European longitude Prizes. 2: astronomy, religion and engineering solutions in the Dutch Republic

Richard de Grijs*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    The late-sixteenth century witnessed a major expansion of Dutch shipping activity from northern European waters to the Indian Ocean and beyond. At a time when the Renaissance had just arrived on the North Sea’s shores, scientist-scholars, navigators and merchants alike realised the urgent need for and potential profitability of developing a practical means of longitude determination at sea. Under pressure of early adopters, including Petrus Plancius and Simon Stevin, on 1 April 1600 the national government of the Dutch Republic announced a generous longitude prize, which would see gradual increases in value over the next two centuries. In addition to leading thinkers like Galileo and Christiaan Huygens, the Low Countries spawned major talent in pursuit of a longitude solution. Their solutions reached well beyond applications of the ephemerides of Jupiter’s moons or the development of a stable marine timepiece. Studies of the Earth’s magnetic field, lunar distances, astronomical observations combined with simple trigonometry and the design of a ‘golden compass’ all pushed the nation’s maritime capabilities to a higher level. Dutch efforts to ‘find East and West’ were unparalleled and at least as insightful as those pursued elsewhere on the continent.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)405-439
    Number of pages35
    JournalJournal of Astronomical History and Heritage
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


    • Christiaan Huygens
    • Dutch East India Company
    • Galileo Galilei
    • Jupiter’s moons
    • lunar distances
    • pendulum clocks
    • terrestrial magnetism


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