This boke sheweth the maner of measurynge of all maner of lande: as well of woodlande, as of lande in the felde, and comptynge the true nombre of acres of the-same [sic]. Newlye inuented and compyled by Syr Rycharde Benese Chanon of Marton Abbay besyde Lond on [sic]. [With a preface by Thomas Paynell.]

[London]: Prynted in Southwarke in Saynt Thomas hospitall, by me James Nicolson, [1537].

First edition of “the first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying” (Buisseret, p. 39), an outstanding copy untouched in its original binding, and extremely rare thus. Benese’s Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande marks an epoch, the widespread idea of land as private property. “If there is a single date when the idea of land as private property can be said to have taken hold, it is 1538. In that year a tiny volume was published with a long title that began, This boke sheweth the maner of measurynge of all maner of lande. In it, the author, Sir Richard Benese, described for the first time in English how to calculate the area of a field or an entire estate … [T]his interest in exact measurement was also new. Until then, what mattered was how much land would yield, not its size … Accurate measurement became important in 1538 because beginning in that year a gigantic swath of England––almost half a million acres––was suddenly put on sale for cash. The greatest real-estate sale in England’s history occurred after king Henry VIII dissolved a total of almost 400 monasteries, which had been acquiring land for centuries … Upon the monasteries’ dissolution, all their land, including some of the best soil in England, automatically reverted to their feudal overlord, the king [who needed money to defend England against the French]. The sale of so much land for cash was a watershed … [U]p to that point the fundamental value of land remained in the number of people it supported. From then on the balance shifted increasingly to a new way of thinking … The emphasis in Benese’s book on exact measurement reflected the change in outlook. Once land was exchanged for cash, its ability to support people became less important than how much rent it could produce. And to compare the value of rent produced by different estates, it was essential to know their exact size. The units could no longer vary; the method of surveying had to be reliable. The surveyor ceased to be a servant and became an agent of change from a system grounded in medieval practice to one that generated money” (Linklater, pp. 10-12). Richard Benese (d. 1546) was a canon of the Augustine priory of Merton in Surrey. “He supplicated for the degree of Bachelor of Common Law at Oxford, 6 July 1519, and signed the surrender of the Augustine Priory of Merton to Henry VIII on 16 April 1538. Before this he was a surveyor to Henry VIII and it was during this period that he wrote his treatise on surveying. This is a remarkable survival, not only because this copy was extensively used by practitioners (as evidenced by extensive arithmetical calculations on the free endpaper), but also because it is extremely unusual in general to find early 16th century English books in original state. Following the fashion prevalent in the 19th century, most such books were trimmed, often washed, and rebound. Indeed, of the four complete copies listed on RBH in the last century, three were in 19th or 20th century bindings (and one was disbound). ESTC lists a total of 10 copies – 6 in the UK and 4 in the US (Harvard (2 copies? – only one is listed on Hollis), Huntington and Madison-Wisconsin). The title page is undated; a publication date of 1537 is conjectured by STC, although some authorities give 1538.

Provenance: John Grande (signature on title, crossed out); at least one other early signature on title, faded and undecipherable; early annotations and calculations on free endpaper and front cover; Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, November 4, 1918, lot 64 (‘Extremely rare in this genuine untouched state”).

“Modern English land surveying had its origins in the sixteenth century, partly brought about by the beginning of enclosing. In simplest form enclosing was the process of combining the strips of the open fields into larger fields and then enclosing these larger fields with fences, hedges, or other boundaries. Later, meadows, parts of the commons, and reclaimed lands were brought into the enclosed system. This system of cultivation began in the late fifteenth century, gained momentum in the sixteenth century, and continued for many years thereafter. Combining and reorganising the land of the open field system to the enclosed form caused many complaints over titles, rights, and quantities of land involved, and often led to a state of such complete confusion that the true issues were obscured before the courts. This confusion brought about the realisation that a more exact determination of the quantities of land and a definite location of the boundaries were needed. Appeals were made to the surveyor for a correction of these faults” (Richeson, pp. 29-30).

Following the dissolution of the monasteries greatly increased the importance of the surveyor. “Prominent among the purchasers of church property were land-hungry owners like the duke of Northumberland, who had been enclosing common pastures, but far more common were the landlords who had done well from the rise in the market value of wool and corn, and chose to invest in monastery estates … The new owners and their surveyors realised that the monasteries’ widely separated rigs and shares of common land would become more valuable once they were consolidated into fields. Their predecessors, the old abbots and priors, had understood land ownership to be part of a feudal exchange of rights for services. But those who had bought their land knew that ownership depended on money passing hands, and that the old ways had to change if they were to maximize the return on their investment … What the new class of landowners required of their surveyors above all was exactness” (Linklater, pp. 11-12).

A further stimulus to the development of surveying at this time was the increasing importance of geometry in practical matters. “John Dee, in his introduction to the first English translation of Euclid in 1570 echoed a change that was already making itself felt. How many were the errors and difficulties, how great the injustices and losses, he says, ‘Till by God’s mercy and man’s Industrie, The perfect Science of Lines, Plaines and Solidesgave unto every man his owne … Geometria, that is (according to the very etimoligie of the word) Land measuring’” (Darby, p. 532).

The short Preface [to Benese’s book] is by Thomas Paynell, also a canon at Merton, and he refers to the ‘divine Plato’, and to the usefulness of the contents for carpenters, masons, and ‘those artificers who do use Geometry: by whyche all all maner of ingens and craftye ordinaunces of warre and other appertaynyng unto theyr arte do depende, as hangyng roofes, and galaryes, walles, shippes, galles, brygges, mylles, canes, wheles.’ Using one of the characteristic biblical expressions associated with neo-Platonism, Paynell reports that God made the world ‘by number, weyght and measure’. Probably for the first time in English, particular aspects of the medieval system of dividing geometry were mentioned in a printed work [including altimetry, planimetry, and stereotomy]. This classification is found in works on Practica geometricae, first formalized by Hugh of St Victor in about 1130, and subsequently developed and widely disseminated in scholastic circles until well into the sixteenth century” (Marsden).

This new interest in geometry as a practical tool went in parallel with the development of new geometrical instruments. “In addition to the changes in land tenure and agriculture there had been advances in instrument construction and use which were also applicable to surveying. Increase in navigation, for example, necessitated the use of some form of direction-finding instruments, usually the compass. The introduction of gunpowder brought progress in the military sciences, including the application of geometry for the problem of sighting and measuring angles in gunnery. Likewise astronomy was making its demands for instruments of precision” (Richeson, p. 30).

“[Benese’s] book represents the first real attempt to put in the hands of the surveyor or land measurer, as distinguished from the sixteenth-century manager of a manor, a simple practical treatise on land surveying. The style is simple, and the explanations are clear and direct; the book gives every evidence of having been written by a person familiar with the practical art of land measuring.

“The first edition consists of a title page, three folios of preface, and 100 folios of text proper. The book is not divided into chapters, but each unnumbered section is headed with an appropriate title. The text as a whole is illustrated with 48 well-drawn and appropriate figures. In the first three folios, the author defines the units of line measures, stating that the standard foot should be the London standard of 12 inches. He then discusses the various perches used in measuring land; that is, the woodland perch of 18 feet and the field perch of 16½ feet, or less.

“Benese fixes the acre: ‘An acre bothe of woodlande, also of fylde lande is alwayes .xl. perches in length, and .iiii. perches in bredth, although an acre of woodlande be more in quantity, than is an acre of fyldelande.’ The author then describes the instruments which should be used in measuring the sides or boundaries of a piece of land. For this he suggests the one-perch, wooden rod as being satisfactory, but states that the cord or line of five perches in length is more convenient and measures much more rapidly than the rod. He cautions that the line should be treated with ‘whote waxe and rosyne’ to prevent it from stretching and shrinking with the changes of the weather. Next, Benese defines the parts of an acre in the following manner:

‘An acre conteyneth in it .viiixx. [i.e., 8 x 20 = 160] perches. An half acre conteyneth in it .iiiixx. perches. The quarter of an acre (other ways called a roode) conteyneth in it .xl. perches. An acre conteyneth in it .xl. dayworkes. A datworke conteyneth in it .iii. perches.’

“After the units of length and land measures have been defined and discussed, the author gives methods of finding the areas of certain simple geometrical figures, principally triangles, rectangles, trapeziums, and circles. Benese does not give a general method of finding the area of any of these, but discusses each type of figure as a special case. In the illustrative examples, particularly when the altitude of the triangle is given in fractional form, the author is not very careful of the accuracy of the computed values; in most cases fractions are disregarded, although the error in the computed values may range from 5 to 10 per cent of the true value. Apparently Benese realised the lack of computational skill on the part of most of his readers; to meet this difficulty he prepared four sets of tables (to be discussed later) to aid in the determination of the areas of figures and also in laying out parcels of land of different sizes and shapes.

“The method of surveying which Benese outlines is the typical chain surveying of the sixteenth century, since he uses only the rod and line in his measurements. His first instruction is that the surveyor should ‘view’ or go around the piece of land once or twice before the survey is made so that he can decide exactly how he will execute the survey. At this point he must decide whether he will measure the piece of ground as four sides or with more than four sides, that is, before the survey begins he must decide whether or not the tract of ground is rectangular. The author suggests that when the plot is irregular the survey be made by dividing the tract of land up into a number of smaller parts. It is assumed that the surveyor will keep some record of the shape and dimensions of the parts into which the whole is divided. Benese proposes that this record be kept on a sheet of paper or by cutting notches on a stick (apparently the field notebook had not been developed).

“He then discusses several unusual cases of survey. The first is where one side of the parcel of land borders on a stream. Benese recommends that a line be measured that will divide this irregular piece of land so that as much will be on one side as on the other side. The second case concerns hills and valleys whose superficial areas are to be computed rather than the plane area. In these cases two or three measurements are taken around the side of the hill or valley; then a straight line is run from the foot of the hill to its top or from the top of the valley to its bottom.

“The text gives no method for obtaining the direction of the sides of the figures in the survey of a piece of land; Benese does not mention any instrument for determining the direction of the meridian or any other line in the survey. The discussion of the measurements of the sides is completed in about three pages of text.

“Introducing his discussion of the computation of land areas, the author considers the areas of various geometrical figures, presumably taken from some edition of Euclid’s works. These figures include different types of triangles, quadrilaterals (some of which are divided into triangles), polygons, and finally circular figures. Benese then points out some of the errors that surveyors frequently make in computing in the areas of irregular figures, in particular those figures which are four sided but not rectangular. Figures of this type should be divided into a number of triangles, he suggests, then the area of each triangle is computed and the total area of the irregular figure is found by adding the separate areas. The superficial area of a hillside or valley, instead of the plane areas enclosed by the boundaries, is computed by using the average of the three circumferences measured at the foot, middle, and crest of the hill or valley, multiplied by the slant height. In nearly every case the method of finding the area, if rectangular, is to multiply the length by the width. If triangular, the area is found by taking one half the product of the base by the altitude. The author also discusses the areas of a number of figures which would seldom or never occur in actual practice, for example areas whose boundaries were circular or polygonal in shape.

“In order to facilitate the computation of the areas of various figures, Benese states:

‘For lykeyse as a marke of money conteyneth in it .viiixx. pence, so doeth an acre conteyneth in it .viiixx. perches. And lykeyse as a marke of money doth conteyn in it .xl. grotes, so doth an acre conteyne in it .xl. dayworkes. And as a grote dothe conteyne in it .iiii.pence, so doth a dayworker conteyne in it .iiii. perches.’

“In the table following these definitions, the number of square perches is given on the left in terms of pence, shillings, and pounds, whereas the area is given on the right in terms of the land units of square perches, dayswork, roods and acres.

“Although the table was constructed to aid those with little or no ability in calculations, the author still fears that many will not be able to use the table. Benese therefore gives a second table for the calculation of areas: this is a two way table giving the area for a known length and breadth in acres, roods, dayswork, and square perches for values of length from 1 to 120 perches and for values of breadth from 1 to 120 perches … Two other tables are given in the text: the first is used in dividing a plot of land into a given number of rectangular strips with a given area; the final table is to aid in computing the value of a given area of land when the price per acre is given …

“The text apparently passed through four editions or printings during the next thirty years, with succeeding editions in 1539, 1562, and 1564. These editions differ but little, except that one or more of the tables were omitted in some printings. In the second edition, printed in 1539, the 75 pages of tables are completely omitted” (Richeson, pp. 35-40).

“[Benese’s] work was obviously well received, for after the dissolution he was made Surveyor Works at Hampton Court and chaplain to Henry VIII. It is likely that his ‘career move’ was enabled by the knowledge expressed in his little book, and this in turn suggests that the practices he describes were not in the common domain. Stewards to the landed gentry probably had some knowledge of some or all of these simple operations, though numeracy was less common than literacy. Those with access to the medieval Practica geometricae treatises would also have known of these procedures, but perhaps have had little or no use for the information” (Marsden).

ESTC S101609; Goldsmiths’-Kress 00020; STC (2nd ed.) 1873. Buisseret, Monarchs, Ministers, and Maps, 1992. Darby, ‘The Agrarian Contribution to Surveying in England,’ The Geographical Journal 82 (1933), pp. 529-535. Linklater, Measuring America, 2002. Marsden, ‘Seeking a language in mathematics 1523-1571,’ Reformation 1 (1996), pp. 181-220 ( Richeson, English Land Measuring to 1800:Instruments and Practices, 1966.

4to (189 x 142 mm), ff. [104], black letter, title within architectural woodcut border, numerous tables and woodcut diagrams in text, some coloured in red, uncut (wear and soiling to first few leaves, last several leaves lightly stained). Complete with the errata leaf at the end and rare correction slip for V4 verso. In some copies the diagram on V4 verso is corrected with a pasted-on slip. In this probably unique copy, the slip is laid in loosely, so that the original erroneous printing is still visible. Original wallet-style limp vellum (soiled, part of lower spine missing, wrap-around flap restored). A very good copy in original condition.

Item #5983

Price: $60,000.00