Roger Collingwood

Quick Info

about 1480
Diocese of Durham, England
about 1520

Roger Collingwood was one of the first professional mathematics lecturers, and, alongside service in the Church, was responsible for the mathematical text, Arithmetica experimentalis.


Although his precise date and location of birth are unknown, Roger Collingwood, from the Diocese of Durham, is known to have been educated at Queen's College, Cambridge shortly after its foundation. Graduating in 1496, as Bachelor of Arts, he was at Queen's at an important time for Cambridge, as it fell under humanist influence, which led to significant reforms and rationalization in the curriculum. In the BA course, which followed the traditional liberal arts, the emphasis on ancient writers, particularly Aristotle, was reduced, and the syllabus broadened, with an increasing prominence for mathematics from 1500 onwards.

Part of this growth of mathematics at Cambridge was the institution of new lecturing arrangements, which, to save the University's central funds, would be covered by fees paid by students. At a salary of £4 p.a. (26/8d per term), a lecturer was employed to teach mathematics. Collingwood was the first to hold this post, making him the earliest known professional lecturer specifically of mathematics. First listed in the Grace Books of University of Cambridge at the start of the sixteenth century, he taught during the periods 1501-1502, 1503-1507, and 1514-1517.

In the intervening years, he travelled on the Continent, for some of the time funded by Lady Margaret Beaufort. Mathematically, he was exposed to the work of Lefèvre d'Etaples in Paris.

However, he also used the time abroad for other pursuits. During the first break from his lecturing, he studied canon law in Paris. With the benefit of that education, he was ordained. Between 1503 and 1504, he was Dean in the Chapel of Queen's College. Later, in 1509, he was installed as rector of Albury. Back in Cambridge, he became Senior Proctor of Queen's College in 1513, bearing responsibility for aspects of University administration and for student discipline.

At Queen's, Collingwood was a contemporary, and served during the Presidency, of Bishop John Fisher, the Roman Catholic Cardinal and Bishop executed under King Henry VIII.

Under the pseudonym 'Carbo-in-ligno', he composed the mathematical text Arithmetica experimentalis, of which an original copy is now held in the library of Corpus Christi College. Bishop Richard Foxe patronized Collingwood, who, in return, dedicated his book to the Bishop, to whom he likely owed his position.

In his work, Collingwood defends the importance of mathematics. His text suggests that practice was pre-eminent over pure mathematical theory in Cambridge at the time, with emphasis placed on the importance of applying knowledge.

References (show)

  1. A M Clerke, 'Collingwood, Roger (fl. 14951517), mathematician', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  2. Queen's College, Cambridge, 'Eminent alumni | Queen's College' (2023).
  3. Queen's College, Cambridge, 'Fellows 14481599 | Queen's College' (2023).
  4. P L Rose, 'Erasmians and Mathematicians at Cambridge in the Early Sixteenth Century', The Sixteenth Century Journal 8(2) (2004), 4759.

Additional Resources (show)

Other websites about Roger Collingwood:

  1. Dictionary of National Biography

Written by J Reid, University of St Andrews
Last Update May 2023