Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Engineers in England: John Rogers

England also sought the services of different engineers to create coastal defenses and to protect both the northern border with Scotland and its continental possessions. One of the earliest engineers of note was John Rogers who served Henri VIII.

Rogers began his career as a tradesman. He was apprenticed as a mason and eventually became both a surveyor and an engineer. He is notable for his early use of scaled drawings and plans to both depict designs and to document various locales and constructions since there were no standard drawing conventions in the time of Henry VIII. As noted by Shelby, Rogers created two different types of drawings: practical construction drawings and working plans and presentation drawings.

He primarily worked at Boulogne and Calais where his roles included manager, fortification designer, hydraulic engineer, obtainer of labour, purchaser of materials, and maintainer of accounts. To finalize his fortification designs, Rogers needed to communicate extensively with the king to get approval. Drawings--or "plats"--served as the tool for visual communication. Henderson has noted that drawings can serve as "recruitment devices." Shelby notes:

“Thus the design of a new work was often the result of a co-operative endeavor, in which an initial plan might be devised on the spot by the surveyor in conjunction with one or more advisers, both military and technical. This plan would be submitted in the form of a plat to the king and his ministers, who would make changes or approve the plan as presented. Work on the project could then get under way.” (pg. 87)

In addition to his work as an engineer and manager, Rogers was also employed as a spy due to his ability to survey. He performed intelligence work at Guines in 1540 and Scotland in 1544. An ability to survey certainly seems to be a common task for engineers. Bachot, for example, devoted various plates to the practice of surveying in his books and Ramelli was captured by Huguenots while surveying the harbour of La Rochelle.

Rogers was in his ascendancy between 1545 and 1546. Shelby notes:

"Henry's confidence in Rogers's ability and judgment increased rapidly during the following year as a result of the exchange of ideas through letters, plats, and personal interviews which the king and his surveyor enjoyed." (pg. 88)

While Rogers was popular with the king, he often fell afoul of various ministers and military officers due to his blunt and plain-spoken manner. As a practical mason and engineer, Rogers had little use for the overly formal and affected manner of courtiers and bureaucrats. Furthermore, his expertise as an engineer demanded that he find material weakness in various defensive arrangement. This practice necessarily led him into confrontation with the established military order. Conflict between engineers and military officers was not uncommon. Langins, for example, describes a very similar occurrence in France.

Not all of Rogers's work was a success. In 1564, for example, two other engineers in English employee criticised his designs. In their commentary on the limitations of a design for the fortifications at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Giovanni Portinari and Jacopo Aconcio made reference to the failure of Rogers's bastions at Ambleteuse due to their small size.

Rogers also dabbled in hydraulic engineering. He worked to restore various harbours along the southern coast of England, specifically Folkestone, Sandwich, and Dover. At Sandwhich, he suggested a new cut which would involve a great deal of digging so machines would have been very useful. Ash may provide some more detail of Rogers's activities at Dover.

After a distinguished career, Rogers died as a POW after Calais fell to the Duke of Guise during the reign of Queen Mary. He was one of the last Medieval craftsmen/architects. The entire nature of architecture was changing as Italians sought to emulate the classical forms of Rome. According to Shelby, it was becoming "bookish, antiquarian, and archaeological." Rogers is evidence of the rising demand for practical engineers as architecture became increasingly academic. The specialized military engineer emerged in the 1550s (also see Hale), almost immediately after the death of Rogers.

It's interesting to note that the specialized architect became the military engineer of Italy. But England was a different story. Rogers was a military engineer before the first specialized architect emerged in the person of Inigo Jones.

Shelby's study of Rogers provides some guidance on the how engineers were paid. Richard Lee, Rogers's supervisor, was paid 30 pounds a year and was given a house to live in. Stefan von Haschenberg, from Germany, received an annuity of 75 pounds in 1540.

In his discussion of Rogers, Shelby asks some important questions that need to be answered by historians of engineering:

"who was responsible for design and supervision of building? What was the relation between the designer and the patron of the building? What educational background and special training did the designer normally enjoy? What was his social and economic status? And finally, when did engineering become a profession separate from architecture?" (pg. 127)

Simon Pepper also makes reference to Rogers. His account is primarily a retelling of Shelby's in-depth study. Pepper does, however, pose additional questions of interest, particularly in light of Rogers's more successful colleague Sir Richard Lee:

"The social divide between John Rogers--master mason, surveyor, and part-time spy--and Sir Richard Lee--international soldier, courtier, and fortification expert--encapsulates a number of distinctions which were probably even more important in a military circles than in civil and ecclesiastical architecture. These factors--which in some parts of Italy probably helped to advance progress because of expertise or at least understanding on the part of military society's leading figures--may well have contributed to the relative backwardness of England's military engineering." pg. 139


Pepper, Simon. 2003. Artisans, architects and aristocrats: Professionalism and Renaissance military engineering. In D.J.B. Trim (Ed.) The chivalric ethos and the development of military professionalism. History of warfare, v. 11. (pp. 117-147) Leiden: Brill.
Shelby, Lon R. 1967. John Rogers, Tudor Military Engineer. New York : Oxford University Press.


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