Astronomy in Leicestershire title image

Roger Cotes (1682–1716)

Cotes pedigree, Nichols Vol 4 Part 1 p35
Part of pedigree of Cotes of Ayleston and Burbach, Nichols, 1807.

Roger Cotes was born in Burbage, Leicestershire, where his father, Robert, was Rector.

Burbage Church in 1790, Nichols, Vol 4, Part 2, plate LXVIII opp p452
Burbach/Burbage Church in 1790, Nichols, 1811.

He attended Leicester Free Grammar School. Cotes would probably have been a boarder, and terms would have been agreed by the headmaster. Cotes' cousin, Robert Smith (c1689–1768) also attended the school. Cotes' mathematical ability was recognised at the school before he was twelve years old. Consequently, Robert Smith's father, Rev. John Smith (d. 1710), took Cotes to his house in Lincolnshire to continue his studies.

Cotes graduated from Trinity College Cambridge with a BA in 1702. He became the first Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in 1707. William Whiston was amongst those favouring his appointment. (Subsequent holders of the post include Cotes' cousin Robert Smith, Arthur Eddington, Fred Hoyle and Martin Rees.) He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1711. He died suddenly, after a violent fever, in 1716 at the age of 33.

Cotes had plans to build an observatory at Trinity College, Cambridge. It was in use at the time of his death, but not finished until 1739. In 1797 it was demolished.

Title page of Second Edition of Principia, 1713
The title page of the 1713 edition of Principia

He was a student of Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Newton-Cotes Formulas are a group of techniques used for integration.

From 1709, until its publication in 1713, Cotes edited the second edition of Newton's Principia.

Harmonia Mensurarum, Roger Cotes, 1722. Edited by Robert Smith.
The title page of Harmonia mensurarum, 1722.

It was published posthumously and edited by Robert Smith.


Logometria Auctore Rogero Cotes, Trin. Coll. Cantab. Soc. Astr. & Ph. Exp. Professore Plumiano, & R. S. S. Phil. Trans. 1714-1716 29 5-45. [A paper about geometry, in Latin, dedicated to Edmond Halley.]

A Description of the Great Meteor Which Was on the 6th of March, 1715/6. Sent in a Letter from the Late Reverend Mr. Roger Cotes, Plumian Professor at Cambridge, to Robert Dannye, D. D. Rector of Spofferth in Yorkshire Phil. Trans. 1720-1721 31 66-70;

Observations of the Late Total Eclipse of the Sun on the 22d of April Last Past, Made before the Royal Society at Their House in Crane-Court in Fleet-Street, London. by Dr. Edmund Halley, Reg. Soc. Secr. with an Account of What Has Been Communicated from Abroad concerning the Same Phil. Trans. 1714-1716 29 245-262. On pp253-54, Halley describes Roger Cotes' observations of the eclipse. He missed the start and totality, but recorded the times of occultations of sun spots and the end of the eclipse. [May 3, 1715]

Harmonia mensurarum, 1722. Published posthumously. Edited by Robert Smith.


Bust of Roger Cotes at Trinity College, Cambridge
Bust of Roger Cotes at Trinity College, Cambridge

Roger Cotes is commemorated at Trinity College Cambridge by a bust and a stained glass window in Trinity College Chapel. All the windows in the Chapel were designed by Henry Holiday (1839–1927).

Also in the Chapel is a plaque, which says (translated from Latin)

Here is buried Roger Cotes son of Robert Cotes, Fellow of Trinity College and Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy. Snatched away by an early death, he left few tokens of his genius; but these few are of no common kind, exciting admiration for their having been first unearthed from the very heart of learning by his successful intelligence. After the great Newton he was the second hope of the College, and its twin ornament. Every possible quality of character and virtuous behaviour crowned his scientific fame; and these qualities were the more splendid and attractive because they were lodged in a handsome body. He was born in Burbage in Leicestershire on 10th July 1682 and died on 5th June 1716.

The photograph of the bust and the Latin translation are from: Roger Cotes, Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.

The photograph of the stained glass is from: The windows of Trinity College Chapel: Worthies of Trinity College.

Stained glass window commemorating Roger Cotes in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.
Stained glass window commemorating Roger Cotes in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge

Leicester Grammar School.

The origins of Leicester Free Grammar School date back to the middle of the 16th century with a bequest from William Wigston's estate. Boys from Leicester could attend, free of charge. In 1564 it was re-founded with an annual grant from Queen Elizabeth I. At the time, the school was part of St Peter's Church. However, the church fell into disrepair and materials from the church were used to construct the building now standing in Highcross Street. It was completed in 1574.

Leicester Free Grammar School, published 1815
Leicester Free Grammar School, published 1815

This is the earliest known image of the school.

From Nichols, 1815.

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John Flower, 1825, High Cross Street
High Cross Street, 1825

The Grammar School can be seen at the end of the street.

From: Flower, 1825

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Leicester Free Grammar School, 1893
Leicester Free Grammar School, 1893


From: Cowrie, 1893.

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Leicester Free Grammar School in 2012
Leicester Free Grammar School, 2012.

It is now a restaurant.

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Bertoloni Meli, Domenico, 'Cotes, Roger (1682–1716)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 18 Sept 2012]

Cantor, Geoffrey, 'Smith, Robert (bap. 1689, d. 1768)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 18 Sept 2012]

Cowrie, George, The History of Wyggeston's Hospital, The Hospital Schools and The Old Free Grammar School Leicester, 1893. opposite p89, photo of Leicester Grammar School, 1893.

Cross, Claire M., The Free Grammar School of Leicester, University College of Leicester, 1953.

The Newton Project - "a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing in full an online edition of all of Sir Isaac Newton's (1642–1727) writings"

Nichols, John, The History and Antiquities of the county of Leicester, vol 4, part 1, 1807. Pedigree of Cotes of Ayleston and Burbach, p35

Nichols, John, The history and antiquities of the county of Leicester, vol. 4, part 2, 1811. Roger Cotes: p472-3. Engraving of Burbach Church, plate LXVII

Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge: Roger Cotes

University of Leicester: Free Grammar School, Leicester - building survey

The online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is available to members via City of Leicester Libraries Online Reference Room and Leicestershire County Council Libraries Online Reference Library.


Last updated 30th July, 2013.

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