to-be its principal, and William King, a regent teaching astronomy in the University, had strong familial and personal ties with its author.

So to understand the document we have to appreciate the nature of the intellectual climate in Edinburgh: we have to know the nexus of relationships that existed there; we need to know the means by which knowledge was exchanged; and we need to be familiar with contemporary national and international literary and cultural trends. We have seen something of this in William King and his fellow regents' work. However, buried in the bosom of Adam's work we see further into that environment. The rediscovery and publication of Greek scientific texts was continuing to change perceptions and influence contemporary attitudes to science. These texts provided George Buchanan with material with which to explain why the voices of traditional astronomy and geography had been wrong about the potential for human habitation in certain climes on earth. 13 As James Naiden argued in his 1952 translation and commentary of Buchanan's Sphaera, in books one and three the great man 'seemed' to be greatly indebted to Cleomedes ideas. Adam King's manuscript explicitly states that Cleomedes is the source. King also quotes and cites the work of many ancient authors (Aratus, Strabo, Ptolemy, Posidonius, Xenophanes, Xenophon, Vitruvius, Aristotle, Cicero, Eratosthenes, Cleomedes, to name but a few from book four alone) and many 'modern' authors (like Barocius and the anti-Aristotelian mathematician Josephus Moletius, whom Galileo followed in Padua - again in book 4) in his commentary. Given King's familiarity with Buchanan's sources (one needs only to look at the first fifty lines of King's introduction to one of his earliest poems, the Genethliacon, to see the intimacy of that knowledge - and from such an early age), it is reasonable to expect that when we do transcribe and translate King's work on the universe above the moon, we will find a scholarly elaboration of the dialectic that Buchanan was engaging in with Brahe (and, for that matter, that his family friends Thomas Craig and John Craig were likewise doing) 14

From an early life surrounded by the troubles of the immediate post-reformation period, onto a university education framed by the epistemological changes brought by Copernicus, Ramus, and Brahe, and then followed by a career in Paris that took off amid the continuing influence of all three, King finally returned to Scotland to a life of public service. During this period, he completed his magnum opus, the monumental commentary and supplement to George Buchanan's De Sphaera. He contributed to reforms in Education in Scotland at King James' request, and then mentored members of his own family who worked at the University of Edinburgh. We are only now beginning to appreciate the significance of that service. That it was appreciated at the time is not in question. As we briefly alluded to in feature 1, in 1617 Adam King was chosen to be first to deliver a poem to King James upon his return to Scotland. At this moment, just over two years from his death, King would have been a much-respected and well-known member of Scottish public life. The honour done to King by allowing him to be the first to greet King James in verse was a just reward for many years of extremely able and loyal service to the state, king, and, perhaps more importantly, to a humanist culture that the king and state helped to foster and benefitted from.


1: For King's first appearance on the records at Paris, see Cesar Egasse Du Boulay, Historia Universitatis Parisiensis Vol. VI (Paris, 1673), p.982. For King's activities in University politics at Paris, and the progress of the various controversies he was involved in, from 1581 to 1588, see pp.784-790. For two of King's poems on the election controversies during his time there, see here and here.

2: Durkan, Adam King: A Church Papist 196.

3: For this individual and his tour of Britain, see: James K. Cameron, 'Some Continetal Visitors to Scotland' Scotland and Europe 1200-1850, pp.51-2, ed. T.C. Smout (Edinburgh 1986).

4: Adamus Regius, Album amicorum Van Reigersberg, 45, University of Leiden: bookmark: BPL 2702.

5: See Steven Reid, Humanism and Calvinism, (Ashgate, 2011) for an up-to-date overview of his influence in Scotland, and for a select bibliography on Ramus more generally.

6: For the rise of a specialising aesthetic among humanists in Scotland and Europe in this period see: Mcomish, 'A community of scholarship: scientific discourse in early-modern Scotland' in Neo-Latin Literature and the Republic of Letters in Early Modern Scotland, Eds. Reid and Mcomish (forthcoming).

7: For King's letter of 1586 to John Dawling see Durkan, 'Adam King: A Church Papist', p.199.

8: For evidence of this lack of knowledge, and perhaps a reason why it continued to receive little attention, see J.L. Russell, 'Cosmological teaching in the seventeenth-century Scottish universities', in Journal for the History of Astronomy Volume 5 (1974) 122-132. Mcomish, 'A community of scholarship: scientific discourse in early-modern Scotland' provides the first corrective to this view.

9: See Durkan, 'Laying Fresch Foundations' in Humanism in Renaissance Scotland, 140.

10: John Napier, Rabdologiae, seu Numerationis per Virgulas Libri Duo (Edinburgh, 1617).

11: Theo Van Heijnsbergen, 'The interaction between literature and history in Queen Mary's Edinburgh: the Bannatyne Manuscript and its prosopographical context', in A.A. MacDonald, M. Lynch, and I.B. Cowan (eds), The Renaissance in Scotland: Studies in Literature, Religion, History, and Culture (Leiden, 1994), 183-225, at p.183.

12: Thomas Craufurd, William King's colleague at Edinburgh for 14 years is the chief source: Thomas Craufurd, History of the University of Edinburgh, from 1580 to 1646 (Edinburgh, 1808), 66. It is confirmed in: Hew Scott (ed.), Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1915), 10.

13: See Mcomish, 'A community of scholarship: scientific discourse in early-modern Scotland' for a fuller discussion of this aspect of Buchanan's work.

14: See October feature on Thomas Craig.