The World of Gerard Mercator - the mapmaker who revolutionized geography
by Taylor, Andrew
pub. by Walker and Company, NY - 2004       isbn 0-8027-1377-7
- 291 p. maps, black and white pictures, Notes p. 257-269       bibliography p. 271-274       index p. 275-291

Taylor presents a thorough and well researched biography of Gerard Mercator - son of Hubert de Cremer, shoe maker. The family had a clerical uncle Gisbert de Cremer, who took young Gerard under his protection and provided him an education. Gerard was a very successful student and continued his education at the great northern European university of Leuven (Louvain in French). It was here where Gerard selected a Latinized name, as was the custom of educated people and became known as Gerard Mercator Rupelmandanus. (last name from the place he was from) He studied under Gemma Frisius, mathematician, astronomer and physician. He made acquaintance with the heavy thinkers of the era. John Dee, an English savant studied alongside Mercator at Leuvin for several years. They became lifelong friends and correspondence for the terms of their lives. Taylor presents a more positive picture of John Dee 15271608 than the biography of Dee written by Benjamin Woolley titled - The Queens Conjuror. The Life and Magic of Dr. Dee -
Instead of becoming a cleric Mercator married and set up shop making globes and maps working with practical help from his teacher Gemma Frisius. The works of Aristotle (BC 384-322) and Ptolemy (AD 90-168) were the approved ancient knowledge and thought which varied from their writings were suspect. The knowledge of the world was changing, new places were being discovered, which created tension. Interestingly even in Ptolemy the concept that the earth was a sphere was common knowledge. The exact size, of the earth and where places were were a matters of conjecture. Eratosthenes(of Alexandria)(BC 276-194) had measured the earth and came out with an amazingly accurate number. Ptolemy believed it was smaller.
Taylor describes the physical construction of globes in some detail. They were as accurate as humanly possible, and throughout his life they were the mainstay of Mercators shop.
Taylor does a masterful job of describing the times, including the constant wars where Charles V., the Holy Roman Emperor, who ruled a vast part of Europe including what is now Germany, Spain, and Holland (but not France) had to war constantly to keep his empire together. This was the time of Reformation. Charles V. and his successor sons Philip and Ferdinand warred against protestantism with the full force of the Inquisition. It was an ugly time. Mercator was denounced and thrown in prison and examined by the Inquisition for 4 months. Heroic efforts by his wife to secure his release by having his parish priest, and highly placed friends from the University of Leuven finally convinced the Inquisition that he was not guilty of heresy, even though he had conversation with some suspicious people in the past. Upon release Mercator continured working on projects which included work for Emperor Charles V. Mercator made scientific instruments for surveying as well as his popular globes and maps.
Mercator was invited by Duke William to move to Duisburg, upstream on the Rhine River, away from the more active area where the Inquisition was working and in an place where protestant thought was tolerated. Duke William was attempting to establish a university there and wanted Mercator to teach, but that did not come to pass as permission from Rome was needed, and was not granted. Mercator developed his fameous Mercator projection for the map of the world especially for the use of navigators at sea. It was years before it was well enough understood for those navigators to use. Mercator himself did not consider it his most important contribution.
Mercator lived in Duisbert until at the age of 82 he died 2 December 1594. He outlived most of his friends, his wife and most of his children. He had grand children and great grand children to carry on his final projects, including the final volume of his maps of the world.
Read this book to understand the unfolding the understanding of the world during the Renaisance. Read this book to begin to understand the incredible violence and struggle in northern Europe during this time.
~ 2015-02-19 ~

to Books index page.