You are here

Mathematical Treasure: Gift of Arithmetic for a Queen

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Treatise on Arithmetic is a decorative presentation manuscript, prepared as a gift for Queen Elizabeth by Thomas Osborne. The author finished the manuscript “before 28 March 1602.” Little else is known of him. Elizabeth died in 1603 without receiving this gift. It now resides in the British Library as Harley Manuscript 4924.

Royal symbols decorate the title page:

The one remaining page of the “Table of Contents” reveals the topics considered in the latter part of the manuscript.

Amongst bearded angels rejoicing and men blowing horns, ornaments of a vivid imagination, the author provides examples of addition.

Examples of the subtraction process are adorned with a lion, a dragon, and the royal initials, ER (for Elizabeth Regina).

Osborne gives examples and brief explanations of the basic rules and techniques of applied arithmetic at this time beginning with the “Rule of Company,” which concerns the sharing of profits among several individuals.

Alligation is the mathematics of mixtures of value to medical personal and metallurgists.

The “Rule of False Position” had been employed since ancient times.

Bartering was a necessity in periods when minted monies were scarce.

The determination of interest on monies borrowed or loaned has long been a business concern.

“Argument of Measure” appears unique to this particular treatise.

“The Golden Rule in Fractions” is also a unique feature of the presentation. The floral designs along the page margins were all hand drawn and colored, a task requiring great patience.

The images above were obtained through the courtesy of the British Library, London.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Gift of Arithmetic for a Queen," Convergence (June 2017)