At the time of writing of this article (January/February 2016), in the Wikipedia page for John Ponet (c. 1514 – 1556), a photograph of the sundial in the Old Court of Queens’ College is displayed with the caption
Sundial at Queens' College, Cambridge, designed by John Ponet.
The same page also contains the statement
A sundial of his design was installed at Hampton Court.
These two statements have an inter-related history, as we shall see below. Let us examine both statements for verifiability, by following the chain of citation references from the Wikipedia page on John Ponet, and see where they lead.
The Queens’ Sundial statement
designed by John Ponet is given reference , leading to the note:
Following this citation to page 884 of the Encyclopedia of Tudor England gives:
Known as an accomplished linguist and mathematician, Ponet designed the complicated sundial that can still be found in the front court of Queen’s College; he presented a copy of the device, which tells the day of the month, the phase of the moon, and the flow of the tide, to Henry VIII for Hampton Court.
This text is reproduced verbatim from the entry for Ponet in Bosworth Field to Bloody Mary : An Encyclopedia of the Early Tudors, by John A. Wagner, 2003 (ISBN 1-57356-540-7), page 347. Neither Encyclopedia provides any citations or authorities for this statement, although they do provide a list for Further Reading on Ponet. [Aside: Wikipedia positively encourages, or even requires, its authors to quote citations for their assertions. One has to wonder whether a Wikipedia citation of a book that itself provides no such authorities or citations really satisfies the spirit of the Wikipedia requirement.]
The Further Reading list in Wagner’s encyclopedias comprised three items: an edition of one of Ponet’s works; Winthrop Hudson’s 1942 dissertation considered below; and John Ponet: Political Theologian of the English Reformation, by Glen Clarence Bowman, 1997, a doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota, which includes:
During Thomas Smith’s tenure as chair, Ponet seems to have come into his own as a scientist and mathematician. Around 1537, Smith installed a sundial at Queens’. Ponet gave Henry VIII one of his own that was detailed enough to show the hour of the day and the day of the month, as well as changes in the ebb and flow of tides.33
Reference 33 was to Godwin’s De præsulibus Angliæ and/or Godwin’s Catalogue of the Bishops of England, both of which are discussed below. Nothing in Bowman’s text or in his cited sources suggests that Ponet designed a dial at Queens’, or that Ponet’s gift to Henry was copied from a dial at Queens’, or that it was sent to Hampton Court.
The reader may wish to consider whether the extract from Wagner’s encyclopedias is in fact a précis of this:
He was a man with considerable intellectual abilities, he had a mind which ranged over many interests and he had great facility in learning languages. … He was said to be an excellent mathematician and he was greatly interested in astronomy. As bursar of Queens’ he designed the complicated sundial which is still in the front court there, and he gave a copy of it to Henry VIII for Hampton Court.
It shows not only the hour of the day, but also the day of the month, the sign of the [see below] moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, with divers other things as strange.
Note the phrase
designed the complicated sundial, and the somewhat archaic usage
front court in both texts. This latter text is taken from several works authored originally by Charles Richard Nairne Routh (1896–1976), a retired school-master.[see Dedication of 1964 edition] It appears in the entry for Ponet in Who’s Who in History, Vol. 2: England 1485 to 1603, in 1964, page 178, reprinted 1974; re-published as Who’s Who in Tudor England, in 1990 (revised by Peter Holmes), page 187; re-published in Who’s Who in British History: Beginnings to 1901, Vol. 2: I–Z, in 1998, page 999. The 1990 edition was listed in the bibliographies of both of Wagner’s encyclopedias.
Once again, these Who’s Who volumes do not provide references or authorities for each statement (not even for the source of the embedded quotation), but they do cite a list of source works at the end of each entry. Of the four works cited for Ponet, three have no reference to a sundial. The fourth cited work is John Ponet, Advocate of Limited Monarchy, 1942, by Winthrop Still Hudson (1911–2001), first written as a dissertation for the degree of doctor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, where on page 11 we find:
Ponet, according to Godwin, was
an excellent mathematician,21 and Strype informs us that he was the author of several unnamed books dealing with this subject.22 Closely related to this mathematical interest was Ponet’s fondness for the study of astronomy. Unfortunately, none of his mathematical treatises have been preserved, but, as concrete evidence of his interest in astronomy, we have Godwin’s description of a curious dial which he constructed and presented to Henry VIII. This dial showed
not only the hour of the day, but also the day of the month, the sign of the [one line of Godwin’s text omitted here] moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, with divers other things as strange.23
The quotation from Godwin here seems to be the source for Routh’s embedded quotation above, as Routh copies Hudson’s erroneous quotation from Godwin. Hudson’s reference 21 is to Godwin’s Catalogue of the Bishops of England, considered below, reference 22 is irrelevant to the present enquiry, and reference 23 is (incorrectly) to Godwin’s De præsulibus Angliæ, although the quotation is taken from the Catalogue. Had not the line of text been omitted from the quotation, it should have read:
not only the hour of the day, but also the day of the month, the sign of the sun, the planetary hour, the change of the moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea …
But Hudson’s account of Ponet’s dial mentions neither Queens’ College, nor Hampton Court, both of which feature in Routh’s account. So from where did Routh obtain those details? As the compiler of a biographical encyclopedia, Routh was aware of the Dictionary of National Biography: in the General Introduction to the 1964 edition he said:
the authors … wish to acknowledge their great debt to the D.N.B. The original DNB entry for Ponet was written by William Arthur Jobson Archbold (1865–1947), a Cambridge law graduate who, at that time, held various administrative posts in departments of the University of Cambridge. The entry for Ponet was in DNB Volume 46, published in 1896, and included:
For Henry VIII he made a curious dial of the same kind as that erected in 1538 in the first court of Queens’ College.
There is no source reference attached to this particular statement, although others immediately around it all have specific references which are relevant to those other statements. The date of 1538 is peculiarly precise, and hints at uncited knowledge. Archbold does not say that Ponet designed this 1538 dial: Ponet was indeed Bursar of Queens’ at that date. None of Archbold’s cited sources mentions a dial dated 1538, a dial at Queens’ College, or a dial at Hampton Court. His first cited source is Athenae Cantabrigienses, by Charles Henry Cooper, 1858, where, in Volume 1, page 155, the entry on Ponet includes the conventional account of the dial:
He was an eminent grecian, was acquainted with italian and german, deeply read in the fathers, and had skill in mathematics and astronomy. He gave to Henry VIII, a dial of his own device, shewing the hour of the day, the day of the month, the sign of the same [sic, should be sun], the planetary hour, the change of the moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, with divers other things no less strange, to the great wonder of the king and his own commendation.
Again, this account of the dial mentions neither Queens’ College, nor Hampton Court. The account is clearly derived from Godwin’s English Catalogue of the Bishops of England (see below), although Cooper cites Richardson’s 1743 update of Godwin’s Latin De præsulibus Angliæ, which does not have all the detail quoted here. Archbold’s second cited source is The History of the Church of England, by Richard Watson Dixon, 1885, Volume 3, page 273, where we find:
He was a man of universal talent, skilled in the ancient and modern languages. A curious clock constructed by him and presented to Henry the Eighth, had exhibited his mechanical genius and procured his first advancement: …
The possibility that Ponet’s gift to Henry VIII might have been a clock rather than a sundial is considered in a separate section below.
Archbold’s statement about a 1538 dial did not survive into the revised Oxford DNB, where the 2004 entry for Ponet simply quotes the 1694 account by Strype (but with an erroneous citation to Ecclesiastical Memoirs rather than Memoirs of Cranmer). This line of enquiry has also not given us any sources for Routh’s reference to Hampton Court.
Just about the only possible publicly available source for references to a dial dated 1538 at Queens’ College lies within The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, by Robert Willis and John Willis Clark, 1886, Volume 2, page 50, where we find:
In 1804 the Bell-tower shewn by Loggan … was taken down, and in its place a plain projection of white brick was erected containing a staircase to the Library. The little sun-dial on the south face of the upper stage of this tower had been put up in 15385.
Reference 5 is to a footnote quoting an entry in the college account book, known as Magnum Journale:
5 [Mag. Jour. 1537–38, f.42b. "Item 7º Septembris pro horologio … adfixo campanæ (sic) sacelli ijs ijd."]
which can be translated as:
Item 7th September for the dial … mounted on the chapel bell-tower 2s. 2d.
It should be clear that this 1538 horologium was not the
complicated sundial still existing in Old Court, which is believed to have been created in 1642. Willis & Clark have assumed here that horologio referred to a sundial, although the account book does not make that clear: the assumption is probably reasonable. One would not have got much of a horologium for a mere 2s. 2d., even in 1538, so this entry cannot have been other than a minor work. The bell-tower to which the 1538 dial was attached no longer exists, and there is no record of what the 1538 dial looked like, what its capabilities were, or how long it survived. The antiquary Cole recorded that by 1733, if not earlier, the bell-tower had a clockface, not a sundial. [MSS Cole, quoted AHUC II, p. 51]
Cooper (above) cites Francisci Godwini primo Landavensis dein Herefordensis episcopi De praesulibus Angliae commentarius, by William Richardson, 1743, an updated edition of Godwin’s original, where on page 238 we find:
Vir egregie doctus, quod abunde testantur opera ab illo tam Latinè quam Anglice edita. Graecam vero etiam linguam callebat ad amussim, Italicam quoque et Germanicam mediocriter. Mathematicarum porro scientiarum ad miraculum usque peritus, Henrico octavo dicitur horologium [word sciotericum omitted] fabricasse, quod non solum horas vulgares ostenderet, sed diem etiam mensis, mutationes lunares, et fluxus atque refluxus maris tempora. Ad haec, magna vi dicendi praeditus, per conciones aliquot egregias innotuit Regi etiamnum puero, cujus tamen singulari favore ad has dignitates dicitur provectus.
This is taken almost verbatim from Godwin’s De Præsulibus Angliæ of 1616 (below), but omitting the one word which would have confirmed this horologium to be a sundial.
Strype’s account of Ponet’s dial occurs in Memorials of The Most Reverend Father in God, Thomas Cranmer, sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, by John Strype,1694, Book 3, Chapter 28, pp. 422–3, or Vol. 1, page 607 in the Oxford edition of 1812 & 1840, or Vol. 2, page 178 of the 1853 edition by Philip Edward Barnes, or Vol. 3, pp. 340–1 of the 1854 edition by the Ecclesiastical History Society (ed. John Jebb):
We may judg of his great Abilities by what Godwin speaks of him, viz. “That he had left divers Writings in Latin and English : and that besides the Greek and Latin, he was well seen in the Italian and Dutch Tongues. [Which last he learned probably in his Exile.] That he was an excellent Mathematician, and gave unto King Henry VIII. a Dial of his own devise ; shewing not only the Hour of the Day, but also the Day of the Month, the Sign of the Sun, the Planetary Hour ; yea, the Change of the Moon, the Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea, with divers other things as strange, to the great wonder of the King, and his no less Commendation.”
The spelling above is of the 1694 edition: it was modernised in the various 19th century editions. Despite being in quotation marks, it is not a verbatim transcription of the original Godwin text (below), although the dial description itself is a fair copy with updated spelling.
Hudson’s reference 23, and Richardson’s source for his 1743 edition, was De Præsulibus Angliæ Commentarius …, by Francis Godwin, 1616, which was a translation into Latin of his earlier English work A Catalogue of the bishops of England, 1601 (see below), with updates. On pages 299–300 we see:
Vir egregie doctus, quod abunde testantur opera ab illo tam Latinè quam Anglice edita. Græcam vero etiam linguam callebat ad amussim, Italicam quoque & Germanicum mediocriter. Mathematicarum porro scientiarum ad miraculum usque peritus, Henrico octavo dicitur horologium sciotericum fabricasse, quod non solum horas vulgares ostenderet, sed diem etiam mensis, mutationes[.] lunares, & fluxus atque refluxus maris tempora. Ad hæc, magna vi dicendi præditus, per conciones aliquot egregias innotuit Regi etiamnum puero, cuius tamen singulari favore ad has dignitates dicitur provectus.
Many authors (including Hudson and Cooper) cite this De Præsulibus, or Richardson’s updated edition of 1743, as the source of the descriptions of the dial already seen in English above. But this Latin is not a full and exact translation of the earlier English version below: for instance, no mention of the sign of the sun (zodiac), or the planetary hour is made. It is not possible to translate this Latin back into English and obtain the descriptions of the dial that we have seen above.
The original English version appears in A catalogue of the bishops of England, since the first planting of Christian religion in this island, by Francis Godwin, 1601 page 195, or 1615 page 248–9, as follows:
A man of great learning, whereof he left divers testimonies in writing [comma in 1615] workes yet extant both in Latine and English : beside the Greeke and Latin [Latine in 1615] he was very well seene in the Italian and Dutch toong, and an excellent Mathematician. He gave unto king [King in 1615] Henry the eight a dyall [diall in 1615] of his owne devise, shewing not onely the hower of the day, but also the day of the moneth, the signe of the sonne [sun in 1615], the planetary hower ; yea the change of the moone, the ebbing and flowing of the sea ; with divers other things as strange [comma in 1615] to the great wonder of the king and his owne no lesse commendation.
Pro ingenii certè miraculo ducebat Henricus octavus Anglorum rex, scioteria seu horologia quædam; quæ pro sua maiestate fecisset: tam arguta in illis erat, & in ambitu tam brevi, dierum, mensium, noviluniorum, fluxuum & refluxuum maris, cœlestium signorum, planetarum, rerumque contingentium descriptio.
Bale and Ponet were personally acquainted with each other, so this statement carries some weight.
The Hampton Court statement
In the Wikipedia page for John Ponet, the statement
A sundial of his design was installed at Hampton Court is given reference , leading to the note:
This work was first published in 2001 and has been re-issued several times since. On page 447 we find:
At Hampton Court, in 1540, Henry VIII set up the famous astronomical clock, which was designed by Nicolaus Kratzer and made by a Frenchman, Nicolas Oursian, Deviser of the King’s Horologies. … It shows not only the hours, but the month, the date, the number of days since the beginning of the year, the phases of the Moon, the movement of the constellations in the Zodiac, and the time of high water at London Bridge …
In 1540, John Ponet, a fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and future Bishop of Winchester, presented the King with a marvellous sundial he had himself designed, which showed
not only the hour of the day, but also the day of the month, the sign of the [sic] moon, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, with divers other things as strange.10 This, too, was installed at Hampton Court.
I show these two paragraphs together so as to point out the similarity of the claimed capabilities of Kratzer’s clock and Ponet’s dial (even more so had Godwin’s full description of the dial been quoted), and the possibility of confusion of the two on that basis. There is no indication of from where Weir obtained the date of 1540 for Ponet’s dial: this is the first known appearance of such a date. Reference 10 leads to a footnote
cited by C.R.N. Routh, and indeed Weir copies Routh’s erroneous quotation from Godwin (see above), and reproduces Routh’s assertion that Ponet’s dial was at Hampton Court.
Now that we have a reached a reference to Routh, to track citations back any further, we re-join the chain of citations in the previous section, starting with Routh 1964.
Was Ponet’s gift to Henry VIII in fact a clock?
Both the Latin horologium and the English dial could, at an early enough period, have referred either to a sundial or to the face of a mechanical clock, or watch.
EARLIER instances might be produced … of Horologia in different parts of Europe; but this word signifying in those centuries dials as well as clocks, nothing decisive can be inferred from such term, unless from other circumstances, or expressions, it can be shewn to relate to a clock rather than a dial.
[Observations on the earliest Introduction of Clocks, by the Honourable Daines Barrington, 1778, in Archaeologia, 5, pp. 416–428, at p. 416.]
Thomas Fuller recognised this ambiguity when he wrote about John Poynet:
… he arrived at admirable Learning, being an exact Grecian and most expert Mathematician. He presented King Henry the 8. with a Horologium (which I might English Dial, Clock or watch, save that it is epitheted Sciotericum) observing the shadow of the Sun, and therein shewing not only the hours, but dayes of the Month, change of the Moon, ebbing and flowing of the Sea &c. … surely this was accounted a master-piece in that age.
[The History of the Worthies of England, by Thomas Fuller, 1662 — Kent — Prelates; Edition by John Nichols, 1811, Volume 1, p. 496; Edition by P. Austin Nuttall, 1840, Volume 2, pp. 137–138]
Here, Fuller is translating back into English the Latin of Godwin’s De Præsulibus Angliæ of 1616. He renders Sciotericum as
observing the shadow of the Sun. The word Sciotericum is related to the Greek skio-therikon meaning shadow-hunter, so use of this word confirms that Godwin intended to mean a sundial.
Some later authors have assumed that Ponet’s horologium was a sundial, and some have assumed that it was a mechanical clock. Some aspects of the claimed capabilities of Ponet’s dial (
the change of the moone, the ebbing and flowing of the sea) are not possible for a sundial, and a sundial cannot give
the day of the moneth literally, though it is possible to estimate the overall date from the declination of the sun, but not with precision. It is possible for a mechanical clock to do all of these things, and precisely, as one can see from the capabilities of Kratzer’s astronomical clock of 1540 at Hampton Court, quoted above. So the nature of Ponet’s horologium is worthy of investigation.
An early sign of uncertainty is:
He was one of the most Universal Scholars of all that Century; his excellency in the Mathematicks appear’d to a wonder in that wonderful Present he made to King Henry the 8th, of a Dyal of his own Mechanism, shewing not only the Hour of the Day, but also the Day of the Month, the Sign of Sun, the Planetary Hour, the change of the Moon, the Ebbing and Flowing of the Sea, with divers other things as extraordinary, to the great wonder of that knowing King, and to his own no less commendation.
[Athenæ Britannicæ, by Myles Davies, 1716, Part 2, p. 73.]
of his own devise has become
of his own mechanism, as if
devise had been read as
device, instead of
Then, as already noted above, Richardson, in his 1743 revised edition of Godwin’s De Præsulibus Angliæ, omitted the word sciotericum from Godwin’s phrase horologium sciotericum, leaving the way open for future readers possibly to infer a clock rather than a sundial.
Later in Barrington’s 1778 Observations, there is a footnote:
That distinguished antiquary Mr. Walpole has in his possession a clock, which appears by the inscription to have been a present from Henry the Eighth to Anne Boleyn. Poynet, bishop of Winchester, likewise gave an astronomical clock to the same king. Godwyn de Praesul.
[Observations on the earliest Introduction of Clocks, by the Honourable Daines Barrington, 1778, in Archaeologia, 5, pp. 416–428, at p. 425, footnote (u)]
So Barrington has taken horologium from Godwin’s (or possibly Richardson’s) Latin De Præsulibus and assumed that it meant clock, and not just any clock, but an astronomical clock. It is possible that he should have paid more attention to his own cautionary advice at the start of his paper, quoted above. Barrington’s paper was reproduced in Dodsley’s Annual Register for 1779, pp. 133–138. Note that Ponet had not yet become Bishop of Winchester during the reign of Henry VIII.
Professor Johann Beckmann took Barrington’s paper on clocks, translated it into German, and incorporated it as a chapter in his Beyträge zur geschichte der Erfindungen, Volume 1, Part 3, pp. 301–318, first published in part form around 1782, in Leipzig. William Johnston translated most of the gathered parts of the Beyträge into English, as A History of Inventions and Discoveries, first published 1797. Johnston avoided double translation of Barrington’s History of Clocks by mostly reproducing the original 1778 text from Archaeologia: it appears in Volume 1, pp. 442–457. However, we should take note of a footnote on pp. 457–458:
Mr. Barrington is famous for being in the wrong
accompanying a 1785 refutation of Barrington’s account of an ancient watch which turned out to be a forgery.
Following its publication in A History of Inventions and Discoveries, Barrington’s account of early clocks became more widely quoted. For instance:
Mr Walpole has in his possession a clock, which appears by the inscription to have been a present from Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn. Poynet, Bishop of Winchester, gave an astronomical clock to the same king.—Buckman’s[sic]His. Invent. vol. i. p. 454
[The Privy Purse Expences of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529 to December 1532, by Nicholas Harris Nicolas, 1827, p. 311]
The late Lord Orford had a clock in his possession at Strawberry-Hill, which appears by the inscription to have been a present from Henry VIII. to Anne Bullen. Poynet, bishop of Winchester, likewise gave an astronomical clock to the same king.
[History of Clocks and Watches, by George Smeeton, in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 11, No. 319, 1828 June 28, pp. 434–437, at p. 436]
Smeeton’s History seems to be largely plagiarised from Barrington’s Observations, even reproducing the false account of the ancient watch which had been exposed as long before as 1785. Later, in the same periodical, we find:
On the occasion of the marriage of Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn, about May 28, 1553,[sic, actually 1533] he presented her with a clock, the case of which was gilt and abundantly ornamented. On one of the weights is engraved the truelover’s knot, and the device, “To ye most happie;” on the other weight is the royal motto.
This clock formed part of the celebrated collection of Horace Walpole, at the sale of which, in 1842, it was purchased by her present Majesty for 108l., and was lately undergoing repair at Mr. Vulliamy’s, Pall-Mall. Poynel,[sic] Bishop of Winchester, about the same time presented a curious clock to Henry VIII.
The clock at Hampton Court bears the date 1540, and also the initials V.O.;[sic, actually N.O.] it shewed many astronomical particulars, but from the numerous repairs which it has undergone, but little of the original work now remains.
[The Earliest Introduction of Clocks into England, by C. Abbott, in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 40, No. 26, 1842 December 24, pp. 403–404 at p. 404]
In the above extract, the first two paragraphs appear to be a development of Barrington’s footnote from 1778, and the third paragraph is about something quite different: the astronomical clock of Kratzer & Oursian. But an inattentive reader could skip through the paragraph break and gain the impression that Ponet’s clock was being described as being at Hampton Court bearing the date 1540. (The initials
V.O. are an error for
N.O., for Nicolas Oursian).
A reference within an 1861 account of a 1542 inventory:
Another, [clock] “of iron with sondry dores of copper graven showing howe the see dothe ebbe and flowe,” claims notice, since it may have been the clock constructed and presented to Henry by John Poynet, Bishop of Winchester, of whom Godwin relates, as follows:—“Mathematicarum porro scientiarum ad miraculum usque peritus, Henrico octavo dicitur horologium fabricasse, quod non solum horas vulgares ostenderet, sed diem etiam mensis, mutationes lunares, et fluxus atque refluxus maris tempora.”
[Inventories of certain valuable effects of King Henry the Eighth, in the Palace at Westminster, A.D. 1542., by Joseph Burtt, 1861, in The Archaeological Journal, volume 18, pp. 134–145 at p. 137 & 143]
The Latin quotation was taken from Richardson’s 1743 edition, rather than Godwin’s original of 1616, thus omitting the word sciotericum.
And a later reference already seen above:
He was a man of universal talent, skilled in the ancient and modern languages. A curious clock constructed by him and presented to Henry the Eighth, had exhibited his mechanical genius and procured his first advancement: …
[The History of the Church of England, by Richard Watson Dixon, 1885, Volume 3, page 273]
So, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, several authors have assumed that Ponet’s gift of a dial to Henry VIII was in fact a clock, while others have quoted dial without further qualification. The earliest use so far discovered of the word sundial for the gift to Henry was by Routh, in 1964. The contributing factors to the assumption of it being a clock might have been:
- The omission by Richardson of the word sciotericum in his 1743 revised edition of Godwin’s De Præsulibus Angliæ of 1616;
- Barrington’s 1778 Observations stating the gift to be an astronomical clock.
Despite the above assumptions of it having been a clock, I think the balance of probability is that it was in fact a sundial (or collection of sundials), as will become clear in the next section.
The Whitehall Palace Privy Garden stone sundial
In the middle of the garden is a nice fountain with a remarkable sun-dial, showing the time in thirty different ways.
[Journey Through England and Scotland Made by Lupold Von Wedel in the Years 1584 and 1585, by Dr Gottfried Von Bülow, 1895, in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 9, pp. 223–270, at p. 234]
In 1613, the traveller Duke Johann Ernsten the Younger of Saxe-Weimar visited Whitehall Palace. His visit was recorded and later published, and includes:
Mitten im Garten ist ein vierecklichter grosser Stein mitten hohl und rund wie ein Tauffstein. Man steiget vier Stufen hinauff An solchem Stein seynd über 117 Sonnen-Cirrcul daran man die Stunden sehen kan. Ist ein schön Kunststuck. Solche Horologia ist zu Henrich VIII. Zeiten ernstlich von Joan Pieneto Episcopo Wintoniensi delineiret, nachmaln aber vom jetzigen König restaurieret worden wie solches die Inscription daran meldet.
[Des durchlauchtigen hochgebornen Fürsten und Herrn, Herrn Johann Ernsten des Jüngern Hertzogen zu Sachsen … Reise in Franckreich, Engelland und Niederland, by Johann Wilhelm Neumair von Ramsla, 1620, p. 180]
which may be translated as:
In the middle of the garden is a large square stone whose middle is hollow and round like a [baptismal] font. One climbs four steps to reach it. On this stone are more than 117 sun-circles on which one can see the hours. It is a beautiful piece of art. Such dials were first designed by John Ponet, Bishop of Winchester, in the times of Henry VIII, and subsequently restored by the current King as the inscription on it reports.
Unless Ponet presented the king with more than one dial, it is possible that this large stone sundial was the dial referred to by Bale and Godwin as having been given by Ponet to King Henry VIII. Ponet had not yet become Bishop of Winchester in the time of Henry VIII, but presumably the wording of the inscription dates from later, possibly from the time of the restoration referred to in the inscription. We don’t have an authoritative account of how the stone dial came into existence: there are gaps in the record between the time of Ponet, the time of first creation of the stone dial, and the time it was observed by von Wedel in 1584. Colvin surmised that the stone dial was
presumably of recent construction at that date[1595–6], but he was apparently not aware of the inscription referring to Ponet reported by Neumair von Ramsla.[The History of the King’s Works, ed. Howard Montagu Colvin, Vol. IV: 1485–1660 Part II, 1982, p. 318]
The above dial was taken down 1622 and replaced:
Nicholas Stone, mason, for takeinge downe the greate Sune Diall in the privy garden at Whitehall, makinge there a newe Diall of Portland stone answerable to the same in all poyntes, settinge in and fasteninge all the Gnomons there.
[National Archive E. 351/3255, quoted by Survey of London: Volume 13, ed. Montagu H. Cox and Philip Norman, 1930, p. 91]
And in 1622 I made the great diall [Mr. Marr drew the lines.] in the Privy-garden at Whitehall, for the which I had 46l.
[Nicholas Stone’s pocket-book, quoted in Anecdotes of Painting in England, by Horace Walpole, 1762, Vol. 2, p. 24; 2nd Edition, 1765, Vol. 2, p. 28; 3rd Edition, 1782 & 4th Edition, 1786, Vol. 2 p. 44; Edition by James Dallaway, 1826 & 1828, Vol. 2, p. 59; Edition by Ralph Nicholson Wornum, 1849 & 1876, Vol. 1, p. 241; Reprint of 1786 edition, 1871, p. 126]
Mr. Marr drew the lines. by Walpole is probably in error, as we know that Edmund Gunter was responsible for that. John Marr was a mathematician and dialist at the court, and might have designed the repainting of the stone dials in 1632-3. [National Archive E. 351/3266, quoted by Survey of London: Volume 13, ed. Montagu H. Cox and Philip Norman, 1930, p. 92]
The delineation of the 1622 replacement dial was designed by Edmund Gunter: his own description of it provides some impression of the appearance of the previous dial:
The stone whereon the Dials are described, is of the same length, bredth, and depth, with that which stood in the same place before … The base of it is a square of somewhat more then [sic] foure foote and a halfe, the height three foote and ¼: and so unwrought contained about 80. [cubic] feete, or five Tonne of Stone.
It is also wrought with the like Plaines and Concaves as the former, and so necessarily, the like lines to shewe the houre of the day. But the rest of the lines are much different, and most of them such as were not in the former Dials, …
These Dials may bee … either on the upper part of the Stone; or on the sides, toward the East, West, North, South. …
The Concave is twentie inches deepe, and fourtie inches over: and being halfe round resembleth that halfe of the heavens which may be seene. …
The Style belonging to the Concave, is xx inches long, and about xiij inches broad at the foot. The one edge which is upright, is the Axis of the Horizon, and with his shadow sheweth the Azimuth. [compass bearing of the sun]
The other edge, inclining to the North, represents the Axis of the world, and with his shadow shewes the time of the day. The point of the style, with his shadow, will shew the rest of the conclusions.
[The Description and Use of his Majesties Dials in White-Hall Garden, by Edmund Gunter, 1624]
Gunter’s description of this stone records that the upper face had 5 dials, the north face had 3 dials, the east and west faces had 4 dials each, and the south face had 10 dials, two of which were
irregular, with three styles each. This makes a total of 30 styles (gnomons), confirming von Wedel’s 1584 description of
showing the time in thirty different ways.
Gunter’s description also elucidates how it was possible for the dial to show
the ebbing and flowing of the sea, as claimed by Godwin and Bale. In fact, it was necessary for the human observer to supply the age of the lunar month, in days since the last New Moon. The great concave dial on the upper face of the stone had two concentric rings painted: one divided into 24, and the other into 29½ parts. The observer looked up the known age of the lunar month in the latter, and the corresponding position on the former yielded the time of day when the moon would be due South. One then used local knowledge (3 hours later in the case of London Bridge) to derive the time of local high tide. There would be another high tide just over 12 hours later. The sundial itself was not used in this computation. The same principle could be used to derive the time of night by observing the moon’s shadow on the sundial hour-lines. In all cases, the observer had to provide the age of the lunar month: the dials did not offer a way to predict or show the phase of the moon.
For the avoidance of doubt, this stone dial was not the same as the Great Pyramidical and Multiform Dial set up in the same garden in 1669.
There appears to be no image of what the stone dial looked like. Its position in the garden can be seen on a plan of ca. 1670[Survey of London: Vol. 13, Plate 1] and in a view of ca. 1695–8.[Survey of London: Vol. 13, Plate 5] The large stone dial seems to have disappeared by 1741.
It will be apparent that, if this large stone sundial was the instrument referred to by Bale and Godfrey as having been presented to Henry VIII by Ponet, then there is no possibility that it was
of the same kind as a 1538 sundial on the chapel bell-tower at Queens’ College, as claimed by Archbold in the DNB.
Summary and conclusions
From the historical record so far investigated, this is what is known and what is not known:
- Ponet was Bursar of Queens’ College from 1537 to 1539.
- In 1538 the college accounts record expenditure on a horologium to be mounted on the chapel bell-tower.
- We do not know for sure whether that horologium was a sundial or a clock: Willis & Clark assumed it was a sundial, probably reasonably.
- We do not know whether Ponet had any part in the design of this horologium.
- Bale 1557 and Godrey 1601 record that Ponet presented King Henry VIII with a horologium or dial.
- Bale was in a position to know this, having been Ponet’s chaplain at one point.
- We do not know for sure whether this horologium (dial) was a sundial or a clock: Godrey 1616 uses sciotericum, suggesting that he thought it was a sundial.
- We do not know the date when Ponet presented this horologium to the king: it must have been before the king’s death in 1547.
- We do not know for sure where the king located Ponet’s dial, but we have evidence suggestive of Whitehall Palace.
- No basis has been found for Archbold’s 1896 claim in the DNB that the dial that Ponet presented to the king was of the same kind as a 1538 dial at Queens’: it is probable that Archbold was wrong on this point.
- No mention of Ponet’s dial for Henry being of the same kind as one at Queens’ pre-dates Archbold 1896.
- No basis has yet been found for Routh’s 1964 assertion that Ponet designed the 1538 dial at Queens’.
- All references to Ponet designing the 1538 dial have (or could have) a citation chain back to Routh 1964.
- The 1538 dial at Queens’ was not the same instrument as the sundial still existing in Old Court at Queens’.
- No basis has yet been found for Routh’s 1964 assertion that Ponet’s dial went to Hampton Court: in fact, we have counter-evidence suggestive of Whitehall Palace.
- No mention of Ponet’s dial being at Hampton Court pre-dates Routh 1964.
- All references to Ponet’s dial being at Hampton Court have (or could have) a citation chain back to Routh 1964.
- No basis has been found for the date of 1540 for Ponet’s dial being presented to King Henry VIII.
- No mention of the presentation of the dial being in 1540 pre-dates Weir 2001.
- All references to 1540 being the date of presentation of the dial have (or could have) a citation chain back to Weir 2001.
So who designed the sundial at Queens’?
We do not know. But not John Ponet, for sure. He had died 86 years earlier.