Henry Bate of Malines

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Henry Bate of Malines

(b. Malines, Belgium, 24 March 1246; d. ca. 1310)


In theory, one is better informed about the first thirty-five years of Henry Bate’s life than about his later career because of his astrological autobiography, Liber servi Dei de Machlinia super inquisitione et verificatione nativitatis proprie (or Nativitas), written in 1280. Thus, it is known that he was born a little past midnight on the morning of Saturday. 24 March 1246, at Malines, the next-to-last child of a large family.1 However, great importance cannot be attached to his description and characterization of himself, not so much because they are likely to be subjective as because, abiding by the laws of this genre, he could not avoid presenting a self-portrait in which he appeared to possess those traits astrologically associated with the time of his birth. This bias severely limited even the scope of his biography. He reveals only how old he was when he suffered various maladies and mist wtunes and at what ages (twentyseven and twenty-one) he obtained his first, unspecified, ecclesiastical benefices through the intervention of “a celebrated and valorous prince.”

Information gleaned from his other works, however, fills out this summary sketch: He studied in Paris, probably as a pupil of Albertus Magnus, becoming master of arts before 1274 and, perhaps, master of theology before 1301. In 1274 he attended the Council of Lyons, at which he met William of Moerbeke. He served as canon of St. Lambert’s church in Liège before 1281 and then also became cantor of the chapter, no doubt with the support of his protector, Gui de Hainaut. He became involved in the disputes over the possession of the episcopal chair following its vacancy in 1291 and accompanied Gui de Hainaut, one of the claimants to the seat, to the pontifical court at Orvieto. There he remained for several months in the summer and autumn of 1292. In 1309 he apparently retired to the company of the Premonstrants of Tongerloo, where he lived out his days. He died some time after January 1310.

Bate’s works include translations of astrological treatises by Abraham ibn Ezra, the twelfth-century Jewish astronomer; original astronomical and astrological writings; and a philosophical encyclopedia. The desire to make accessible to his contemporaries the astrological work of Abraham ibn Ezra dates from 1273; there exist French translations of four astrological treatises by Ibn Ezra, written at least in part during that year “at Malines in the house of Lord Henry Bate.” They are Commencement de sapience. Livre ties jugements, Livre des elections, and Livre des interrogations. The project was undertaken by an association comprising a Jew named Hagins, who translated the Hebrew into Latin, and a certain Obert de Montdidier, who rendered Hagins’ work into French.2 (The project also included a translation of Livre des revolutions of Abū Ma‘shar.) It is true that reference to the translators appears only in the last lines of Commencement de sapience, but the other texts are too similar in style not to have been the result of the same collaboration. Bate certainly had a more responsible role in this matter than providing lodging for his authors. In any case, in 1281, at Malines, Bate himself translated into Latin another treatise of Ibn Ezra, Liber de mundo vel seculo, still known as Liber de revolutionibus annorum,.3 it is probable that Hagins assisted him.

De mundo vel seculo—which concerns the influences on earthly events that are exercised by the conjunctions of the planets, especially the “great conjunctions”—is preceded by a long introduction in which Bate defends Abū Ma’shar against the reproaches of Ibn Ezra on the question of whether astrological judgments ought to be related to the mean conjunctions of the planets (in which the planets have the same mean center) or to their true conjunctions (in which they have the same longitude).

In 1292, beginning with his stay at Orvieto and no doubt to occupy the leisure hours imposed on him by postponement of the settlement of the affair of the bishopric of Liège, Bate undertook, one after the other, the translation into Latin of five other treatises of Ibn Ezra. One of these, Liber introductorius ad astronomiam, had already been translated into French by Hagins as the Commencement de sapience. The other four texts were Tractatus de causis seu rationibus eorum que dicuntur introductorie ad judicia, Tractatus de luminaribus (i.e. de Sole et Luna) seu de diebus criticis, Liber introductorius ad judicia astrologie, and Tractatus de fortitudine planetarum.

Moreover, Bate wrote a commentary to Liber de magnis conjunctionibus et de revolutianibus annorum mundi of Abū Ma‘shar, but this text is lost; it is known only by the long extracts from it that Pierre d’Ailly included in one of the revisions of his Elucidarium4 and in his De concordia discordantium astronomorum.5 These extended quotations may yet enable one to identify the text in question. It may be supposed that in it Bate did his utmost to develop the conciliation, already sketched in the introduction to the translation of Liber de mundo vel seculo, between the opposed theses of Ibn Ezra and of Abū Ma‘shar.

In the absence of this commentary, Bate’s actual astrological work is reduced to his Nativitas, in which he demonstrates the truth of astrology by examining the time of his birth and by confirming that deductions derived from it have been verified throughout his life. 6 Such autobiographical astrological accounts seem to have been somewhat in vogue in the thirteenth century, since Bate’s Nativitas was written between the similar narratives by Richard de Fournival7 (b. 10 October 1201) and Robert Le Febyre8 (b. 18 January 1255). Bate’s text begins with a long inquiry to establish, both from direct and indirect evidence, the approximate day and hour of his birth.

Bate’s astronomical work is separated here from his astrological work only as an expository convenience, but in his own mind the earlier was only preparation for the later. It comprises a treatise on the astrolabe, Magistralis compositiv astrotabu a treatise on the equatorium (that begins “Volentes quidem vera loca planetarum coequare...”); and some astronomical tables, Tabule mechlinenses. The first two texts were printed together in 1485 by Ratdolt, along with the Latin translation of De nativitatibus of Ibn Ezra; 9 curiously enough, the manuscript tradition depends exclusively on this printing. Whatever the various monographs on Bate might say, his treatise on the astrolabe does not at all resemble the other medieval texts on this instrument. At the request of William of Moerbeke, Bate sent him the treatise on the instrument that he had had constructed; the astrolabe in question was quite clearly destined for astrological use and was not the pedagogical instrument employed in universities: Bate’s astrolabe was not designed to elucidate the mechanism of the daily movement of the celestial vault but to facilitate the rapid acquisition of astrological data. The tympanum extends to the meridional latitude of 38°42′, which permits it to carry the complete circle of the horizon of Malines. Without dwelling on the tracings that are ordinarily found on astrolabes, Bate discusses at length the question of tracing the lines of the celestial houses. of the three different definitions of what constitutes a celestial house,10 he selects two in constructing the two faces of the tympanum: according to the first (to which Bate gives his preference), which makes the twelve houses from six equal divisions of the diurnal semiarc and six equal divisions of the nocturnal semiarc, the lines of the celestial houses coincide with the lines of the unequal hours. According to the other, the celestial houses are the sections of the celestial surface delimited by the twelve equal divisions of the first azimuth of the location and meeting at the two points of intersection of the horizon and the meridian; that division is fixed for the whole length of the year and is shown on the astrolabe by individual circular arcs.

Bate’s equatorium is in the tradition of that of Campanus. The equatorium is an instrument used to find, in a practical manner and without any of the usual calculations, the longitude of the planets. Campanus’ instrument succeeded in this task, reproducing very faithfully, with brass disks and strands of thread, the geometric resolution of the planetary movements; but it had the inconvenience of multiplying the number of brass disks. Bate devised a single disk to serve as equant for all the planets, each one possessing, moreover, its own epicycle.11 Bate’s text is unfortunately very short and often obscure.

In Natiuitas and the tract on the equatorium Bate alludes to the astronomical tables that he constructed for the meridian of Malines. Later, in Speculum divinorum, he indicates incidentally that he has made three recensions of them. Only two of these have been found (MS Paris lat. 7421, and MS Paris nouv. acq. lat. 3091), but it has not been possible to determine their chronology. 12 The version in the former is the most complete, giving, with the precision of one second of arc, the hourly, daily, monthly, yearly, and pluriannual variations of the mean movements or of the mean arguments of the planets and the values that they assume every twenty years. The version in the latter manuscript does not give the hourly and daily values, perhaps because the differences with those of the other version were insignificant; it presents tables of the revolutions of the years and lists of the values assumed by the auges of the planets—notably in 1285, 1290, and 1295—which are not found in MS lat. 7421. Neither of the two versions of the Malines tables contains tables of planetary equations, of which the Toledo tables gave rise to neither discussion nor revision.

Begun at the end of 1301, in honor of Gui de Hainaut, and completed well before 1305, Speculum divinorum et quorumdam naturalium is the most important of Bate’s works. A veritable philosophic and scientific encyclopedia, Speculum is in twenty-three parts, each dependent on the teaching of the Faculty of Arts of Paris, both as to subject matter and style, the latter being very similar to that of questiones disputate. Conceived, however, away from the academic centers and consequently ignoring Étienne Tempier’s censure in 1277 of Averroistic doctrines, Speculum abounds in exact quotations that ought (when the edition in progress is finished) to illuminate the extent and impact of sources available to a scholar at the end of the thirteenth century.13

On the basis of several manuscripts, some authors have credited Bate with a Tractus super defect thus tabularum Alfonsi; Duhem supports this attribution, but only in part, rejecting the whole text, which begins with “Bonum quidem mihi videtur omnibus nobis astrorum...,” as dating from 1347, and accepting only a fragment published along with large extracts of the Tractatus in the Opera omnia of Nicolas of Cusa. 14 This fragment is very short and hardly any conclusions can be drawn from it. Certainly, it cannot be asserted that Bate could have written an attack on the Alphonsine tables, since the date of their introduction to Paris remains in doubt—in spite of what Duhem thought he had proved. It may be supposed that the attribution of this fragment to Bate was the result of the attribution of Tractatus super defectibus which a certain tradition of the text made to him, despite the verisimilitude.

Furthermore, a few manuscripts have come to light that attribute to Bate De diebus criticis, which differs from the translation from Ibn Ezra noted above under the title of Tractatus de luminaribus seu de diebus criticis.15


1. The date 18 Mar. 1244 often given comes from an error in reading by Littré, who transcribed 1244 for 1245 and did not understand, despite Bate’s very explicit indications, that Bate employed the old style of dating. These indications were necessary because, for example, the diplomatic style gave the date of Easter as 3 April, while the astronomical style followed by Bate gave the date as 1 March. In order to make more precise the dates of his birth and of the death of Berthold de Malines. which latter event served to fix the birth date of his sister, Bate referred twice in his text to Sunday “in ramis palmarum”: the first referred to Passion Sunday (two weeks before Easter), and the second, the first Sunday after Easter.

2. On Hagins, see the account of P. Paris, in Histoire littéraire de la France, XXI, 499–503.

3. P. Duhem, Le systèms du monde. II (Paris, 1914), 254–256, and VIII (Paris, 1958), 444–446. The title Tractatus de planetarum conjonctionibus et de revolutionibus annorum, under which De mundo vel seculo is sometimes cited, is provided by the first words of the text.

4. A. C. Klebs, Incunabula scientifica et medica (1490), 768.1, fols. E2v–e3. f3–f3v. and g3.

5. Klebs (1483), 766.1 fols. hh5v–hh8 and hh8v–iii.

6. To the two Paris MSS (lat. 7324, fols. 24v-47, and lat. 10270, fols. 139v-177v) add Segovia 84 and Seville 5–1–38 (see G. Beaujouan, “Manuscrits scientifiques médiévaux de la cathédrale de Ségovie,” in Actes du Xle Congrés international d’histaire das sciences, Warsaw-Craeow 1965, III, 15–18). Bate did not write his Nativitas in the first person but, rather, designated himself there as “Servus Dei gloriosi.”

7. Cf. A. Birkenmajer, “Pierre de Limoges commentateur de Richard de Fournival,” in Isis, 40 (1949). 18–31.

8. Cf. E. Poulle, “Asirologic et tables astronomiques au XIIIe siècle: Robert Le Febvre et les tables de Malines,” in Bulletin philologique et historique (1964), pp. 793–831.

9. This trans, of the De natvitatibus is sometimes attributed to Bate (cf. R. Levy, in the bibliography), but A. Birkenmajer (“A propos de l’Abrahismus,’ in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 3 [1950], 378–390, esp. 386) thinks that it precedes the trans. by Hagins.

10. On the different types of division of the celestial vault into twelve houses (there were four customary ones in the Latin West), see al-Battānī. Opus astronomicum, C.-A. Nallino, ed., I, 246–249, and S. Garcia Franco, Catalogo critico de astrolabios existentes en España, pp. 77–79.

11. Cf. E. Poulle, “L’équatoire de Guillaume Gilliszoon de Wissekerke,” in Physis, 3 (1961), 223–251, esp. 232–234.

12. Cf. M. -T. d’Alverny and E. Poulle, “Un nouveau manuscrit des Tabulae Mechlinenses d’Hcnri Bate de Malines,” in Actcs du VIIIe Congrés international d’histoire des sciences, Florence, 1956, pp. 355–358. See also Poulle, cited in n. 8.

13. On the Speculum, besides the eds. cited in the bibliography, see L. Thorndike, “Henri Bate on the Occult and Spiritualism,” in Archives internalionales d’histoire des sciences, 7 (1954), 133–140.

14. Cf. Duhem, IV (1916). 22–28. 71–72.

15. L. Thorndike. “Latin Translations...,” p. 300.


I. Original Works. of the trans, of the treatises of Ibn Ezra, the only ones that have been published are De lumtinaribus (Padua, 1482; Klebs 3.1), and De mundo vel seculo (Venice, 1507), which also contains Latin trans, by Pierre d’Abano of the treatises of Ibn Ezra already translated into French by Hagins. One of the trans, by Hagins has been published, along with the Hebrew text of Ibn Ezra and an English trans. of the latter in R. Levy and Fr. Cantera, The Beginning of Wisdom, an Astrological Treatise by Abraham Ibn Ezra, The Johns Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages no. 14 (Baltimore, 1939), In the same series the list of MSS and incipits of Bate’s trans, in R. Levy, The Astrological Works of AbrahimIbn Ezra, The Johns Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages no. 8 (Baltimore, 1927), must be used with care. See also L. Thorndike, “The Latin Translations of the Astrological Tracts of Abraham Avenezra,” in Ists. 35 (1944). 293–302; R. Levy, “A Note on the Latin Translators of Ibn Ezra,” ibid,. 37 (1947). 153–155; and the note by P. Glorieux (see below).

The treatise on the astrolabe (Venice, 1485) appeared with De nativitatibus of Ibn Ezra (Klebs 4); this ed. has been reproduced in R. T. Gunther, Astrolabes of the World. II (Oxford, 1932), 368–376. The treatise on the equatorium was included in the 1485 ed. It has wrongly been said that there was another ed. of Bate’s two texts in 1491: the latter concerns only De nativitatibus and not the texts of Bate.

Speculum divinorum et quortumdam naturalium was published in part, and with a table of contents, by G. Wallerand, vol. XI of Les philosophes beiges: téxtes et études (Louvain, 1931). Another ed., by E. Van de Vyver, is being published in the collection Philosophes médiévaux; two vols., corresponding to pts. 1–3, have already appeared as vols. IV and X (Louvain, 1960, 1967).

II. Secondary Literature. The account by E. Littré, in Histoire littéraire de la France, XXVI (Paris, 1873), 558–562, is completely outdated. In the absence of the publication of A. Birkenmajer’s 1913 thesis, “d’Henri Bate de Malines, astronome et philosophe de la fin du XIIIe siécle,” one must turn to the résume he has given under the same title in Pologne au Ve Congrés international des sciences historiques (Cracow, 1924).

Other accounts of Bate are P. Glorieux, Répertoire des maîtres en theologie de Paris au XIIIe siécle (Paris, 1933), pp. 409–411; and La Faculté des arts et ses maîtres au XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1971), pp. 180–182; and G. Wallerand (see above), which gives bibliographical references to older articles.

Emmanuel Poulle

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Henry Bate of Malines

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