In looking for something completely different, I browsed through bits of John Mellis’s 1588 manual on bookkeeping, A briefe instruction and maner hovv to keepe bookes of accompts after the order of debitor and creditor & as well for proper accompts partible, &c. […] (London. STC 18794. EEBO. Huntington Library). It contains A Short and Plaine Treatise of Arithmeticke in whole numbers, comprised into a briefer method than hetherto hath bin published, from whence the following lovely little late Elizabethan arithmetick problem cometh:
But now in manner of a recreation, as wel as for exercise, I propose one question more: as thus.
A Gentlewoman for a certayne trespasse committed, was enioyned by her Soueraigne a certaine penance, which was this: That in her owne person going a foote, and being accompanied with two of her honest seruants she should goe from Saint Dauids in Wales to Douer, which is accempted to bee the breadth of Englande, And at each Furlongs ende, being eight in a mile, she and her men should gather in a heape, great and small togeather, two hundred and fourty stones. Uppon which harde sentence geuen by her Soueraigne, after she heard that her iourney was three hundred miles, she tooke the matter heauilie, and humbly sought and craued tolleration herein. Which in fine vpon her humble suite, and the earnest request of other Ladies and Gentlewomen, was absolutely remitted, vpon a condition, which was this. That if the Gentlewoman there presently before her Soueraigne, without the ayde of any other, could of her owne pregnant capacitie, make an absolute resolution, and accompte how [p. 16] how many stones in all she ought to haue gathered, that thereupon she should be cleerely dismissed of this pennance.
The Gentlewoman glad of this, and hauing a little sight in Arithmeticke, called for penne, inke, and paper, and wrought as here appeareth, and hauing finished the worke, did giue vp her accompt thus, that shee shoulde haue gathered iust 576000. stones in all. Which was most true, and thereuppon shee was remitted and pardoned &c.
(This is followed by calculations, but I leave those, for I am sure my readers are perfectly able to calculate the number of stones and arriving at the same result.)
The next question is, what’s the Elizabethan equivalent of “a train leaves London heading North at 100mph; a second train leaves York heading South at 75mph: where will they meet and at what time?”..?