Who Invented the Telescope?

Nick Pelling suggests that credit should go not to the Netherlands but much further south to Catalonia.

Early depiction of a ‘Dutch telescope’ from the “Emblemata of zinne-werck” (Middelburg, 1624) of the poet and statesman Johan de Brune (1588-1658).

Four centuries ago, stories issued from the Netherlands describing the invention of a twin-lens device for seeing at a distance – the telescope. Though it began its life as no more than a low-power spyglass, it quickly evolved into a high-magnification precision optical instrument, capable even of viewing Jupiter’s moons.

The idea for a telescope did not come out of the blue: rumours of both refractive and reflective optical devices to achieve distant vision had circulated for hundreds of years, often in dubious magical contexts. For example, Europe had recently been set abuzz by Johannes Cambilhom’s sensational pamphlet Discoverie of the Most Secret and Subtile Practises of the Jesuites (1608), which described the Society of Jesus’ ‘bawdy adventures with innocent girls, its vast stores of buried treasure, its arsenals of weaponry’, along with a ‘looking glasse of astrology’, a ‘celestiall or rather devilish glasse’ supposedly used by the Catholic French king ‘to see playnly what-soever his Maiestie desirded to know’.

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